Ross, Edward Alsworth, 1866-1951

Alternative names
Birth 1866
Death 1951

Biographical notes:

Professor of Sociology at Stanford (1893-1900; dismissed in 1900).

From the description of Edward Alsworth Ross papers, 1892-1970. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 703381594

Biographical/Historical Sketch

In the late 1890s, sociology professor Edward A. Ross gained notoriety following several years of political activism in favor of the free silver movement, municipal ownership of utilities (including the railroads), and Japanese exclusion. While Mrs. Stanford found his opinions personally objectionable, her main concern was the reputation of the univeristy which, she felt, would be damaged by hasty espousal of political and social fads. The founders had intended the university to be free from the pressures of political partisanship; the apolitical nature of the university was now endangered by Ross's activities. Publicly, Mrs. Stanford affirmed President Jordan's power as defined in the Founding Grant to "remove professors and teachers at will," giving him full responsibility for clearing up the matter; however, privately, she pressed for Ross's dismissal. She disagreed with Ross's economic theories and was indignant about the idea of municipal ownership of the railroads, but she was particularly shocked by his anti-Japanese stand. Mrs. Stanford identified such attitudes with the earlier anti-Chinese movement instigated by Dennis Kearny and its resulting "reign of terror" which had pervaded San francisco. Ross, she felt, was a racist.

Mrs. Stanford wished Ross to go quietly, as a gentleman; President Jordan surmised that the activist had little intention of doing so. A man whose administrative style had strongly impressed the academic community, Jordan now vacillated between pleas ing Mrs. Stanford and upholding his image. After several confused attempts at compromise, which engendered misunderstandings between Jordan, Mrs. Stanford, and Ross regarding the latter's reappointment to the faculty, Jordan finally asked Ross to resign in November 1900.

To ensure public sympathy, Ross promptly issued his version of the dismissal to the press on November 14, 1900. He had been dismissed arbitrarily by Mrs. Stanford, he declared, over the opposition of President Jordan. The actual roots of dissension were immediately blurred by extreme public reaction to the touted issue of academic freedom. The entire matter proved to be greatly embarrassing to the university, particularly to its President. Mrs. stanford was thenceforth disturbed by the notoriety the university received from the incident. Having assumed that in her absence (she was traveling in Europe) Jordan would handle the situation discreetly and with dispatch, she failed to understand that Jordan had no control over Ross's continuing press statements. Her trust in Jordan was shaken; following the incident, she increasingly questioned his actions in the areas of salaries, hiring, planned growth of the academic program, and faculty control of student conduct.

For more detail on the Ross Affair, see: Elliott, Orrin Leslie. Stanford University the First Twentv-five Years ; Mohr, James C. "Academic Turmoil and Publ ic Opinion: The Ross Case at Stanford," Pacific Historical Review, v . 29, #1 (Feb. 1970) pp. 39-61.

From the guide to the Edward Alsworth Ross papers, 1892-1970, (Department of Special Collections and University Archives)


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  • Temperance
  • Sociologists
  • Birth control
  • Academic freedom
  • Voyages and travels
  • Bimetallism
  • Emigration and immigration law
  • Social problems
  • Civil rights
  • Ross Affair
  • Sociology
  • Eugenics


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  • China (as recorded)
  • Soviet Union (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)