# Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/July 1902/A Study of Twentieth Century Success

 A STUDY OF TWENTIETH CENTURY SUCCESS.
By Professor EDWIN GRANT DEXTER,

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS.

SOMEONE has said, with more or less philosophical insight, that all questions resolve themselves into three classes: those of the 'What,' the 'How,' and the 'Why.' In this paper it is primarily a question of the 'How' that is considered. How have the men and women, who in the opening year of this twentieth century are prominently in the public eye, achieved the success in their various vocations which has placed them there? What have been the stepping-stones to that success? How can we follow in their footsteps? The biographies of great men have done much to answer this question, still they leave much unsaid. The tow-path and the flat-boat do not furnish nowadays the shortest route to the eminence upon which the ambitious youth has fixed his eye, and he wants more guide posts by the way.

In an attempt to discover the general route to that goal, I have studied a few facts from the lives of many, rather than many facts from the lives of a few. The basis of the study is 'Who's Who in America' for 1900. This book, of which the edition of 1900 was the first, is for America what the English volume of the same name has been for England for more than half a century, namely, an address book of living celebrities—if we give this term considerable extension—containing a brief biographical sketch of each. This includes in most cases date of birth, particulars as to schooling, present profession and address, together with any unusual accomplishment or public service. The edition of 1900 contains 8,602 names and in my study of them the first three biographical facts mentioned were considered. I shall say nothing in defense of the criterion of success which I am here taking: that is, mention in 'Who's Who.' On what constitutes real success in life probably no two of us could agree. It would, however, be acceded by all who are familiar with the book, that although it fails to mention many who are as worthy a place in its pages as are some who appear there, it is nevertheless true that each whom it has mentioned has attained a degree of eminence which warrants the assertion that, at least before the public, success has crowned his efforts to a degree not achieved by the ordinary run of mankind.

Whatever success may mean, it would be safe to say that it depends upon two things: nature and nurture. On the nature side of the problem, we find no help in 'Who's Who' since ancestry is not included. On the nurture side, which would mean education in its broadest sense, we find facts descriptive of certain phases only, namely those of the schools. How important a place they take in the education of the individual can never be determined with any degree of exactness, but even with a full recognition of the force of the home, the church, the state and the vocation, it must be conceded that their influence as an organized educational machine is very great. Facts bearing upon this influence are the ones principally furnished by 'Who's Who' and, together with those of age, the only ones considered here.

A classification of the names in the book which forms the basis of our study, in terms of the various professions and vocations, gives us the following numbers for the twenty-four which seem to form the most natural divisions. Actor: male 54, female 40. Artist, including illustrators: male 260, female 21. Author, including writer, historian, novelist and poet: male 528, female 272. Business, including the various mercantile pursuits: male 200. Clergyman, including bishop, rabbi, missionary, priest, salvation army and monk: male 655, female 7. College professor, including president, dean and chancellor: male 1,090, female 11. Congressman (both senate and house): 446. Editor, including journalist, critic, correspondent and reporter: male 509, female 13. Educator, including superintendent, teacher, philanthropist and reformer: male 188, female 30. Engineer, including architect and miner: male 284. Financier, including capitalist and banker: male 215. Inventor: male 26. Lawyer, including justice, judge and jurist: male 857, female 4. Lecturer: male 21, female 6. Librarian: male 362, female 9. Musician, including singer: male 111, female 21. Physician: male 540, female 7. Railroad official: male 102. Sailor: 103. Scientist, including naturalist: male 416, female 7. Soldier: 205. Statesman, including governor, diplomat, politician and mayor: 202. U. S. official: male, 98, female 1. Miscellaneous, running all the way from farmer to insurance president: male 53, female 2. The sum of these figures does not quite equal 8,602, the number which, as has already been stated, the book mentions, since a comparatively small number who failed to give the year of birth were not included in the study.

One question, among others, which the young person about to choose a profession is apt to consider is this: How long will it take to get a foothold? How many years of hard sledding before the smooth road is reached? Both ambition and pocket are interested in the answer and without doubt many a young man has been influenced in his choice of profession by his conclusion on this matter. The data at my command throw light only indirectly on this question, but more directly on another. How long must I wait for eminence, if it ever comes, and in what profession may I expect it earliest? If there be any fixed relation between a foothold and success, then the former question may be answered by inference. A tabulation of the ages of each of the eight thousand and more individuals of both sexes for the vocations mentioned above (with the exception of a few less frequently chosen) is shown graphically in Figs. 2 and 3. The former is for males and the latter for females, though the gentler sex was a competitor of sufficient strength to warrant consideration in seven only. In each of the figures the vocations are indicated at the bottom. Of the two heavy vertical lines (ordinates) above each vocation, the one at the left indicates by its height the percentage of the whole number

Fig. 2.

mentioned who were below forty years of age; in other words, the percentage of young men and women who had achieved eminence in it, if we may assume that a person is young until he is forty. The ordinate at the right of each pair shows in a similar manner by its height the average age in years of all those mentioned for the vocation indicated below. In each case the ordinates are to be read by means of the scales at the left and right of the figure: the youth ordinate in percentages and that for age in years, although the figure is so drawn that the same scales apply to both. These figures show then, as fully as an inductive study based upon a limited number of data will permit, (1) the relative probability of achieving early distinction in the various professions, (2) the average ages of persons of distinction in those professions, (3) a basis of comparison for the two sexes.

An inspection of Fig. 2 from the standpoint of the first of these possibilities (noting only the left of each pair of ordinates) shows at a glance that the musician distances all competitors in the race for distinction. This is not hard to understand when we recall the infant prodigies who frequently figure on our bill boards, or consider that nature has in most cases contributed more largely to his success than has nurture. Of those callings which presuppose a professional or at least an extended preparation, that of scientist seems from our figure to promise the earliest recognition. This is perhaps due to the fact that for him the actual work of life is entered with a completer intellectual equipment than by most of the others, and that the period of preparation offers opportunities for research and original investigation which may bring renown even before life work is begun. This would also apply to the college professor with perhaps fully as much force and in a lesser degree to the librarian and the educator. These four then might be included in a class in which the period of preparation is extended, but for which work of a high order might be expected immediately on its completion and positions of some prominence aspired to from the start. Next in the race for renown come the actor and the author, almost neck and neck. If we concluded that nature had most to do with the musician's success and nurture with the educator's we should be forced to place the author and the actor in a class in which those two forces divide the honors more evenly. No doubt one must be born an actor or an author to rise to a high rank, but after all, the making process is not to be despised as a factor, and this takes time. Except for the soldier and the sailor, whose ability to rise to prominence, at least in time of peace, is determined by the rapidity with which those above him are retired from service, and the congressman and the statesman, whose minimum limit is prescribed by law, the rest of the vocations shown upon the chart fall, it seems to me, into a class for which the schools, as organized means of education, provide no adequate preparation and for which that preparation must come, to a great extent, from the vocation itself. As an illustration of what I mean: the scientist, or even the college professor, who has devoted thirty years of life to study, can enter his profession from the top, while the business man and financier, for whom the accumulation of wealth is a desideratum, or the lawyer and the doctor, who must command a practice, or the minister, who needs a congregation, must, with the same period of intellectual infancy, enter it from the bottom and devote a few more years to the climbing process. In so far as the physician is an investigator the conditions of the scientist apply to him and no doubt the considerable number who are such accounts for the fact that his recognition comes earlier than that of his competitors in law and the pulpit. The surprising thing of the figure is perhaps the slowness with which the inventor gains a foothold on the ladder to fame. Not one of those mentioned was below the age of forty, though not enough names were included to give this fact great weight.

A study of Fig. 2 from the standpoint of average ages of those mentioned (note only the right ordinate of each pair) discloses little which would not have been expected from the facts already stated. It will be seen that where recognition was early, the average age is comparatively small, while for those vocations in which the climb was a tedious one, the age is much greater. Certainly one whose ambition was early renown would not, from the showing of our figures, choose business or finance. Since, however, these professions are seldom entered for glory, we need not fear a lack of aspirants for the rewards which they bring. When nature has done most for the man as in the case of the actor, author and musician the laurel crown comes earliest. If one must depend upon nurture as most of us must, the scientist, the college professor, the editor, the educator and the clergyman may hope to wear it longest and in the order given.

Fig. 3. As has been stated, Fig. 3 shows for women the conditions which have just been discussed for men, for those callings in which they have been to any extent competitors. It shows that upon the stage and in musical circles recognition is much earlier for them, while in the other callings it is slower than for their brothers. In other words, nature works quicker with her and nurture slower, if our figures are to be accepted. It is perhaps worthy of mention too, that the two professions in which she outstrips him are the only ones in which attractiveness of person would be at a premium; perhaps at so much of a premium as to make up for some other defects. When, however, this is outlived with youth the struggle seems to be a hard if not a losing one.

We have now to consider the educational preparation of the persons whose names are included under the several vocations. This so far as it has to do with the schools—the only data at our disposal—is shown by the somewhat complicated-looking Figs. 4 and 5, the former for the men and the latter for the women. Upon each of them the vocations are indicated at the bottom as in those just explained. Of the variously constructed ordinates above each name, that part which is wholly black shows by its height the percentage of those named for that vocation who mentioned no schooling above the elementary or secondary grade. This would probably mean in most cases that the educational preparation was carried no farther. That portion of the ordinate which has heavy black lines at the sides shows in the same manner the percentage of those mentioned who had received the baccalaureate degree at some college or university; that portion having a heavy line in the center, the percentage who had completed a professional course; that portion which has the heavy lines both at the side and in the middle, the percentage who had pursued both the college and professional course; the portion between the top of the ordinate and the horizontal line at the top of the figure, the percentage educated entirely abroad, and the little line extending out from some of the ordinates, by its distance from the base line, the percentage who had taken some postgraduate degree. Honorary degrees are not included. In every case, the percentages

Fig. 4.

are to be read by means of the scale at the right and left of the figure. As an illustration of the interpretation of one of the ordinates ] will take that for clergymen: 24 per cent, are shown to have no education above the high school (black portion), 52 per cent, have a college education (heavy side lines 76—24 ${\displaystyle =}$ 52), 35 per cent, have a professional education, presumably, the divinity school (heavy middle line 91—56 ${\displaystyle =}$ 35), 20 per cent, have both (heavy side and middle lines 76—56 ${\displaystyle =}$ 20), 9 per cent, were educated entirely abroad and were presumably largely foreigners (distance between top of ordinate and top of figure, 100—91 ${\displaystyle =}$ 9), 28 per cent, had taken a postgraduate degree (distance between base line and small mark at right of ordinate). The ordinates for each of the other professions may be interpreted in the same manner. The data in my possession make possible the study of various other combinations of educational courses, as well as comparisons of them for persons of different ages showing the educational trend, but lack of space prevents a discussion of these facts in the present paper. I will say, however, that the figures do not show combinations of training abroad with that in our home institutions. The spaces on the figures which have to do with training abroad refer only to those persons who failed to make any use whatever of home institutions, at least above high school.

Fig. 5. Figures 4 and 5 then show (1) the educational preparation of persons of both sexes for the various professions and (2) a basis of comparison between the two. They answer, too, a very important question: "What kind of preparation has proved most essential to that kind of success which mention in 'Who's Who' means?" They have nothing to do with the question, 'What kind of preparation must the doctor, or the lawyer, or the minister have to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a minister,' but what kind is most likely to put him in the class of doctors, and lawyers, and ministers who achieve eminence. In other words, we are studying selected persons in each profession, but since every man and woman of proper ambition who enters a profession hopes to be one of those selected, the problem has a wide bearing.