Edward Alsworth Ross
Edward Alsworth Ross
December 12, 1866
Virden, Illinois, US
|Died||July 22, 1951 (aged 84)|
|Doctoral advisor||Richard T. Ely|
|Doctoral students||C. Wright Mills|
Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866 – July 22, 1951) was a progressive American sociologist, eugenicist, economist, and major figure of early criminology.
He 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 PhD from Johns Hopkins University in political economy under Richard T. Ely, with minors in philosophy and ethics.
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). He was then a professor at University of Nebraska (1900-1904) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (1905-1937).
In the field of economics, he made contributions to the study of taxation, debt management, value theory, uncertainty, and location theory.
In Stanford's "first academic freedom controversy", Ross was fired from Stanford because of his political views 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 wish to restrict entry of other races in strong and crude language in public speeches) and Japanese immigration altogether. In the speech that was the catalyst for his potential firing and ultimate resignation, he was quoted as declaring:
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
In response, Jane Stanford called for his resignation.
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 Ross resigned shortly after. The 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: "A railroad deal is a railroad steal." This was too much for Jane Stanford, 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." The American Association of University Professors was founded largely in response to this incident.
Ross left for the University of Nebraska, where he taught until 1905. 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.
His 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's 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.
In 1913, the State of Wisconsin passed its first sterilization law. Ross, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, was a reserved proponent of sterilization and indicated his support for the measure. 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 US recognition of the Soviet Union. However, he later served on the Dewey Commission, which cleared Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him by the Soviet government during the Moscow Trials.
From 1900 to the 1920s, Ross supported the alcohol Prohibition movement as well as continuing to support eugenics and immigration restriction. By 1930, he had moved away from those 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, serving until 1950.
He died in 1951.
For my own part, I am entirely in favor of it. The objections to it are essentially sentimental, and will not bear inspection. Sterilization is not nearly so terrible as hanging a man, and the chances of sterilizing the fit are not nearly so great, as are the chances of hanging the innocent. In introducing the policy, the wedge should have a very thin end indeed. Sterilization should at first be applied only to extreme cases, where the commitments and the record pile up an overwhelming case. As the public becomes accustomed to it, and it is seen to be salutary and humane, it wil be possible gradually to extend its scope until it fills its legitimate sphere of application.