THE SEARCH FOR OUR ROOTS
Finding, or reinstating, founding mothers, has been a central task of women’s studies and/or feminist perspectives, in many disciplines. Dale Spender (1983) for example, published a book of founding mothers. Lynn McDonald (1994) wrote on women who developed social research methods. Yeo (1997) includes papers on several possible founding mothers who deserve to be alongside Wollstonecraft. Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) produced a book on women founders of sociology. These four reference works were all produced by women of my generation, and focus primarily on scholars who lived and wrote in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They wrote either before First Wave feminism, or were important First Wave figures. For people reading this book who were born during Third Wave feminism, however, there are women from the twentieth century who have to be classified as ‘founding mothers’, because their work has slid away into the past.
There is considerable agreement about who were the founding mothers of sociology and anthropology among feminists, but any list produced also reveals how different the histories of the disciplines are in the USA and in the UK. In anthropology, there are quite distinct ‘lists’ of founding mothers, reflecting the very different ways in which anthropology has developed in the two cultures. Among the feminist thinkers claimed as founding mothers of feminist sociology, the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) (see Yeo, 1997), Harriet Martineau (1802-76), and Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) are usually highlighted. Sklar’s (1973) biography and exegesis of Catherine Beecher’s (1813-73) work make a powerful case for Beecher as a vital intellectual link between de Tocqueville and Parsons. Beecher does not figure in revisionist pantheons of historic women sociologists,
but her ideas on gender, the family and democracy fit perfectly into the evolution of American sociology. In anthropology, feminists in the USA see foundational motherhood in Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Benedict, Nora Zeale Huston, Ella Deloria, Ruth Landes and Margaret Mead. The collection by Behar and Gordon (1995) focuses on reinstating such key figures in the history of American anthropology. The view of the discipline in Britain contains quite different women, who worked all over the commonwealth, including Brenda Seligman, Camilla Wedgewood in the first generation, and subsequently Hilda Beemer Kuper, Audrey Richards, Monica Hunter Wilson and Hortense Powdermaker. There could even be a case made for treating Jane Harrison as a founding mother of social science (Beard, 2000). None of these women is revered by American feminists. Margaret Mead, in particular, is seen very differently in the USA and the UK. Rossiter (1982, 1995) and Rosenberg (1982) explore the lives of American pioneers in these social sciences.
Different types of feminist sociologist also revere and promote different women from the past. Marxist feminists are more enthusiastic about Alexandra Kollantai and Rosa Luxemburg, or even Eleanor Marks. Radical feminists are more enthusiastic about lesbians in the First Wave. Sheila Jeffreys (1985, 1987), for example, has reinstated Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy as a founding mother. Simone de Beauvoir is recognised as a founding mother by many feminists, although she was a philosopher not a sociologist (Moi, 1994).
Of course, which women we choose to reinstate and promote depends on our current conception of what sociology is. A writer on sexuality will be looking for different pioneers from one writing on trade unionism or medicine. This volume focuses not so much on unearthing lost women sociologists but rather explaining their erasure, and re-inserting them into the conventional histories. In the rest of the chapter, the focus is on one department of sociology in the USA. The story of the women of the Chicago School and of the ways in which that story is told and retold provides insight into the fate of founding mothers and of those who try to reinstate them. There is no British research on any set of women who have been systematically excluded from sociology. Whether this is because no such women exist, or because no researchers have (re)discovered any is not clear. The lessons we can draw from the (re)discovery of the Chicago women are as valid for British sociology as for American.
What is absolutely clear is that each generation of women sociologists has to rediscover the founding mothers, because they are not being (re)placed, i. e. reinstated in the malestream history of the discipline. Histories of the discipline written in 1960 ignored women, so too do histories written in 2000.
CHICAGO SOCIOLOGY: THE ARCHETYPICAL CASE?
In 1990 the University of Helsinki celebrated its 35th anniversary. The sociology department decided to have a conference on Society, Intellectuals and the University. Elina Haavio-Mannila (1992) was chair of the department and invited me to speak. The conference took place in English, although I was the only British speaker, among Finns, French, German, Italian and one American Swede. Elina Haavio – Mannila asked me because she had read Knowledgeable Women (Delamont, 1989b), and gave me the brief of speaking on women. I presented a title ‘Can a woman be an intellectual? Can an intellectual be a woman?’ and wrote a paper on the women of the first Chicago School (Delamont, 1992a, 1994). Four things about the trip, the conference and the paper have stayed with me. I fell in love with Helsinki, which has wonderful Jugendstil architecture that is much less publicised than Vienna’s, breathtaking modern architecture and design, and a magnificent ethnographic collection on all the peoples who speak languages related to Finnish and Hungarian. At the time, the sociology department was not in the city centre near the main nineteenth-century buildings, but in a working-class neighbourhood ‘across the long bridge’: one of the speakers, Matti Klinge, an historian from the old elite who spoke Swedish rather than Finnish, had never been to the sociology department: he had never crossed the long bridge before.
As far as scholarly issues go, however, there were two related events. I was interviewed for the Finnish equivalent of The Times and appeared on the front page: something that would never happen to a conference speaker in the UK. Inside the conference my paper was greeted politely, but with bafflement. No Americans, nor British people either, could be intellectuals, I was told. To treat anyone in Chicago between 1892 and 1922 as an intellectual was simply absurd. Intellectuals were French, German, Scandinavian, Finnish, Italian and possibly Central European. No such people could, or ever had, existed in English-speaking countries. My paper, which queried whether women can be intellectuals because men prefer all-male cerebral communities, or whether intellectual women were denied their femininity and were ‘unsexed’ by their brains, was not seen as problematic because it was about women. (Or at least no one was rude enough or brave enough to raise that objection.) The doubts, and frank disbelief, came from the focus on America. Most of the papers focused on Dreyfus, or the Tel Quel group, or Sartre. My assumption: that the social scientists at Chicago before 1914 were intellectuals in the same sense as the Dreyfusards was seen as preposterous. In these lasting impressions, the marginality of sociology, of the Anglophone world, and of women in academia are all compounded. A book on feminist sociology is a multiply marginalising exercise.
These thoughts came back to me when reading Toril Moi (1994) on Simone de Beauvoir. She points out that in Norway, Britain and the USA de Beauvoir is an acceptable topic: in France ‘most people take Simone de Beauvoir’s lack of intellectual and literary distinction as a basic article of faith’ (ibid.: 11), and writes of ‘cultural terrorism’ (ibid.: 12). Bearing these reflections in mind, the material on Chicago is rehearsed here, because it is the best-documented history of women in sociology. Mary Jo Deegan (1988, 1996) has produced a feminist history of the Chicago School of Sociology between 1890 and 1942. Subsequently she has analysed the Chicago women from 1942 to 1970 (Deegan, 1995). This analysis is discussed in some detail because it is emblematic. For Americans, and for many non-Americans, Chicago holds a mythical place in the history of American sociology. As Gary Alan Fine (2000) commented in his review of Tomasi (1998), the Chicago Department of Sociology is ‘prominent’ in the ‘image’ of the discipline: ‘One could not imagine the publication of a volume like this describing any other school’ (ibid.: 674-5). The Tomasi volume has 13 chapters all written by non-Americans, from Poland, the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Canada: an example of how important Chicago is as the location of the origin myth.
There are three feminist accounts of the intellectual climate of the era: Rosenberg (1982), Rossiter (1982) and Gordon (1990) in which Chicago social science can be located. Lengermann and Niebrugge – Brantley (1998) reinstate Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and eight other women into the history of American sociology. They draw on biographies of these ten women, and intellectual histories of the era. Deegan’s work can be set against that other scholarship.
The rescue archaeology of Chicago sociology in the period before 1935 done by feminists has been of four kinds:
1 Re-discovering the research on gender issues.
2 Re-discovering women sociologists.
3 Re-discovering the gender politics of the department: finding the sacred grove (Aisenberg and Harrington, 1988) and chilly climate (Smith, 1999) for the women.
4 Exploring how the male powerbrokers wrote about women.
The women who were at Chicago in the period have left published and unpublished papers. Marion Talbot (1936), for example, published an autobiography which can be examined for evidence about the history of Chicago sociology. Her papers are archived in Chicago and have been used by researchers such as Deegan (1996). In the account which follows I have sketched the context: Chicago and its new university: and then moved into the history of sociology in the USA in general and
in Chicago in particular. Against that background, the argument moves on to gender at Chicago.
Chicago University was founded in 1892 with an endowment of money from local entrepreneurs, especially Rockefeller oil money. The city was notorious for its stockyards, where millions of cattle were butchered to feed the industrial centres of the north east and the coastal cities of New York and Boston. It was booming in the 1890s, with thousands of immigrants arriving: especially Irish, Italian and Eastern Europeans, predominantly Catholic, but with some Jews escaping pogroms in Europe. The new university was part of a move to turn the wild west frontier town into the civilised city. The first President, William Rainey Harper was only 34. He set out to make Chicago a university different from the elite, Ivy League, men’s colleges of the East Coast (Brown, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, and so on). He chose the universities of Prussia as his model rather than Oxbridge. In an important way Chicago was not like either because it was co-educational: partly because there were a lot of women teachers keen to upgrade themselves by part-time and summer school courses and the new university needed the fee income they provided. In its first 50 years there were proposals to make Chicago all-male to raise its status, but these were never implemented, and Chicago always had male and female students. Partly because Harper wanted Chicago to be different from Yale, and partly because he could not persuade the leading scholars in the ancient subjects (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Theology and Philology) to leave the Ivy League to take up chairs in a cowtown, Chicago specialised in new subjects. It pioneered sociology, social administration, psychology, anthropology and sciences.
Harper looked for keen young men to lead his new subjects. For sociology he found Albion Small who became chair of sociology at 28 in 1892 and continued to do so until 1934 when he was 70. Small also founded the American Journal of Sociology (AJS) and edited it from 1895 until 1935. Abbott (1999) provides the official history of AJS and the Chicago Department. The men Harper drew to Chicago – John Dewey and G. H. Mead, great philosophers, leading psychologists, economists and anthropologists, and in sociology: Small, W. I. Thomas, R. E. Park and E. W. Burgess – made Chicago a world leader in social science scholarship. In Chicago, sociology became established as a discipline, symbolic interactionism as it was retrospectively labelled by Blumer crystallised as a theoretical perspective, and empirical research (collecting both quantitative and qualitative data) rather than just speculating and theorising about social phenomena, became de rigueur. There are many studies of the golden age such as Faris (1967), Carey (1975), Rock (1979), Urban Life (1983), Bulmer (1984), Kurtz (1984), Harvey (1987), Smith (1988), Deegan (1988), Tomasi (1998) and
Abbott (1999). Abbott himself recommends Fisher and Strauss (1978a, 1978b, 1979a, 1979b) for a thoughtful view.
Chicago University sociologists dominated the whole discipline in America through the ASA and the AJS and by their sheer numbers and prestige until 1935-6 when sociologists elsewhere in the nation rebelled. The rebels took over the American Sociological Association (ASA), and founded a new journal, the American Sociological Review (ASR) to challenge the AJS. Small’s department dominated the new discipline until his retirement, but by 1928 there were sociology departments in 99 of the 236 colleges and universities in the USA (Abbott, 1999). By the 1930s there were about 40 new PhDs in the discipline each year. However, as late as 1950, half the practising sociologists in the USA had been through Chicago. The period of rebellion saw the cosy relationship of the ASA, the Chicago Department and Chicago University Press end: the ASR began with the best papers from the ASA’s annual conference which Chicago University Press no longer wanted to publish as an annual volume (Abbott, 1999). In this era, American sociology was also purifying itself. Abbott (ibid.: 105) points out that in the 1930s: ‘the last of the do – gooders drifted out of the ASA’.
In the period from 1942 to 1962 there was a second flowering of sociology at Chicago (Abbott, 1999; Fine, 1995). After 1945 this was partly fuelled by the GI Bill which funded veterans to attend college. There were 200 graduate students in sociology at Chicago in the 1950s: a number far beyond the experience of any British sociologist where ten graduate students constitutes a critical mass (Delamont et al., 1997). The people who taught at Chicago, and even more those who were trained there in this era, spread out across the USA taking the gospel with them in their diaspora. Chicago sociologists had been the leaders of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) and were the founders in 1973 of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) (Lofland, 1997). The papers published in Social Problems, and then later in Urban Life founded in California by the self-styled ‘Chicago Irregulars’ (Lofland, 1983) originally as Urban Life and Culture and now published as the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography; and the ‘official’ SSSI journal, Symbolic Interaction, embody the work of the scholars who were taught by the people trained in the second Golden Age.