By Kiyoko Miyanishi
Reprinted from the ESA Bulletin, January 2014.
ESA’s Second Decade: Roaring 20s and Dirty 30s
In ESA’s first decade, its membership had increased from 284 charter members to ~500 members, of which 11% were women. During its second decade (1926–1935), membership peaked at 645 in the 1928 Directory (although subsequent addenda increased that number to >700 by 1933) and then declined to 546 in the 1934 Directory, despite a continuing campaign by ESA to recruit new members. The 1933 October ESA Bulletin implored its members “to help in securing competent interested ecologists to join the ranks of the society.” The membership decline was likely reflecting the economic depression. In 1935, the ESA executive noted that they knew some ecologists “not now holding appointments, as a result of the depression” and suggested that the Bulletin could function “as a partial exchange of information on positions for ecologists.” Interestingly, the percentage of female members declined from 11% at the end of the first decade to 8% by 1934. Was this an indication that female ecologists were disproportionately affected by the depression in terms of employment? The number of life members increased from 8 to 11 during this decade.
Besides loss of income from declining membership in the mid 1930s, ESA was also financially affected in 1932 by the failure of the Mechanics Bank of New Haven in which the ESA’s funds were deposited. As a result, the Secretary-Treasurer (R. Kienholz) stated that “the Treasury is in need of money” and he would appreciate prompt payment of annual dues, which held steady at $4 throughout the second decade. In 1927, ESA appointed a Committee on Research Publication Facilities “to consider ways and means of increasing the facilities for the publication of longer contributions in the field of Ecology.” The following year this committee held a conference in Nashville which recommended a new class of membership, “Sustaining Members,” who would pay annual dues of $10, the additional $6 to be utilized for publication of longer ecological studies “from time to time.” Life members could also choose to become Sustaining Life members with an additional one-time payment of $100. Three years later, in 1931, ESA had 107 Sustaining Members and Ecological Monographs began publication. At this time, the Editors-in-Chief of both Ecology and Ecological Monographs were “elected by the Society at the same time and in the same manner as the other officers for a term of three years,” in contrast to the current practice of being appointed by the Governing Board. By 1935, ESA had Business Managers for both Ecology and Ecological Monographs.
In 1935, in an effort to save on postage, ESA started notifying members of dues payable by including notice slips in the October Bulletin, rather than sending out invoices by first-class mail. Although this practice was generally well received by the membership, apparently two members wrote that they did not read the Bulletin and wanted their invoices to be sent by first-class mail. Ever accommodating to its membership, the Secretary-Treasurer (A.G. Vestal) responded that he would do so “for those members and for any others who so request.”
ESA continued to hold regional meetings with various divisions of AAAS in the spring or summer as well as the annual meeting with AAAS in December. The announcement and call for abstracts for the annual meeting would appear in the October issue of the Bulletin. The meeting information appeared to indicate no inflation in hotel rates through the second decade, with rooms in the headquarters hotels available at $1.50–$4.00 (single) and $2.50–$6.00 (double); rates were dependent on the specific hotels chosen, with the lowest rates in Pittsburgh (1934) and St. Louis (1935), and the highest rates in Cleveland (1930) and New Orleans (1931). The 1933 annual meeting in Chicago for the first time mentioned use of university dorms in their housing options ($2/day at the University of Chicago). An all-day field trip to the Indiana Dunes and Warren Forest cost $2.50, which included transportation by electric train and bus, and a box lunch. Most people still traveled to the annual meetings by train, but the 1935 meeting announcement for the first time mentioned parking facilities for those traveling by car. The annual meetings required only one meeting room for scientific sessions (i.e., no concurrent sessions), and the contributed oral presentations continued to vary in duration from 2 to 20 minutes +, although the suggested time limit was 15 minutes. There were usually four contributed sessions plus one symposium, which was typically organized by the President. The number of presentations per session varied from 4 to 15, with an average of 9. The session titles were still very general, such as “Papers on Animal Ecology and Field Zoology,” “Papers on Plant Ecology and Geographic Botany, and catch-all sessions titled “Session for the Reading of Papers of General Interest,” or “Papers on General and Miscellaneous Ecological Subjects.” Many talks provided descriptions of communities and ecosystems such as “A report of the Mollusca of the northeastern Wisconsin Lake District,” or “A study of the vertical distributions of Euglena seral communities of muddy sea bottoms.” Also, during these early years, new technologies such as airplane photography, an improved evaporimeter, a portable thermoelectric apparatus for measuring radiation intensities in the field, etc. were becoming available, and a number of talks each year discussed their uses in ecological studies. In 1928, the call for abstracts suggested that “[m]any papers may be presented informally by the authors in the form of a demonstration or exhibit, or charts or other materials accompanying a formally presented paper may be left on exhibition so that they may be examined at leisure”; this was an apparent push for more poster-type presentations (at that time called “Exhibits”) that were introduced at the 1923 meeting.
The drought and “dust bowl” years of the 1930s were reflected in some of the ESA meeting programs, particularly in 1935. A regional meeting that year with BSA and the Southwestern Division of AAAS in Santa Fe included a symposium on “The Ecological Aspects of the Emergency Operations of the Government,” in which a talk by W. H. Bell titled “Government emergency activities in relation to soil erosion” discussed the Rehabilitation Act, Taylor Grazing Act, check-damming experiments of the Forest and Soil Erosion Services, and ecological studies of the Soil Erosion Service. A symposium at the June regional meeting with the Pacific Division of AAAS in Los Angeles was titled “Chaparral in Relation to Soil Erosion and Fire Control,” while the December annual meeting in St. Louis had a symposium titled “Ecological Aspects of Some Recent Governmental Activities,” in which presenters discussed the shelterbelt project, reforestation of submarginal lands, and land use problems faced by the Resettlement Administration.
At the end of the second decade, ESA had five active committees, on: Ecological Nomenclature, the Study of Plant and Animal Communities, the Preservation of Natural Conditions for the United States, the Preservation of Natural Conditions for Canada, and Policy for Preservation and Study Activities. These committees obviously reflected the interests of ESA members in the 1930s.