Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/August 1896/Early Years of the American Association




IN this age of increasing specialization and multiplying societies and organizations of specialists it is well that there still remains an association broad enough to include the entire range of scientific thought and activity, and comprehensive enough to welcome all who have the disposition to explore any field in the vast domain of science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has now for nearly half a century been a powerful factor in stimulating the progress of scientific research in America. Similar associations are found in other countries. The pioneer of all is the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was founded at York, England, in 1832. The period following this epoch was marked by a great outburst of the spirit of research and investigation among the English-speaking people. In America the science which gained the greatest number of adherents and was prosecuted most vigorously was geology. During the decade following the organization of the British Association, James Hall was laying the foundations of that science in America by his explorations of the strata of the State of New York; Bela Hubbard was exploring the new State of Michigan; Benjamin Silliman was teaching at Yale; James D. Dana completed his college course as a pupil of Silliman, and already made a name for himself in scientific circles; and Edward Hitchcock was finding the puzzling fossil footprints of primeval reptiles, so long erroneously called "bird tracks," along the valley of the Connecticut. The city of Philadelphia was then an important scientific center. A number of geologists resided there, and were wont to hold occasional meetings. At last it seemed desirable to convene James Hall, surviving founder of the Association of American Geologists and of the A. A. A. S., and oldest surviving past president, Albany, 1856. a larger and more general assemblage; and on the 2d day of April, 1840, about twenty geologists, including nearly all the most prominent ones in America, met there and organized "The Association of American Geologists." Edward Hitchcock presided, and Lewis C. Beck was secretary. Of the founders of this association who attended this first meeting, three venerable men still survive—James Hall, of Albany; Bela Hubbard,[1] of Detroit; and Martin H. Boyd, of Coopersburg, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Several of the older States were represented, including Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. Of the Western States, Michigan alone had then instituted a geological survey; and Bela Hubbard and Douglas Houghton traveled that long journey together from Michigan to Philadelphia. It took them an entire week, traveling day and night by the most direct route; and the roads in Ohio were so muddy that the passengers often had to alight and assist in pulling the stage out of the mud.

The next year (1841) the geologists met again in Philadelphia, and many new members were added. In 1842 the meeting was held in Boston, where several naturalists came into the association, and the name was changed, mainly through the influence of Amos Binney and Augustus A. Gould, to "The American Association of Geologists and Naturalists." Subsequent annual meetings were held in Albany, Washington, New Haven, New York, and Boston.

Several years after the association was founded the chemists and physicists proposed to join, and in 1848 another meeting was held in Philadelphia, and on September 20, 1848, the original organization was changed to the "American Association for the Advancement of Science."

William B. Rogers presided at the dissolution of the Association of Geologists and Naturalists, and yielded the chair to William C. Redfield, the first President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Prof. Redfield was a resident of New York city and a pioneer in the study of meteorology. He published a theory of storms which became well known and was strenuously controverted by Espy, so that the storm controversy was a conspicuous feature of scientific annals. Prof. Redfield's influence had much to do with the establishment of the Weather Bureau of the United States.

The association began with a membership of four hundred and sixty-one, which increased to a thousand and four in 1854: at the Washington meeting under the presidency of James D. Dana. This was high-water mark for the first thirty years of its existence. In 1850 and 1851 two meetings were held in each year, but Dr. Martin H. Boyé, surviving founder of the Association of American Geologists and of the A. A. A. S. none in 1852. Thereafter annual meetings were held till 1860. The presidents during this period, besides those already mentioned, were Joseph Henry, Alexander D. Bache, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, John Torrey, James Hall, Stephen Alexander, and Isaac Lea.

Of this illustrious roll, James Hall alone survives. He presided at the second Albany meeting in 1856 ,when the old Dudley Observatory was dedicated, the largest, most important, and most representative scientific meeting ever held in America before the war. The glowing eloquence of Edward Everett in his dedicatory oration, delivered in a tent erected for the occasion in the historic park of the Albany Academy, still haunts the memory of the writer, who was then a pupil in that academy. Meetings of the association during the ante-bellum period were held as far east as Cambridge and as far west as Cincinnati, while Montreal and Charleston, S. C, were the extremes north and south. New Haven, Cleveland, Washington, Providence, Baltimore, Springfield, and Newport were also visited.

The association adjourned at Newport in 1800, intending to meet at Nashville in 1861, but the war intervened, and the meeting could not be held; and there were no other meetings William C. Redfield, first President A. A. A. S., Philadelphia, 1848. till 1866, when seventy-nine members met at Buffalo and reorganized the association. Since that time Buffalo has been a sort of Mecca, and every tenth year we reassemble there. The president at the first Buffalo meeting was Frederick A. P. Barnard, President of Columbia College. At the second Buffalo meeting William B. Rogers, already mentioned as the last President of the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists, presided. Edward S. Morse was president at the meeting in 1886. Edward D. Cope, of Philadelphia, has been elected president for the meeting of this year.

Since the reorganization at Buffalo the association has expanded and developed in many ways. At the Hartford meeting in 1874 it was incorporated under the laws of the State of Massachusetts, and it has its headquarters and museum at Salem. At the Hartford meeting also provision was made to apply the designation of "fellows" to such of the members as were devoted to science or had advanced the cause of science, and one hundred and fifty-seven members were thus constituted fellows, of whom about one half still survive. Since that time the number of fellows increased year by year, till in 1893 there were seven hundred and ninety-six, while the membership of the association reached its maximum of two thousand and fifty-four in 1891. The largest attendance of members was at Boston in 1880, when nine hundred and ninety-seven were registered. At Philadelphia in 1884 the registration reached twelve hundred and sixty-one, but nearly three hundred of this number were visitors from the British Association, which had just held a meeting at Montreal, and from other foreign bodies.

The division of the association into sections began at the Detroit meeting in 1875, when two sections were formed: Section A, Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry; and Section B, Natural History. At the second Montreal meeting in 1882 a much more extended subdivision was made, the following having been established: Section A, Mathematics and Astronomy; B, Physics; C, Chemistry; D, Mechanical Science and Engineering; E, Geology and Geography; F, Biology; G, Microscopy; H, Anthropology; I, Economic Science and Statistics. In 1886 Section G was united with Section F, and in 1893 Section F was divided into Section F, Zoölogy, and Section G, Botany. The name of Section I was changed in 1895 to Social and Economic Science.

A notable feature of recent meetings of the association has been the large number of affiliated societies which meet at about the same time. The first of these was the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science, which was organized at Boston in 1880. Others were added from time to time, till at Brooklyn, in Frederick A. P. Barnard, President A. A. A. S. first Buffalo meeting, 1866. 1894, there were nine, viz., the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science, Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, American Mathematical Society, American Chemical Society, American Microscopical Society, American Forestry Association, Association of Economic Entomologists, Association of State Weather Services, and American Geological Society, besides the Botanical and Entomological Clubs of the association. At Brooklyn also was organized the American Botanical Association. It has been doubted whether these numerous societies do not detract from the interest in the main association, and action was taken at the second Springfield meeting in 1895 in the direction of making them business meetings rather than meetings for the reading of papers.

Meetings have been held since the war in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts (three), Connecticut, New York (eight), Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Ohio (two), Indiana (two), Illinois, William B. Rogers, President A. A. A. S., second Buffalo meeting, 1876. Michigan (two), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Canada (two). The list of past presidents includes, besides those previously mentioned, John S. Newberry, Benjamin A. Gould, John W. Foster, T. Sterry Hunt, Asa Gray, J, Lawrence Smith, Joseph Lovering, John L. Le Conte, Julius E. Hilgard, Simon Newcomb, Othniel C. Marsh, George

F. Barker, Lewis H. Morgan, George J. Brush, J. William Dawson, Charles A. Young, John P. Leslie, Huber A. Newton, Samuel P. Langley, John W. Powell, Thomas C. Mendenhall, George L. Goodale, Albert B. Prescott, Joseph Le Conte, William Harkness, Daniel G. Brinton, and Edward W. Morley. Edward S. Morse, President A. A. A. S., third Buffalo meeting, 1886. The president elect, Edward Drinker Cope, was born of Quaker ancestry at Philadelphia, July 28, 1840. He was educated at the West-town Academy and the University of Pennsylvania, and afterward studied comparative anatomy in the Academy of Sciences, Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, and later in Europe. He was Professor of Natural Sciences at Haverford College from 1864 till 1867, resigning in the latter year because of ill health. Later he was paleontologist of the United States Geological Survey, serving first in the Territories west of the one hundredth meridian. His discoveries were numerous and important, including a thousand or more extinct and nearly or quite as many living vertebrates.

Prof. Cope was for many years secretary and curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and chief of the department of organic material of the permanent exhibition of that city. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1872. He has published numerous works of a scientific Edward D. Cope, President elect A. A. A. S. fourth Buffalo meeting, 1896. nature, including several hundred papers, and dozens of larger works. He has for many years edited the American Naturalist.

The fourth Buffalo meeting is to be held in the week beginning August 24th. Mayor Jewett is president of the local committee, and Eben P. Dorr is local secretary. Prof. Frederick W. Putnam remains permanent secretary, having filled that office during the greater part of the existence of the association.

The association assembles this year at Buffalo at an epoch marked by wonderful advances in applied science. The harnessing of Niagara, and the utilization of that immense power for electrical and manufacturing purposes, will furnish the most impressive object lesson which has ever been presented to the association in the whole forty-eight years of its existence. The study of Niagara has been an absorbing feature of all the Buffalo meetings. Heretofore it was the geology of that stupendous gorge which appealed most strongly to the attention of visitors. Now the new and diversified uses of the energy set free by the cataract will invest the visit to Niagara with new importance and significance.

Prof. G. Stanley Hall expressed the opinion, at the recent meeting of the American Antiquarian Society, that the difficulties of the American people with the Indians had arisen from trying to educate them along a line with which they have no sympathy, and with which they can not assimilate, instead of encouraging them in improving their own scheme of life.
  1. When this article went to the printer Bela Hubbard was dangerously ill, and his death occurred on June 13th. Recent letters from him have furnished some of the most interesting of these reminiscences.