History of the Southwestern Sociological Association

The history of the Southwestern Sociological Association (SSA) has been played out largely within the framework of the Southwestern Social Science Association (SSSA), which had its conceptual founding in the fall of 1919 at the University of Texas at Austin. Plans for the first meeting in 1920 and a journal were formulated by several social scientists, including sociologist Max Sylvius Handman, a 1917 graduate of the University of Chicago.

The Early Years

The first sociologist to appear in the fledgling organization's records was Edward B. Reuter, chair of the sociology department at Tulane. At the second meeting in 1921 Reuter read a paper, "Training for Social Service," at a joint Saturday morning session with the Texas Conference of Statewide Social Agencies. During the Association's business meeting, he was elected to the Executive Council, consisting of officers and two members chosen at large; however, he resigned shortly thereafter, having taken a position at the University of Iowa.

The third annual meeting was held at the University of Oklahoma. (The first five meetings of the organization were held on college campuses.) There were no sociologists participating in the six sessions; however, there was a luncheon for economics and sociology professors on "methods of instruction." In the Association's business meeting, sociologist A.B. Wolfe (Texas) was added to the Executive Council, presumably as a replacement for Reuter.

It was at the Association's fourth meeting at Southern Methodist University in 1923 that sociologists had their first responsibility for an entire session. (For more than a decade, there were only six sessions during a three-day meeting.) Papers relating to "farm tenancy" were read by William E. Garnett (A. and M., Texas), William P. Meroney (Baylor), A. W. Hays (Tulane), and Comer M. Woodard (Southern Methodist). The session was presided over by Samuel L. Hornbeak (Trinity), who was substituting for Jerome Dowd (Oklahoma).

By the time of the fifth annual meeting in Fort Worth, the participation of sociologists in annual-meeting programs was moving toward routinization. Again an entire session was devoted to sociology presentations dealing with "urbanization and industrialization in the Southwest." Papers were read by Walter B. Bodenhafer (Washington, St. Louis), Edwin F. Bamford (Baylor), and W. J. McConnell (North Texas State Teachers). Discussants included R. Clyde White (A. and M., Texas), A. C. Burkholder (Southwest Texas State Teachers), D. F. McCollum (East Texas State Teachers), and R. E. Shepperd (Texas Christian).

Sociology, a Section in the SSSA

The first Constitution of the Southwestern Political Science Association (the first name of the SSSA) adopted in 1920 made no reference to the specific disciplines participating in the organization; however, from the beginning it was clear that political science was dominant. An editorial in the first issue of the journal stated that "'political science' shall be understood as comprising the fields . . . [of] political science, economics, and sociology . . . ." It was not surprising that, early on, sociologists, economists, and historians collectively worked together to bring about changes that were reflected in the successive names of the organization: Southwestern Political Science Association, 1920-1923; Southwestern Political and Social Science Association, 1924-30; and, finally, Southwestern Social Science Association, since 1931.

Program summaries of early meetings usually referred to sessions being presented by members of particular disciplines. However, a 1923 write-up used "section" in referring to programs presented by history and sociology, and by 1925 the word section had come into common usage in the annual programs. It wasn't until 1937, however, that the disciplines were officially recognized as sections in the SSSA Constitution. The Executive Council, which initially consisted of elected officers, was augmented to include the chairpersons of sections. This was a significant change, as it meant all disciplines would have some influence in determining policy for the organization. In addition the Constitution gave the sections authority to name an advisory editor for the Association's journal, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (SSSQ), a practice that had already been in effect on an informal basis for nearly a decade.

In another and perhaps more influential manner sociologists have contributed to the development of the Quarterly which went through a series of name changes as did the sponsoring organization. For more than half the 80 years of publication, sociologists have been editors. Max Sylvius Handman was one of a trio of editors of the Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly from 1926-30. Jefferson J. Rhyne (Oklahoma), 1936-39, and Carl M. Rosenquist (Texas), 1939-42, served as editors of the SSSQ during the latter years of the Great Depression and the onset of World War II. Harry Estill Moore (Texas), 1956-66, developed the journal into a strong regional publication. He was followed by Charles M. Bonjean (Texas, Austin), 1966-93, who led in changing the name of the journal in 1968 to Social Science Quarterly (SSQ) and transforming it into a high-ranking national social science publication.

Emergence of the Southwestern Sociological Society

Actions of the SSSA from time to time were aimed at mollifying conflict among the participating disciplines and reducing the tensions between the parent organization and the sections. Following the 1937 revision of the Constitution giving sections official recognition, SSSA leaders urged them "to create whatever organization might be necessary for their more effectual participation" in the Association. Shortly thereafter the sociology section, under the leadership of Walter T. Watson (Southern Methodist), created a formal organization, calling it the Southwestern Sociological Society. Two years later during the presidency of Warner E. Gettys (Texas), the group adopted a constitution in which it asserted its "autonomy as a scientific association" but pledged to continue cooperation with the SSSA.
The organizational development the sociology section had experienced in the late 1930s and the increasing participation in its annual-meeting programs were brought to a virtual standstill by the onset of World War II. The impact of the war on professional associations throughout the country was devastating in a number of ways, perhaps most severely on the holding of annual meetings. In late 1942 a decision was made by the leadership of the SSSA to discontinue annual meetings until the war ended. There were no meetings in 1943, 1944, and 1945. After the war the developmental progress sociology had made earlier was reestablished by a succession of strong leaders: Watson, serving a second term in 1946; Paul Forman (Oklahoma A&M), 1947; Austin L. Porterfield (Texas Christian), 1948; and Mattie Lloyd Wooten (Texas State College for Women), 1949.

Student Participation

In 1947 Porterfield and Wooten served on a SSSA committee that secured the adoption of proposals to increase student participation in the annual meetings. A decade earlier, the sociology section had led the way in this regard by creating a special committee to oversee student sessions at the annual meetings. (C. Wright Mills, a graduate student at Texas, was on that committee.) When the first sociology Constitution was adopted in 1939, students were assigned a special category of membership that permitted extensive participation with the exception of voting. Twenty-four years later, students were accorded full membership privileges in the 1963 revision of the Constitution. (The document also recorded the organization's change of name to Southwestern Sociological Association.) In 1968 a student-paper award of $50.00 was created; however, as the number of student program participants increased, additional awards were added, honoring both undergraduates and graduate students.

By 1975 students had come to make up about a third of the membership of the sociology section. In 1983 Michael D. Grimes (Louisiana State, Baton Rouge) chaired a committee that was asked to develop a proposal for an honors program for student members. The report he presented to the membership in 1985 included creation of a formal organization based on a pattern suggested by the American Sociological Association (ASA) and a recommendation that a student member be added to the sociology Executive Council. The entire proposal was adopted. At the following annual meeting in 1986 the first student participated in the deliberations of the sociology leadership. In the summer of 1987 a publication, "Honors Notes," was circulated, advertising the program. Records unfortunately are not clear from year to year as to which sessions were designated honors. The 1993 program had eight student-paper sessions, the most yet recorded in SSA history; however, none was labeled honors.

Financial Difficulties, a Recurring Issue

Throughout the early decades of the SSSA, adequate finances - especially funds to publish the journal - were always a problem, so there was never a surplus to share with the sections. When that body voted to increase dues to $4.00 in 1948, Porterfield brought a resolution from the sociology section requesting that a dollar from dues be designated for a member's section. The proposal failed, but a substitute motion was adopted which allowed the sections "to levy such special fees upon their members as deemed desirable." As a consequence of the "special fee" suggestion, the sociology section instituted its own membership dues of $2.00 which, as it turned out, allowed participation in the annual meetings without membership in the umbrella organization.

Most of the dues collected from sociology members were used to cover the cost of publishing "Proceedings" of papers read at the annual meetings. The idea seemed at first to be a good one, as the SSSQ usually published no more than three or four sociology papers each year. No one, however, anticipated the phenomenal growth of sociology program participation. The first issue of the "Proceedings" in 1952 contained 11 papers, making use of a total of 56 pages, mimeographed on one side only. The last issue in 1970 contained over 250 pages. The cost of publication had become prohibitive, and in most instances there had been no evaluative process regarding inclusion of papers. The following year a contract was entered into with the publisher of Sociological Abstracts whereby summaries of papers to be presented at annual meetings were made available for purchase by members. The success of this effort was limited, as the sale of the Abstracts fell far short of publication costs. Finally in 1980 the contract was terminated.

With the discontinuance of the "Proceedings," members questioned what they were getting for their two-dollar membership fees. They should have realized that the growing organization had increasing need of funds for official correspondence, guest-speaker expense, and a newsletter. (In 1964 Bruce Pringle [Southern Methodist] had originated "The Southwestern Sociologist," forerunner of the SSA Newsletter, a continuous publication since 1973.) Furthermore, many complained about dual membership fees for sociology and the SSSA. In the case of the latter, sociologists didn't want the journal, which increasingly published articles relating to business administration disciplines. Dissatisfaction increased to such an extent that members talked of withdrawing from the parent body. Morton B. King (Southern Methodist) urged the group to align with the Texas Academy of Science which at that time had a social science section. King's proposal was rejected, but the members did debate at some length the pros and cons of a totally separate organization.

It became clear to the SSSA leadership during the late '60s that the rapidly growing sociology participation was not being reflected its membership totals, as sociologists were attending the annual meetings but paying only the special sociology fee. In an effort to counter that development, the SSSA initiated two types of membership, one with the SSQ and the other without it, but the action had little or no effect on dues payers. In a further effort to rein in the sociologists, the SSSA agreed to collect the section's special $2.00 membership fee. The magnitude of the problem was stressed in a letter in December 1968 to sociologists from SSQ Editor Charles Bonjean and Associate Editor Harold Osborne (Baylor). After expressing their concern about financing the journal, they stated, "We have compared the SSA membership list with the SSSA membership list and found that almost 60 percent of the former are not members of the latter." Relations between the SSSA and the sections improved somewhat in March 1968, when the SSSA instituted a $2.00 registration fee to be channeled to a registrant's designated section.

It was during the SSA presidency of Rex Enoch (Memphis State) in 1976 that sociology was made most acutely aware of its financial ties with the SSSA. The business disciplines had departed from the parent organization three years earlier, resulting in the loss of at least a third of the SSSA members, creating a severe financial crisis for the Quarterly in particular. SSSA President (sociologist) W. G. Steglich (Texas, El Paso) and SSQ Editor Bonjean appeared at the sociology business meeting and made impassioned pleas for financial cooperation. Steglich asked the group to forego the registration funds as well as a recently created rebate from the SSSA membership fee. After extended discussion, the sociology members present voted to accede to the requests and went further, voting to give the parent organization $1,000, nearly half of the section's meager budget funds. With the financial crisis continuing for several years, the SSSA took a drastic measure in 1983, abolishing the dual-dues structure, thus requiring all members to take the Quarterly.

Seeking Parity with the Other Disciplines in the SSSA

A major contributor to dissatisfaction between the sections and the parent organization in the 1960s was the outmoded SSSA Constitution which allowed each section only one Executive Council representative regardless of the size of the group, a practice that had resulted in an inordinate influence of business disciplines. During the 1960 decade, the social sciences, particularly economics, political science, and sociology, experienced unprecedented increases in membership and program participation but had only a single vote, as did the small sections, in Council deliberations. Something akin to a cancerous - growth the business administration sections - had been developing for 20 years or more, having been spawned through economics. By 1967 there were eight business sections in addition to five social sciences. (Geography had become a section in 1933. More recently other organizations - African Studies, Slavic Studies, Texas Psychologists, and Voluntary Action Scholars - have participated in the annual meetings for brief periods. Presently, International Studies [since 1968], the Women's Caucus [1969], and Social Work [1982] are continuing participants.)

The simmering conflict among the sections erupted at the SSSA business meeting in 1968 when the political science section brought a motion calling for the association to "divest itself of its business administration sections." The motion failed; however, a proposal was adopted the following year which altered SSSA Executive Council make up: The larger (200 or more members) sections would thereafter be given two representatives; those with 60-199 members, one; and those with less than 60, none. As expected, major beneficiaries from the change were economics, political science, and sociology. So, it was not surprising that the business disciplines, having lost prestige and influence, issued a "Declaration of Intent" in 1973 and withdrew from the Association.

From that critical moment in the history of the SSSA until the present, sociology has enjoyed parity with the other social science disciplines. The earlier struggle had been difficult. In the 1960s the SSSA assigned one meeting room to sociology. Initially that was sufficient - the membership in 1960 was 72 (65 men and 7 women), and only 32 persons were on the annual meeting program (30 men and 2 women). By 1970 the membership had climbed to 450, and by 1976 it had reached 622. Until the exit of the business disciplines, meeting rooms for sociology had been increasingly difficult to secure, so sessions often had to be held at night and in buildings adjacent to or near the conference hotel. In more recent efforts to improve relations with the participating organizations, the SSSA voted in 1980 to amend its Constitution to change the designation "section" to "affiliate," a concept that more accurately described the relationship of the parent body to its structural components.

Leadership of Sociologists in the SSSA

Although sociologists were active in the founding years of the SSSA and served as editors of the Quarterly from time to time, they were seldom tapped for presidency of the organization. The Association had been in existence for 25 years before the first sociologist was named president. Texas sociologist Warner Gettys, mentioned earlier as leading in the formal organization of the sociology section, served during 1946-47. Another Texas sociologist, Carl Rosenquist, served as president seven years later in 1954. Southern Methodist sociologist Walter Watson, who had helped reorganize the SSSA after World War II, served during 1958-59. Throughout the decade of the 1960s when sociology was experiencing rapid growth, no sociologist was elected to the vice-president post that would eventually lead to leadership of the organization.

Beginning in 1969, however, with the reorganization of the SSSA Executive Council, an informal rotation system involving the social science affiliates was instituted that resulted in a sociologist assuming the presidency every five years. Sociologists who have served since that date are Hiram J. Friedsam (North Texas State), 1969-70; W. G. Steglich, 1975-76; Jerry Michel (Memphis State), 1980-81; Charles Tolbert (Baylor), 1984-85; Marie M. Fuller (Texas Woman's), 1989-90; Charles Bonjean, 1994-95, and Larry Lyon (Baylor), 1999-2000. The five-year cycle was modified somewhat in 1993 to permit an at-large candidate to be nominated from participating affiliates with less than 60 members. This change in the traditional routine resulted in a founding member of the SSSA Women's Caucus, sociologist Elizabeth Almquist, serving as president during 1995-96.

Participation of Minorities in the SSSA and SSA

The SSSA presidency of Almquist was a culmination of the steadily increasing number of women in the various affiliates and the influence of the Women's Caucus, which had been organized in 1969. (The first woman to serve as president of the SSSA, 1973-74, was Jewel Prestige, a political scientist from Southern University, Baton Rouge.) Having entered an organization that had been overwhelmingly dominated by men since its founding, it was not surprising that women members organized to promote their interests. In 1971 the Caucus led in the passage of a resolution condemning discrimination against women. Other resolutions followed in 1972, and in 1973 the Caucus secured the Association's endorsement of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Five years later the Caucus succeeded in persuading the Executive Council to go to another city for its 1980 meeting, since Louisiana had not voted for the ERA. (That was not the only time the SSSA turned its back on New Orleans. The Council learned in 1958 that "New Orleans hotels could not admit Negroes as guests in dining rooms or in elevators," so the group voted to go elsewhere for its 1959 meeting.)

Throughout the 1970s, minority issues were also topics for sometimes-intense discussion in sociology sessions at the annual meetings. Almquist brought the special concerns of the Women's Caucus before the SSA in 1973 and secured passage of a resolution calling upon the Program Committee to encourage more participation of women and other minorities. At the close of that meeting, President Bonjean led in the passage of a proposal asking his successor to appoint a committee "to be concerned with the status of minorities in the Association, particularly women, blacks, and Mexican Americans." The following year President Mhyra S. Minnis (Texas Tech) the fourth woman to serve in that capacity during the fifty-year history of the SSA, created an ad-hoc "Committee on Minorities: Race, Ethnic, and Women" and named Emory Davis (Texas Tech) to chair it. It was an unusual coincidence during the same meeting that the membership elected John Moland, Jr. (Southern, Louisiana) second vice president, which meant that he would succeed to the presidency in 1977. Moland then became the first African American to head Southwestern sociologists.

At the end of the first year of his leadership, Davis divided his committee into two subcommittees, women and ethnic groups. He also initiated a mimeographed publication, "The Pluralist Newsletter" (later changed to "Multi-eth News") in order to share information about minorities in colleges and universities. In 1976 he secured a name change in the committee to "Committee on Minority Studies and Status." Upon his retirement in 1978, Rosario Torres Raines (Texas A&M, Kingsville) succeeded to leadership of the committee which was given "standing" status in the 1980 revision of the Constitution. Under her direction the committee actively sought to determine by a comprehensive survey the facts regarding minorities in colleges and universities in the Southwest. After some delay related to surveying problems, the committee published its findings, "Faculty and Department Directory on Women and Ethnic Minority Sociologists in Texas Colleges and Universities, 1981-82." Of the 108 schools responding, 58 reported "none" on all minority-related issues.

Financial needs of minority graduate students received unusual attention at the SSA annual meeting in 1987, when Lionel Maldonado, director of the ASA Minority Fellowship Program, described efforts to raise funds. After extended discussion about the program, the SSA voted to give financial support for a scholarship for a minority student in the Southwest. Since the Association operated on a very limited budget, the members decided to raise money through a silent auction. Gary Dworkin (Houston) chaired the committee that planned and carried out the auction. That initial effort was so successful, netting over a thousand dollars, that it quickly became a routine activity for making contributions to the fellowship program.

Speakers at SSA Plenary Sessions

In the early years of the SSA, the presidents were often the speakers at annual-meeting plenary sessions; however, by the late 1960s the custom had been established whereby sociologists from outside the region were invited. A sampling of the speakers: Ralph Turner (president-elect of the ASA), William J. Goode (Columbia), William Gamson (Michigan), Robert K. Merton (Columbia), Gerhard Lenski (North Carolina, Chapel Hill), James F. Short, Jr. (Washington State), Samuel Hill (Florida), George C. Homans (Harvard), Irving L Horowitz (Rutgers), and Peter Blau (Columbia). Duncan Gallie (Oxford), and Michael Mann (London School of Economics) were Sorokin lecturers. Jack Gibbs (Vanderbilt) was the plenary speaker on two occasions, 1975 and 1983.

During the 1980 decade, several sociologists in the Southwest region were plenary speakers: Larry Adams (Texas Christian), William P. Kuvlesky (Texas A&M), Julius Rivera (Texas, El Paso), Janet S. Chafetz (Houston), and Paula England (Texas, Dallas). Others who participated in plenary sessions during that time were Mark Abrahamson (National Science Foundation) and economist Rose Rubin (North Texas State). Among those who have addressed the SSA in plenary sessions since 1990 are: Matilda White Riley (National Institute of Health), James T. Richardson (Nevada, Reno), Ralph La Rossa (Georgia State), Jorge A. Bustamante (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte), Stanford M. Lyman (Florida Atlantic), Joe R. Feagin (Florida), Wade Clark Roof (California, Santa Barbara), and Rodolfo Alvarez (California, Los Angeles). Of special note in this regard are the contributions of long-time SSA member Gideon Sjoberg (Texas, Austin), who was plenary speaker on three occasions, 1964 (presidential address), 1974, and 1994.

Relationship with the American Sociological Association

Through the years the SSA has maintained a varying relationship with the ASA. In 1963 the national organization established a procedure for the election of regional representatives to its Executive Council. Each regional group nominated two "fellows" who were placed on the national election ballot. Only ASA members in a particular area could vote for their representative who would serve for a three-year period. The relationship of the regional associations to the national organization was changed significantly in 1966 when the ASA created the Committee on Regional Affairs, altering the earlier direct participation in the Executive Council.

During a joint meeting with the Southern Sociological Society in 1966 in New Orleans, Wilbert E. Moore, president of the ASA, and Edmund H. Volkart, ASA executive officer, discussed at length the proposed changes. A revision of the SSA Constitution later that year included the altered procedure. Throughout the 15 years during which SSA elected representatives, the organization was represented successively by Friedsam, King, Steglich, Dale McLemore (Texas, Austin), and Almquist. A new ASA approach to regional relationships was established in 1978 that eliminated elected representatives from the regional associations. The United States was divided into regions in the effort to equalize membership population. The ASA Committee on Nominations now selects the regional nominees, and all members vote on all nominees.

Despite the periodic changes in the relationship of the SSA to the ASA, ties have remained strong as is evidenced by the large number of sociologists who continue to participate in both organizations. Through the years ASA officers and staff members have enriched Southwestern meetings with informative words from the Washington office. Among those who have attended Southwestern meetings in addition to Volkart and Maldonado mentioned earlier are Nicholas J. Demerath, Hans Mauksch, Russell Dynes, Sue Titus, William D'Antonio, Betina Huber, Janet Mancini Billson, Ramon Torrecilha, Felice Levine, Steve Hoffman, Ed Murguia, and Carla Howery.

What About the Future?

After all that sociologists have experienced within the framework of the SSSA over the past 80 years, it is unlikely that they will withdraw to join another organization or become independent. Over the past two decades a more equitable sharing in SSSA membership and registration funds has brought about a comfortable financial stability. In recent years, however, the SSA leadership, apparently with continued financial uneasiness, has moved to transform the Association into a corporation. The procedure was set in motion in 1998 by President Tillman Rodabough (Baylor) and carried to completion in late 1999 by a committee chaired by Janet Huber Lowry (Austin). The aim was to gain nonprofit 501 (C) (3) tax status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service so the organization could receive contributions from members and other sources.

For more than 25 years the SSA has enjoyed "power" parity with the other SSSA social sciences and for a brief period in the late 1970s was the largest of the participating disciplines; however, in recent years it has ranked second to political science. To date, sociology's largest recorded membership was 622 in 1976, and its highest registration for the annual meeting was 52l in 1979. Since 1990, however, both indicators have declined to the 300-400 level. The search for new members has thus become a matter of major concern. Through the years, recruitment efforts have varied from letters to department chairs and new faculty to advertisements of one kind or another. Informational messages such as the brochure devised by Jerry Michel (Memphis State) in 1968 quite likely contributed to the continued growth of the Association into the 1970s.

Students have been participating for more than fifty years and now make up at least a third of the SSA membership. Women constitute about 40 percent. With the completion of the 2000 annual meeting under the leadership of Cecile Harrison (Texas Southern), a total of 19 women had served as president. Increasing numbers of African American, Mexican American, and other minorities are participating in the programs of the annual meetings. Unfortunately, utilizing their leadership potential comes very slowly: The association has had members with an Hispanic heritage for nearly 50 years, but it was only in 1995 that the first Mexican American, Norma Williams (North Texas), served as president.

The future of the SSA depends in large measure on the efforts its leaders put forth in recruiting members, communicating effectively with the membership, and staging meaningful annual-meeting programs.

Compiled by Charles M. Tolbert, Sr., Baylor University
July 2001