History of “Sociology” at Georgetown University

By William F. McDonald
Sept. 24, 2009

The teaching of “sociology” at Georgetown University has had a remarkable history. That story has been pieced together from the recollections of Professors Murray Gendell, Margaret Hall, Sam Marullo, Susan Terrio, Elizabeth Stephen and documents from Archivists Lynn Conway and Ann Galloway.

Something called “sociology” was mentioned in a course description that appeared as early as the 1891-1892 postgraduate catalogue. It was part of the Course of Metaphysics and Ethics. Archivist Galloway reports as follows:

This course is broken down into 3 areas: Metaphysics, Natural Theology, and Ethics. Towards the bottom of this course description the word sociology appears however no other description of what that entails is present. This instance of sociology continues until 1895 when the following year sociology doesn’t appear to be in the catalog. In the 1903-04 catalogue “Sociology” reappears as part of the Philosophy section although this time “Sociology” is the title of one of the four courses in Philosophy. There is more of a description for “sociology” this time and it includes General Ethics (includes topics like moral conduct, habits, virtues, vices, natural law, and law and conscience as the objective and subjective rules of human acts), Special Ethics (includes topics on duties and rights, public worship, social law, civil society, and authority), and Politics (includes topics like forms of governments, armed force, penal code, church and state, war and peace).

While this “Sociology” course bears some similarity to the subject matter that would eventually be central to the interests of pioneer sociologists such as Emile Durkheim it lacks mention of the social scientific and empirical approaches that would become the hallmarks of modern sociology. In addition, given that the first department of sociology in North America was founded at the University of Chicago in 1890 and the American Sociological Association was established in 1905, it is highly unlikely that this 1903-04 course was instance of what would become courses in what has become the academic tradition known as Sociology.

More references to sociology at Georgetown happen in the 1920s & ‘30s. It seems that scholars learned in the discipline of modern sociology were on the faculty or invited speakers. It even seems that a “sociology department” was established in the Graduate School in 1928. Most importantly, this Department of Sociology offered courses that are (mostly) recognizable sociology courses.

Here are the findings.

From the Catalogue of the Graduate School: 1925-1926, (published Feb. 1925).

Department of Sociology

I. General Sociology – The notion, sphere and importance of sociology and its relation to other social sciences; its postulates; the frame-work of society, origin and purpose of the state; its sphere of action; elements affecting social life; race, temperament, heredity; analysis of the great social activities that affect social life; religion, education, and charity; virtues that are potent factors in social life; prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude; brief survey of social history; theories of social evolution analysed; introduction to social service.

II. Applied Sociology (Social Pathology) — Analysis of important problems, their causes and their remedies; the problem of government, of education, of the family, of population, immigration and race; the problem of eugenics and child welfare, etc.; the problem of dependency in all its various forms; the vast industrial problem in all its phases; the problem of crime and its penalty, etc.

III. History of Sociology etc. etc.

IV. Social Psychology

V. Social Service

VI. The Church and Social Service

VII. Social Philosophy of Leo XIII

The Washington Post (Aug. 28, 1928) reports as follows:

“The Rev. R. Rush Rankin, S.J., professor of sociology at Georgetown University, was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Sciences yesterday . . . . After the World War, Father Rankin taught sociology at Fordham . . . .

A 1967 Hoya article (Feb. 24, p. 11) reads:

Historically, sociology is not recent at Georgetown. Before the American Sociological Association was founded in 1905, Georgetown’s catalog carried sociology as an academic offering. According to its catalog file, there was a Graduate Department of Sociology founded in 1928.

Since its beginnings at Georgetown, Sociology has existed both independently and in the Economics, Education and Geography departments and has been called ‘Economics and Sociology,’ ‘Social Sciences’ and more recently, ‘Economics.’ Professor Joseph Stolerer, retired chairman of the Economics Department, was one of the first men to realize the need for sociological studies and, thanks to his influence, courses in population were introduced in the summer session almost a decade ago.”

In 1932 (Washington Post Nov. 13, p. 3)

the Rev. Miles J. O’Malley, S.J., was appointed dean of Georgetown’s Graduate School. Father O’Malley “had splendid training in postgraduate work” and had “been specializing for many years in sociology and education.”

In 1933 (Washington Post Oct. 13, p. 5)

John G. Bowen was awarded the degree of doctor of philosophy in the department of sociology of the graduate school. At the informal ceremony in the office of President Coleman Nevils, S.J., the five graduating candidates were presented by the Rev. Miles J. O’Malley, S.J., dean of the Graduate School.

In 1939 (Washington Post May 30, p. 3)

the renowned sociologist, Dr. Pitrim A. Sorokin, chairman of the department of sociology at Harvard University, spoke at Gaston Hall as part of a series of academic exercises commemorating the 150th anniversary of the University. He called the twentieth century the ‘bloodiest century out of 25 centuries studied.” He said our ‘sexually crazy and often sadistic’ contemporary art ‘mortalizes the immortals.’ “Visiting and local sociologists attending the celebration were guests of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Sociological Society (sic) at a dinner. ….”

In June 1959 (Hoya, Feb. 24, 1967, p. 11)

Fr. Robert L. Hoggson, S.J., joined the faculty of Georgetown “to teach Sociology.” Fr. Hoggson had a Ph.D. in Sociology from Fordham University. He was a Fellow of the American Sociological Association and was a member of the American Catholic Sociological Society. He offered sociology courses in the School of Business Administration and in the School of Nursing.

June 1, 1960, correspondence, Academic Vice-President Brian McGrath, S.J. to Raymond Pelissier, Department of Economics, regarding “assignment of Sociology courses”

For the basic Sociology course in the School of Business Administration during the coming academic year, Father Hoggson will take the day class and Doctor Eva Ross the evening.

There is no archival information as to what happened to the Graduate School’s Department of Sociology. It just disappeared.

In the early 1960s there were various calls for the establishment of the one or more departments what would deal with “behavioral science.” In 1961 Fr. Joseph A. Haller, S.J., Assistant Treasurer, wrote to President Edward B. Bunn, S.J., offering some thoughts upon the Middle States Accreditation Report of 1961 as well as a recent Carnegie Foundation study and a Ford Foundation report on Business Education. All three pointed to the need for a department at Georgetown that would teach courses related to “behavioral science.” Fr. Haller recommended a list of six courses for an undergraduate department of Behavioral Science:

  1. Sociology
  2. Social Anthropology
  3. Social Psychology
  4. Industrial Sociology
  5. Minority Group Relations
  6. Population Problems.

He got the list from Fr. James Muldowney at Wheeling College who rounded it out into a full major by adding six hours of statistical analysis plus two research seminars of one credit each.

On March 5, 1965, Fr. Haller sent the same proposal to Fr. Gerard J. Campbell, S.J., the new President with a note saying, “At the Board of Directors meeting yesterday, you mentioned forthcoming discussions with Father Early regarding the possibility of increasing Georgetown’s involvement with Sociology.

In 1964 responding to student calls for a psychology department the Dean of the College proposed the establishment of a department of behavioral science that would have included psychology, sociology and anthropology. The proposal was rejected by the executive faculty on the grounds that three fields were too diverse to be cobbled together.

In 1966 the lack of behavioral science departments at Georgetown was being criticized again, this time with strong student support. The University agreed to establish a Department of Psychology beginning in AY 1967-68.

The Department of Sociology as we know it today was established in an unusual way. In the autumn of 1965 the Ford Foundation gave Georgetown a grant to study population issues on the condition that the University establish a Master’s Degree in Demography program. So the University had to decide where to locate the program. A committee from the Commission on Human Resources and Advanced Education of the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils was invited to make a recommendation.

The committee visited the campus, met with faculty and reviewed a proposal for an undergraduate major in Sociology (Hoggson, Burch and Macisco, March 1965). It recommended the establishment of an undergraduate program with a curriculum of 6 to 8 courses. In order to recruit qualified faculty to teach in the Master of Arts in Demography, it recommended that the University establish “a department of Sociology (or department of sociology and anthropology).” (Correspondence John Folger, Director, Commission on Human Resources and Advanced Education to Fr. James Horrigan, Graduate Dean, Nov. 19, 1965, p. 20.)

The University accepted the recommendation and established a Sociology Department in 1967; but with an unusual twist. The Executive Faculty of the College was not willing to recommend the formation of a department where the demographers could be lodged. Instead it referred the matter to the Board of Graduate Studies. Academic Vice President, Thomas Fitzgerald, S.J., wrote to Graduate Dean, James Horrigan, S.J., that “the present position of the demographers is somewhat ambiguous. Although they will be offering a Master’s program, they are not within an academic department. Would the Board of Graduate Studies wish to recommend the establishment of a graduate department of Sociology to correct this anomaly?” (Aug. 2, 1965)

Subsequently, the Board of Graduate Studies requested approval for a Department of Sociology, with the understanding that the department will offer no graduate work other than the M.A. in Demography, and that there would not be an undergraduate major in Sociology. Fr. Robert Hoggson S.J., who had been teaching sociology courses at Georgetown since 1959 was appointed Chairman of the new department. However, it was a very strange department. It offered Introduction of Sociology and a Master’s degree in Demography but no major or minor in Sociology.

The Department became a “real” Department of Sociology in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 and the subsequent rioting in D.C. and elsewhere. Pre-registration for the fall semester was about to begin. Academic Vice President, Aloysius Kelly, S.J., contacted the faculty teaching Demography and directed that four new courses in Sociology be made available for the fall registration and planning for a major begin. In 1969-70 a major in Sociology was available to students. The Department graduated its first majors in May 1971.

There were initially three demographers in the demography program, Tom Burch, Murray Gendell, and John Macisco, each with a Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton, Columbia, and Brown, respectively. They taught undergraduate sociology courses as well as graduate demography courses. Early in the 1970s, Burch and Macisco resigned from Georgetown in order to work elsewhere. Gendell continued to teach sociology and demography courses until the demography program was separated from the Sociology Department. During the mid-1970s, he also served as Chairperson of the Sociology Department. Of those who have remained in the Sociology Department, Margaret Hall and William McDonald were among the first non-demography appointments.
Fr. Hoggson was not a demographer and so was not in the MA program.

New faculty lines intended for the teaching of undergraduate Sociology courses were added in 1970 and subsequent years. In 1976 the Sociology faculty used the new faculty line that was being given to them to hire an anthropologist (Gwendolyn Mikell). During the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s the Department regularly employed anthropologists as adjunct faculty such as Elizabeth Andretta, who began teaching in the Department in AY 1972-73.

In the late 1970s the administration decided to separate the Demography program from the Sociology Department and to make it into a separate department. Subsequently, the Demography Department was abolished. Two of the three remaining ordinary faculty (Charles Keeley and Elizabeth Stephen) were transferred to the School of Foreign Service. One was made the director of a new Center for Population and Health (Maxine Weinstein).

In the 1990s, a number of anthropologists were hired in other units and departments of the university, a phenomenon that helped to increase student interest in anthropology and to enhance the visibility of the discipline at Georgetown University. For example, Susan Terrio was hired on a tenure track in the French department in 1994 and she immediately sought to teach in the Department. In 1995, the department chair and anthropologist, Gwendolyn Mikell, invited Susan Terrio to teach a course in her speciality, the Anthropology of Europe. The following year, Susan Terrio served on a senior faculty search for a Latin American anthropologist which resulted in the hiring of Joanne Rappaport.

It is important to note that outside foundations had repeatedly noted the conspicuous absence of anthropologists in the proposals submitted for funding by Georgetown University. The Department created an anthropology minor in 1995 and soon after requested that a second anthropology faculty line be established in the department in order to strengthen the University’s anthropology offerings. This position was approved in AY 1997-98 and Denise Brennan was appointed for AY 1998-99. In AY 1999-2000 the department sought approval for a major in Anthropology which was approved by the Board in May 2001. In 2001, the Department sought permission for a third full time anthropology line, which was awarded for AY 2002-03. This position was filled initially with a three-year term appointment. A national search was conducted in AY 2004-05, leading to the tenure-track appointment of Melissa Fisher.

It should be noted that Professors Terrio and Rappaport sought and were approved as joint appointments in the Department of Sociology in July 2005. In addition, there are members of the non-ordinary faculty of the Department of Sociology, who teach anthropology courses on a regular basis (Elzbieta Gozdziak, Research Director at the Institute for the Study of International Migration; Sylvia Onder, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Division of Eastern Mediterranean Languages, Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, Research Professor in the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies).

In 2000 the Board of Directors suspended admissions to the Department of Demography. Professor Charles Keely had a joint appointment with the School of Foreign Service, so he transferred his full line to SFS. Professor Donna Morrison had a joint appointment with the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and she transferred her full line to GPPI. Professor Elizabeth Stephen transferred her line to the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Professor Maxine Weinstein’s line was transferred to the Graduate School and she was named Director of the Center for Population and Health.

In May 2001 the Board approved the establishment of a major “in Anthropology in the Department of Sociology.” In the fall 2001 semester the faculty of the Department of Sociology began referring to the department as the “Department of Sociology and Anthropology.” It has done business under that name until June 2008 when it came to light that the name change had not been officially approved by the Board. In light of the pending request to spin off a separate Department of Anthropology, Provost O’Donnell agreed to allow the unofficial name to continue to be used.

Since August 2001, the Department has progressively adopted separate administrative structures, budget, academic staffing, curricula, degree programs, and all customary departmental functions. The process of separation and the eventual goal of the establishment of two distinct departments are supported by both the Sociology and the Anthropology faculty. During the summer of 2008 all Members of the Ordinary Faculty of the Department voted unanimously via email in support of the plan. They cast a formal vote on the separation and related matters (e.g., new by laws and chairs) at their September 3, 2008 meeting in favor of dividing the Department into two separate and independent departments. This decision was supported by Provost James O’Donnell and was submitted to the Board of Directors where it was approved at the next meeting of the Board.

The division of the Department into two separate departments was done in principle. But as a practical matter the University did not have the funds to establish a separate and distinct administrative support structure; and it did not have any available space to which the Anthropology Department’s offices could be relocated. So until such space becomes available the Sociology and the Anthropology Departments continue to remain in their former locations. And, until additional funds are available, the two departments are sharing the administrative support of one administrator, some student help and office space and equipment.