Edward Alsworth Ross

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Edward A. Ross
Edward Alsworth Ross.jpg

Born December 12, 1866
Virden, Illinois
Died July 22, 1951
Madison, Wisconsin
Spouse Rosamond Simmons[1]

Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866 – July 22, 1951) was a progressive, eugenist,[2] author, and professor at several universities, and former national chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union.[3] He is considered a pioneer[4] and founder in the field of American sociology.[5] He popularized the concept of Social Control with his best known book Social Control.

In 1900 he made controversial comments during a speech regarding Japanese immigrants, which came to be known as the "Ross Affair".

Early life

Ross was born in Virden, Illinois, in 1866. He graduated from Coe College, Iowa, in 1886 and then studied at the University of Berlin during 1888–1889. He attended Johns Hopkins University during 1890-91 where he received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1891. During the year of 1891-92 he was Associate Professor of Economics at the Indiana University and the following year was spent at Cornell as Associate Professor of Political Economy and Finance.[6] As an economist, Ross was trained by Richard T. Ely.[7]


Professor Ross was Secretary of the American Economic Association and Advisory Editor of the American Journal of Sociology in 1892–93.

From 1893 to 1900 Professor Ross was engaged at Stanford University, California, as Professor of Sociology. After leaving that Institution he went to Nebraska in the same capacity. He was lecturer in Sociology at Harvard from 1902 to 1905.[6]

"Ross Affair"

During the time of his employment at Stanford University, Ross gave a 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[8]

In response to this, Jane Stanford called for his resignation.[9]

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.[10]

Wisconsin Sterilization Law

In 1913, the State of Wisconsin passed its first sterilization law.[11] Ross, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, was a proponent[11] of sterilization and indicated his support for the measure.[12]

Dewey Commission

In 1937, John Dewey put together the Dewey Commission to examine charges made by Stalin against Trotsky.[13] Ross was a member of that commission.[14]


Ross died July 22, 1951 in Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of 85.[15]


  • Honest Dollars, (1896)
  • Social control; a survey of the foundations of order, (1901)
  • Foundations of Sociology, (1905)
  • Sin and Society: An Analysis of Latter-Day Iniquity, (1907)
  • Social Psychology: An Outline and Source Book, (1908)
  • Latter Day Sinners and Saints, (1910)
  • The Changing Chinese: The Conflict of Oriental and Western Cultures in China, (1911)
  • Changing America: Studies in Contemporary Society, (1912)
  • The Old World in the New: The Significance of Past and Present Immigration to the American People, (1914)
  • South of Panama, (1915)
  • Russia in Upheaval, (1918)
  • What is America?, (1919)
  • The Principles of Sociology, (1920)
  • The Russian Bolshevik Revolution, (1921)
  • The Social Trend, (1922)
  • The Outlines of Sociology, (1923)
  • The Russian Soviet Republic, (1923)
  • The Social Revolution in Mexico, (1923)
  • Changes in the Size of American Families in One Generation, (1924)
  • Roads to Social Peace(1924)
  • Civic Sociology: A Textbook in Social and Civic Problems for Young Americans, (1925)
  • Report on the Employment of Native Labor in Portuguese Africa, (1925)
  • Standing Room Only?, (1927)
  • World Drift, (1928)
  • Tests and Challenges in Sociology, (1931)
  • Seventy Years of It: An Autobiography, (1936)
  • New Age Sociology, (1940)


  1. The Ross Family of New Jersey: A Record of the Descendants of George and Constance (Little) Ross and Other New Jersey Ross Families
  2. (1986) The Edward A. Ross Papers. Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Division of Archives & Manuscripts. 
  3. 40th Anniversary Issue. ACLU San Diego.
  4. Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory, Volume 1
  5. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wisconsin Art Portfolio Badger
  7. The Economics of Edward Alsworth Ross
  8. Stanford University. The Independent (New York). 
  9. Burns, Edward McNall (1953). David Starr Jordan: Prophet of Freedom. Stanford University Press. 
  10. (1900) The Argonaut. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum and Historical Society. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Wisconsin.
  12. Vecoli, Rudolph (1960). "Sterilization: A Progressive Measure?". The Wisconsin Magazine of History 43: 190–202. "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.". 
  13. Breaking with Communism: The Intellectual Odyssey of Bertram D. Wolfe
  14. Socialism and American Life, Volume I
  15. Sociology and Social Research, Volume 36

External links