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American Social Science Association Records

Call Number: MS 1603

Scope and Contents

The American Social Science Association Records consist of organizational papers, minutes, correspondence, financial records, and committee files, which document the history of the American Social Science Association from its founding in 1865 through the first twenty-five years of its existence. The files are an incomplete record of the period but highlight the work of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn as secretary of the association and active member of many committees. The records also include files relating to other social science organizations, in which Sanborn was active. The most numerous of these files is for the Conference of Charities and Corrections.

The Manuscripts and Archives Department received the records from the Yale University Law School in 1989, after Morris Cohen, the Yale Law Librarian, found them in a trunk in the Law School basement. How the records came to be in the Law School's keeping is not entirely clear. It appears that at its demise at least some of the ASSA library was deposited in the Yale Law School. It is possible that Simeon E. Baldwin, who had for some years been a leader of the association, played some role in this deposit. The records of the association came as part of the library, but unlike the printed volumes in the library, the records were left uncatalogued.


  • 1863-1906
  • Majority of material found within 1865 - 1887


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Yale Law School, 1989.


The records are arranged in two series: Series I. Association records, 1863-1906. Series II. Related associations records, 1865-1889.

Series I includes the records of the American Social Science Association, while Series II is composed of material of other social science organizations. Materials in both series appear to have been in the possession of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. Materials in Series I seem to have come into Sanborn's care, when he was secretary of the ASSA. One cannot be certain that materials in Series II have any relation to the ASSA material in Series I. In the case of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections there is an obvious link between it and the ASSA. For any other organization there may be no other connection than the fact that Franklin Benjamin Sanborn was active in it.


5.25 Linear Feet (13 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The records include organizational papers, minutes, correspondence, financial records, and committee files which document the founding of the American Social Science Association in 1865 and its functioning over the next twenty-five years. The records highlight the work of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn as secretary of the association. The records also include files of the Conference of Charities and Corrections which met with the American Social Science Association.

Biographical / Historical

The American Social Science Association (ASSA) was founded in Boston in 1865. Through a letter circulated by the Massachusetts Board of Charities, prominent social reformers and intellectuals were asked to form an American organization, similar to the British Social Science Association, to understand and improve a rapidly changing society. As the circular explained, the society would discuss "those questions relating to the Sanitary Condition of the people, the Relief, Employment and Education of the Poor, the Prevention of Crime, the Amelioration of the Criminal Law, the Discipline of Prisons, the Remedial Treatment of the Insane, and those numerous matters of statistical and philanthropic interest which are included under the general head of 'social science.'" At its first meeting the association adopted a constitution and elected William Barton Rogers as president. Franklin Benjamin Sanborn served as secretary.

The association structured itself in four departments: Education; Public Health; Jurisprudence; and Economy, Trade and Finance. The latter department would later be split into the Department of Social Economy and the Finance Department. The leadership of the departments was built on existing professional specializations; doctors chaired Health, lawyers led Jurisprudence, and college professors took charge of Education.

The association expected its members, professionals along with humanitarian reformers and businessmen, "to collect all facts, diffuse all knowledge, and stimulate all inquiry, which have a bearing on social welfare." Members were to meet together regularly to read papers and discuss social economics and the means to human improvement. Members presented their papers at large general meetings; the association published several of these papers; and meetings received detailed coverage in the local press.

In 1868 the association's executive committee appointed Henry Villard as permanent secretary. In 1870 Villard resigned from the post, leaving the association with no permanent secretary and consequently no effective leadership. The association even discussed disbanding. Then in October, 1873, the board named Sanborn permanent secretary and the association began to revive. Under Sanborn, the ASSA forged a link with the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (NCCC), and the two organizations continued to meet together for a decade.

The very broad base membership of the ASSA led to tensions which would eventually split the association. The delegates to the NCCC were interested in practical solutions to the problems of the poor, the insane, and the criminal classes. They found the papers presented by academics within the ASSA to be too theoretical and abstract. At one time the ASSA executive committee discussed a plan to merge the association with Johns Hopkins University, by which academic inquirers would gain a viable framework for organizing their disciplines. This plan did not gain approval, and in the meantime academic specialists began to form their own associations in their fields of social science. The American Historical Association was formed in 1884; they met with the ASSA but refused to organize as a subordinate department in the ASSA. In 1885 economists formed the American Economic Association followed in 1903 by the American Political Science Association and in 1905 by the American Sociological Society.

After a period of comparative financial security in the 1880s, the association faced financial hard times in the 1890s. Its members were drifting to other more specialized organizations and its role or purpose was not clear. By 1908 the association was unable to marshal the strength to hold its annual meeting.

The association is the subject of Thomas L. Haskell's monograph The Emergence of Professional Social Science: the American Social Science Association and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis of Authority. Those desiring a more detailed history of the ASSA should refer to this volume (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, 1977).

Guide to the American Social Science Association Records
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan and Katherine M. Lewis
April 1991
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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