Ward, Lester Frank, 1841-1913

Alternative names
Birth 1841-06-18
Death 1913-04-18

Biographical notes:


From the description of Lester Frank Ward papers, 1883-1906. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980247

Lester Frank Ward (1841-1913) served as a geologist and paleontologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from 1882 to 1905. In addition to his USGS career, Ward served as Honorary Curator of the Department of Fossil Plants in the United States National Museum (USNM) during the same span of years. In 1905, Ward accepted a faculty appointment at Brown University, where he remained until his death. Ward's paleobotanical research concentrated upon the relation of fossil plants to geology, and their value and importance in stratigraphic investigations. His scientific bibliography included over one hundred and fifty titles. Ward is probably best remembered for his pioneering work in sociology.

Smithsonian Institution Archives Field Book Project: Person : Description : rid_638_pid_EACP635

Geologist, paleontologist, and paleobotanist for the United States Geological Survey. Professor of Sociology at Brown University and a pioneer in the discipline.

From the description of Papers, 1860-1913, [microform]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122450526

From the description of Papers, 1860-1913. (Brown University). WorldCat record id: 122623091

Lester Frank Ward (1841-1913), described by some as the father of American sociology, was born June 18, 1841 in Joliet, Illinois. The Ward family was not wealthy so there was no extra money with which to send Lester to school for a formal education. Instead, Ward was self educated in his youth. Some reports indicate that Ward taught himself many languages including Latin, Greek and German, and could read Russian, Japanese and Hebrew. His studies also included mathematics and geology. His contributions to sociology are almost forgotten today, but at one time he was considered to be one of America's leading intellectuals. The Ward family moved from Illinois to Myersburg, Pennsylvania while Frank was still young. By day Ward joined his brother Cyrenus in their wagon wheel shop. By night he devoured books and developed a craving for knowledge and study. Some believe that Ward's childhood spent in poverty, followed later by hard labor in the wagon shop, instilled in Ward an outrage at society's injustice and inequalities. In the early 1860's Ward attended classes at the Susquehana Collegiate Institute in Towanada. On August 13, 1862 he married Elizabeth "Lizzie" Caroline Bought. When the Civil War broke out, Ward joined a local Pennsylvania regiment and was seriously wounded at Chancellorville. Like many soldiers away from home to fight in the war, Ward kept a journal which is still available today under the title Young Ward's Diary. Some of his thinking about society and inequality developed further during his Civil War experience.After the war he began working for the federal government while continuing his education. From 1865 to 1881 Ward was employed by the United States Treasury Department. During this period he studied at Columbian College (now George Washington University) from which he received the A.B. degree in 1869, the LL.B. degree in 1871, and the A.M. degree in 1872. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the university in 1898. In 1882 Ward was appointed assistant geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, a post he held for two years. He served the USGS for the remainder of his career in the federal government, receiving promotions to Geologist in 1889, and Paleontologist in 1892.In addition to his USGS work, Ward was appointed Honorary Curator of the Department of Fossil Plants in the US National Museum in 1882. He remained in charge of the national collections of fossil plants until his resignation from the USGS in 1905. In that year he accepted a faculty appointment at Brown University, where he remained until his death.Ward is best remembered for his pioneering work in sociology. Between 1883 and his death in 1913, he completed several important works including Dynamic Sociology (1883), Outlines of Sociology (1898), Pure Sociology (1903), and Applied Sociology (1906). His book Dynamic Sociology was revolutionary, arguing that progress depended on a planned society led and controlled by a benevolent government, that provided universal education, freedom from poverty and happiness for all. When this book was first published, courses in sociology were nonexistent in American universities, and by the time the second edition was published in 1896, sociology was being taught in all colleges. Ward supported the idea of equality of women as well as the equality of all classes and races in society. He believed in universal education as a means of achieving this equality. Many of his ideas were unpopular among his male contemporaries, but would probably play better to an audience today. In 1906 and 1907, Ward served as the first President of the American Sociological Society (now known as the American Sociological Association). He also served as the editor of the American Journal of Sociology starting in 1905. The eminent historian Henry Steele Commager said, "In perspicacity, intellectual acumen and imagination, Lester Frank Ward takes place alongside William James, John Dewey and Oliver Wendell Holmes as one of the creative spirits of 20th century America.Lester Ward died April 18, 1913.

From the description of Lester Frank Ward papers, 1883-1919 (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 743306941

Biographical Note

  • 1841, June 14: Born, Joliet, Ill.
  • 1861: Entered the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute, Susquehanna, Pa.
  • 1862 - 1864 : Served in the Pennsylvania Volunteers; wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville
  • 1865: Worked at the Treasury Department, Washington, D.C.
  • 1872: Graduated from Columbian College, Washington, D.C., with three degrees
  • 1881: Chief, Division of Fossil Plants, United States Geological Survey
  • 1883: Published Dynamic Sociology (New York: D. Appleton and Co. 2 vols.)
  • 1893: Published The Psychic Factors of Civilization (Boston: Ginn and Co. 369 pp.)
  • 1898: Published Outlines of Sociology (New York: Macmillan. 301 pp.)
  • 1903: Published Pure Sociology (New York: Macmillan. 607 pp.)
  • 1906: Published Applied Sociology (Boston: Ginn and Co. 384 pp.)
  • 1906 - 1913 : Professor of Sociology, Brown University, Providence, R.I.
  • 1906: President, American Sociological Association
  • 1913, Apr. 18: Died, Washington, D.C.

From the guide to the Lester Frank Ward Papers, 1883-1906, (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)


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  • Sociology
  • Geology
  • Paleontology
  • Brown University > Faculty
  • Paleobotany
  • Sociologists
  • Biography
  • Evolution


  • Sociologists
  • Geologists
  • Paleontologists


  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
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