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Department History

Highlights from the History of the Cornell Sociology Department

1891 – Walter F. Willcox (1861-1964), Economist, Statistician, and early Cornell Sociologist, future President of the American Statistical Association (1911-12), future President of the America Economic Association (1915), “Father of American Demography,” and co-Director of 1900 U.S. census, appointed as a lecturer in Cornell’s Philosophy Department. Soon after, Willcox became a Professor of Economics.

1891-1892 – Thorstein Veblen studies at Cornell.

1906 – Walter F. Willcox is only known Cornell attendee of the first meeting of the American Sociological Society in Providence, Rhode Island.

1908 – Eugene K. Jones, co-founder of Alpha Phi Alpha (first African-American fraternity in the U.S.) and first Executive Secretary of the National Urban League, receives Masters Degree from Cornell in Sociology.

1914-15 – Edward Alsworth Ross, former Cornell Professor of Political Economy (1892-1893), elected 5th president of the American Sociological Society.

1915 – Cornell University authorizes creation of Department of Rural Social Organization (later renamed Department of Rural Sociology, and renamed Department of Development Sociology in 2003). The Department of Rural Social Organization became operational in 1918.

1924 – Charles A. Ellwood, Cornell alumnus (B.A. 1896), elected 14th president of the American Sociological Society. At Cornell, he studied with Ross, Wilcox, and J.W. Jenks

1932 – Luther L. Bernard, former Cornell Sociologist (1925-1926), elected 22nd president of the American Sociological Society.

1939 – Department of Sociology and Anthropology founded. Leonard S. Cottrell named first chairperson. Department located in Morrill Hall.

1941-1947 – Louis Guttman, developer of “Guttman Scaling,” contributor to The American Soldier, and later founder of the Israel Institute for Applied Social Research (renamed the “Guttman Institute” in 1987), works as a professor of Sociology at Cornell. Obituaries: New York Times, Public Opinion Quarterly

1942 – (Ezra) Dwight Sanderson, (Department of Rural Sociology) first president of the Rural Sociological Society (1938), elected the American Sociological Society’s 31st president. Presidential Address.

1943 – William Foote Whyte publishes Street Corner Society. Reviews: American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces

1946 – Robin M Williams Jr. joins the faculty as an Associate Professor of Sociology. Promoted to Full Professor in 1948. Retired in 1985. Biographical Summary

1949 – The four-volume work The American Soldier published based on work conducted by the research branch of the U.S. Army’s Information and Education Division during World War II. Cornell professors Leonard S. Cottrell, Robin Williams Jr., Louis Guttman, and several others worked on the project and co-authored volumes.

1950 – Leonard S. Cottrell elected the American Sociological Society’s 40th president. Presidential Address.

1951 – Robin Williams Jr. publishes American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, 1st edition (2nd edition published in 1960, 3rd edition in 1970).

1952 – Melvin L. Kohn, future President of the American Sociological Association, author of Class and Conformity, and recipient of the Cooley-Mead Award for lifetime research achievements in social psychology (1992), receives Ph.D from Cornell.

1952-3 – Peter Blau, future ASA president (1974), works as an Assistant Professor of Sociology before moving to University of Chicago.

1956-1958 – Sociometry (renamed Social Psychology Quarterly in 1979) transferred to the American Sociological Society. Leonard S. Cottrell named first ASS editor.

1958 – Robin M. Williams Jr. elected the American Sociological Society’s 48th president. Presidential Address

1961 – Cornell Sociology and Anthropology split, forming separate academic departments.

1964 – Michael Schwerner (B.A. ’61 Sociology), Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney are shot and killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were in Mississippi as a part of “Freedom Summer,” an effort by Civil Rights activists to register African-Americans to vote. The films “Murder in Mississippi” and “Mississippi Burning” are based on these events. Biography of Schwerner, FBI’s 50 Years after Mississippi Burning, Waiting for word on Schwerner, Picture of Martin Luther King at a memorial for Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman.

1965-66 – Robin Williams Jr. serves as President of Eastern Sociological Society.

1968 – Jonathan H. Turner, UC-Riverside Sociology Professor and renowned sociological theorist, receives Ph.D. from Cornell in Sociology

1969 – Harry Edwards, one of the first sociologists of sport and organizer of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics black power protest, receives Ph.D.

1970 – William L. Parish, University of Chicago Sociology Professor and China scholar, receives Ph.D from Cornell.

1971 – Louis Guttman’s work on the development of scaling theory recognized as one of the 62 major advances in social science between 1900 and 1965 by Science. Article

1972 – Cecilia Ridgeway, accomplished social psychologist of status and gender processes, recipient of the Cooley-Mead Award for lifetime research achievements in social psychology (2005), receives her Ph.D from Cornell.

1972 – Sociology Department moves to Uris Hall.

1975 – Leonard Reissman (1921-1975), author of Class in American Society, dies.

1981 – William Foote Whyte elected the American Sociological Association’s 72nd president. Presidential Address

1981 – Dorothy Nelkin, a Full Professor in Sociology and STS, testifies on behalf of the plaintiffs in McClean et al. vs. the Arkansas Board of Education. This case overturned Arkansas Act 590, legislation that required schools to balance instruction in evolutionary biology with “creation science.” A transcript of her testimony is available here.

1985 – Leonard S. Cottrell (1899-1985), founder and first chairman of Cornell’s Sociology and Anthropology Department (1939), Chief Sociologist in U.S. War Department (1942-1945), ASA President (1950), and former Dean of Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, dies.

1987 – Melvin L. Kohn, Cornell Sociology Alumnus, elected the American Sociological Association’s 77th president. Presidential Address, Profile

1990 – Robin Williams Jr. earns American Sociological Association’s Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award.

1996 – American Sociological Association award for contributions to sociological practice named for William Foote Whyte.

1999 – Center for the Study of Inequality founded, David Grusky named first Director.

2000 – William Foote Whyte dies (1914-2000). Obituary

2001 – William Foote Whyte posthumously awarded American Sociological Association’s Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award.

2002 – Center for the Study of Economy and Society founded, Victor Nee named first Director.

2006 – Robin M. Williams, Jr. dies (1914-2006). Obituary.

2006 – Donald P. Hayes dies (1927-2006). Obituary.

2009 – Cecilia Ridgeway, ’72, receives Jesse Bernard Award for distinguished career contributions to the study of Gender, awarded by the American Sociological Association.

2012 – Cecilia Ridgeway, ’72, elected the American Sociological Association’s 103rd president. Her Presidential Address is on her award-winning book, Framed by Gender.

2015 – Benjamin Franco-Suarez, 90 years young, receives his PhD from Cornell. Dr. Franco-Suarez left Cornell in the early 1970s to work for the United Nations, but fulfilled a life dream by successfully defending his thesis in August of 2015. His research was on Bolivian Aymara women’s marital and fertility decisions in a period of cultural change.