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Tulane Sociology

History of Tulane Sociology


The first course in sociology was offered at Tulane in 1895 by John R. Ficklin, Professor of History and Political Science, but formal recognition of the new discipline did not come until 1900-1901, with the founding of the Department of Economics and Sociology and the hiring of Dr. Morton Aldrich as the department's first professor and head.

Course offerings in that first year included Principles of Sociology, Comparative Economic and Social Conditions of Workingmen, Race Problems, and a Research Course. By 1914, the Department had evolved into the College of Commerce and Business Administration, the precursor to today's Freeman School of Business.

After 1914, sociology drifted more into applied work and the training of social workers. A school of applied sociology was started in 1914 as a residential program housed in one of the University's dormitories; was reorganized in 1917 and again in 1927 in to Tulane's School of Social Work. The sociologist Garrett Wyckoff was brought in from Grinnell in 1918 to shape and head the new school, serving as the first Dean of the School of Social Work.

The second Professor of Sociology hired at Tulane was Edward Brown Reuter, who replaced Wyckoff as head of the department in 1920-21. Reuter went on to serve as the long-time chair of the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University. He was also the first of five Tulane sociologists who were later elected Presidents of the American Sociological Association; the others being Luther Bernard who taught at Tulane in the 1920s), Ellsworth Faris (a Professor of Sociology at Tulane in 1930- 31), Louis Wirth (who began his career as an assistant professor of sociology at Tulane in 1928), and Robert K. Merton (appointed as Associate Professor of Sociology at Tulane in 1940). Other sociologists at Tulane during its formative years (through 1945) included Logan Wilson (later to serve as Chancellor and then President of the University of Texas), John Fletcher, John Mason, Clarence Glick, Jesse Steiner, and Nicholas J. Demerath II.

From 1927 through 1945, both Newcomb College and the College of Arts and Sciences maintained undergraduate departments of instruction in sociology. In 1946, as a result of the post-war reorganization of the University, the department became the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and remained so until 1969, when Anthropology split off to form its own academic department. Professors who served the Department in this period (1946-69) included Warren Breed, Munro Edmonson, Harlan Gilmore, Forrest LaViolette, Leonard Reissman, Thomas Ktsanes, and Fredrick Koenig, who first arrived as an Associate Professor from Cornell in 1965 and is now Professor Emeritus, having retired at the end of academic year 2000.

Tulane has also maintained a graduate program in sociology throughout the department's existence. In 1904, John Ker Towles was awarded a master of arts degree for his thesis, "Housing Conditions in the Vicinity of St. Mary's Market, New Orleans." This appears to be the first graduate degree awarded at Tulane for work in sociology. In 1924, Nathaniel Batson Bond was conferred the PhD degree for his thesis, "The Treatment of the Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes in Mississippi." Bond's PhD was the tenth doctoral degree ever awarded by Tulane in any field of study and the first awarded in sociology.

In 1953, a prominent New Orleans family endowed the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professorship of Human Relations, among the first endowed chairs in social and behavioral science anywhere in the country. The first occupant of the Chair was Oswald Hall, followed by Reissman (who held the post for fourteen years), Joan Aldous, Father Joseph Fichter, Paul Roman, and James D. Wright, who occupied the Favrot Professorship from 1988 to 2001.

In 1964-65, Tulane admitted its first black students. Two African-American women began their studies at Tulane that year, one in the School of Social Work and the other, Barbara Guillory, in the Department of Sociology. The Department also had women faculty as early as 1924 teaching courses in both Newcomb and Arts and Sciences. Wirth, as it happens, was the second Jewish professor ever hired at Tulane. And in the same vein, Anna Popova was the first Soviet citizen ever to be admitted to the University (in 1990), followed a few years later by Joshua Zhang, our first student from the People's Republic of China.

The Arts & Sciences faculty re-joined the Newcomb sociologists under one roof on the second floor of Newcomb Hall in a newly renovated portion of the building that had previously housed laboratories in 1981, but it wasn't until 1988 that the two faculties were merged in the across-the-board consolidation of the Newcomb and A&S faculties into a single Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty. During the 1990s, Tulane Sociology experienced a renaissance of sorts, clarifying our core mission around an urban social problems focus, adding undergraduate majors and minors, redesigned and expanded our graduate program, and added faculty.

The twenty-first century proved to be a time of changes for Tulane Sociology. In 2003, Professor Martha Huggins joined us as the new Favrot Professor. Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005, brought dramatic changes for the department, as well as the University.  During most of that Fall 2005 semester, the faculty worked via internet from their various places of exile to maintain the department and carry out their responsibilities. After the university re-opened in January 2006, the department faced daunting challenges and the numbers of our faculty shrank. Admission to our graduate program was suspended and many of our existing graduate students, faced with uncertainty, left for other universities.

By 2007, the department was already overcoming the difficulties created by the disaster, and the department has flourished in the years since. Within the framework of the new School of Liberal Arts, we began hiring new faculty to teach the growing numbers of undergraduate students who were drawn to Tulane.  While urban social issues remained a focus of the department, we also strengthened our concentrations in other areas, such as Latin America, cultural sociology, and sociology of education.  We continued to work with the graduate students completing degrees begun before the storm. At the same time, we developed a plan for a new and innovative interdisciplinary graduate program: The City, Culture, and Community (CCC) Ph.D. program. The intellectual focus of the CCC Ph.D. Program is unique in bringing together interdisciplinary approaches in the social and natural sciences, social work, architecture, law, humanities and applying them to understand a range of issues pertaining to cities, culture, and communities. 

Tulane University, Department of Sociology, 220 Newcomb Hall, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5820 menrigh@tulane.edu