Edward Alsworth Ross

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Edward Alsworth Ross
Edward Alsworth Ross.jpg
Edward Alsworth Ross
Born Edward Alsworth Ross
(1866-12-12)December 12, 1866
Virden, Illinois
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Madison, Wisconsin
Nationality American
Fields Sociology
Known for Social Control, The Principles of Sociology

Edward Alsworth Ross (12 December 1866 – 22 July 1951) was a progressive[1] American sociologist,[2] eugenicist,[3] and major figure of early criminology.[4]


Early Years

Edward A. Ross was born in Virden, Illinois. His father was a farmer. He attended Coe College and graduated in 1887. After two years as an instructor at a business school, the Fort Dodge Commercial Institute, he went to Germany for graduate study at the University of Berlin. He returned to the U.S., and in 1891 he received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in political economy, with minors in philosophy and ethics.[5]

Ross was a professor at Indiana University (1891–1892), secretary of the American Economic Association (1892), professor at Cornell University (1892–1893), and professor at Stanford University (1893–1900).[6]

"Ross Affair" and departure from Stanford University

In Stanford's "first academic freedom controversy",[7] Ross was fired from Stanford because of his political views[8][9] on eugenics. He objected to Chinese immigrant labor (on both economic and racial grounds - he was an early supporter of the "Race Suicide" doctrine, and expressed his hatred of other races in strong and crude language in public speeches[citation needed]) and Japanese immigration altogether. In the speech which was the catalyst for his potential firing and ultimate resignation, he stated the following:

And should the worst come to the worst it would be better for us if we were to turn our guns upon every vessel bringing Japanese to our shores rather than to permit them to land[10]

In response to this, Jane Stanford called for his resignation.[11] In Ross' public statement as to his resignation, he wrote about how his good friend, Dr. Jordan, was the one who asked him to make the unfortunate speech in the first place, which ended up being surrounded with so much controversy. Jordan managed to keep Ross from being fired, but he resigned shortly after.[12] This position was at odds with the university's founding family, the Stanfords, who had made their fortune in Western rail construction - a major employer of coolie laborers. Ross had also made critical remarks about the railroad industry in his classes, saying "A railroad deal is a railroad steal." This was too much for Leland Stanford's widow, who was on the board of trustees of the university. Numerous professors at Stanford resigned after protests of his dismissal, sparking "a national debate ... concerning the freedom of expression and control of universities by private interests."[6] The American Association of University Professors was founded largely in response to this incident.[13]

Nebraska, Wisconsin, and later life

Ross left for the University of Nebraska, where he taught until 1905.[14] In 1906, he moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he became Professor of Sociology, and eventually chairman of the department. He retired in 1937.[5]

Ross' understanding of Americanization and assimilation bore a striking resemblance to that of another Wisconsin professor, Frederick Jackson Turner. Like Turner, Ross believed that American identity was forged in the crucible of the wilderness. The 1890 census' proclamation that the frontier had disappeared, then, posed a significant threat to America's ability to assimilate the mass of immigrants who were arriving from southern and eastern Europe. In 1897, just four years after Turner had presented his frontier thesis to the American Historical Association, Ross, then at Stanford, argued that the loss of the frontier destroyed the machinery of the melting pot process.[15]

In 1913, the State of Wisconsin passed its first sterilization law.[16] Ross, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, was a reserved proponent[16] of sterilization and indicated his support for the measure.[17] He qualified his support by contrasting it with the greater harm of hanging a man, and advocated its initial use "only to extreme cases, where the commitments and the record pile up an overwhelming case." Involuntary sterilization remained legal in Wisconsin until July 1978.

Ross visited Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He endorsed the revolution, even as he acknowledged its bloody origins. He was subsequently a leading advocate of U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union. However, he served on the Dewey Commission, which cleared Trotsky of the charges made against him by the Soviet government during the Moscow Trials.[18]

From 1900 to the 1920s, Ross supported the alcohol Prohibition movement as well as eugenics and immigration restriction.[19] By 1930, he had moved away from these views, however. In the 1930s, he was a supporter of the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1940, he became chairman of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union,[20] serving until 1950.[5]

He died in 1951.


Selected articles

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See also


  1. Weinberg, Julius (1972). Edward Alsworth Ross and the Sociology of Progressivism, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  2. Hertzler, J. O. (1951). "Edward Alsworth Ross: Sociological Pioneer and Interpreter," American Sociological Review, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 597-613.
  3. "The findings of the eugenicists quite naturally gave support to the opponents of further immigration. One of the most widely read books on this controversial issue was The Old World in the New, by Edward A. Ross [...] he believed in the conventional myth of Nordic supremacy and the need for a program of positive eugenics in order to preserve our Anglo-Saxon Americanism against pollution through immigration [...] [ending] with a chapter showing how 'Immigrant Blood' was slowly polluting the purer 'American Blood', as 'beaten members of the beaten breeds' swarmed over the beloved land of his own pioneer ancestors. Somewhat obsessed with race, Ross was of course convinced that 'the blood being injected into the veins of our people was sub-human'; the newer immigrants were 'morally below the races of northern Europe'; and that it all would end in 'Race Suicide'." — Baltzell, E. Digby (1964). The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. Random House, p. 105.
  4. Rafter, Nicole H. (2009). "Edward Alsworth Ross: The System of Social Control, 1901," in The Origins of Criminology: A Reader, Routledge, p. 320.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Encyclopedia of World Biography on Edward Alsworth Ross
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  7. Casper, Gerhard (1995). Die Luft der Freiheit weht - On and Off. Stanford University, Office of the President.
  8. Mohr, James C. (1970). "Academic Turmoil and Public Opinion: The Ross Case at Stanford," Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 39-61.
  9. Riley, Naomi Schaefer (2011). The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For, Lanham, Maryland: Ivan R. Dee, p. 34.
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  13. Samuels, Warren J. (1991). "The Firing of E. A. Ross from Stanford University: Injustice Compounded by Deception?," The Journal of Economic Education, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 183-190.
  14. Keith, Bruce (1988). "The Foundations of an American Discipline: Edward A. Ross at the University of Nebraska, 1901-1906," Mid-American Review of Sociology, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 43-56.
  15. Weinberg, Julius (1967). "E. A. Ross: The Progressive as Nativist," The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 242-253.
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  18. Dewey Commission Report
  19. McMahon, Sean H. (1999). Social Control and Public Intellect: The Legacy of Edward A. Ross, Transaction Publishers.
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Further reading

  • Gillin, John Lewis (1937). "The Personality of Edward Alsworth Ross," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 42, No. 4, Jan., pp. 534–542.
  • Gross, Matthias (2002). "When Ecology and Sociology Meet: The Contributions of Edward A. Ross," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 38 (1), pp. 27–42.
  • Gross, Matthias (2003). "Sociologists of the Unexpected: Edward A. Ross and Georg Simmel on the Unintended Consequences of Modernity," The American Sociologist, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 40–58.
  • Kolb, William L. (1948). "The Sociological Theories of Edward Alsworth Ross," in Harry Elmer Barnes, ed., An Introduction to the History of Sociology, University of Chicago Press.
  • McMahon, Sean H. (1998). "Professional Purpose and Academic Legitimacy: Ross's Social Control and the Founding of American Sociology," The American Sociologist, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 9–25.
  • Odum, Howard W. (1951). "Edward Alsworth Ross: 1866–1951", Social Forces, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 126–127.
  • Page, Charles Hunt (1940). Class and American Sociology: from Ward to Ross, The Dial Press.
  • Spellman, William E. (1979). "The Economics of Edward Alsworth Ross," The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 38, No. 2, Apr., pp. 129–140 .

External links

Preceded by President of the American Sociological Association
Succeeded by
George E. Vincent