The First Ten Years: Interesting Tidbits from the ESA Bulletin (1917–1925)
Kiyoko Miyanishi (from Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 94:204–209.
The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America was ESA’s first publication, beginning as a monthly in January 1917. Because a lack of material submitted during the war years made the Bulletins irregular, it was changed to a bi-monthly in January 1919, and then to a quarterly in 1922. The early Bulletins were only a few pages, but their reading provides an interesting look at how ESA has evolved. The following are some of the things I learned about the early years of ESA from the Bulletin.
At the December 1914 meeting of the AAAS in Philadelphia, 21 men met to discuss formation of a society. A subsequent circular was mailed out, calling ecologists to a meeting at the December 1915 AAAS meeting in Columbus, and 50 people in attendance voted in favor of forming The Ecological Society of America. A constitution was adopted and the first officers were elected (President Victor E. Shelford, Vice-President William M. Wheeler, and Secretary-Treasurer Forrest Shreve).
There were 284 charter members of ESA, with another 23 elected members, for a total of 307 members by the time the first membership directory was published in the March 1917 (Volume 1, No. 3) issue of the Bulletin. Of the 284 charter members, 21 (7.4%) had recognizably female names (the gender of members giving only initials could not be determined). Of the 307 initial members, there were 16 from Canada, 2 from the Philippines, and 1 each from British Guiana, Canal Zone, and Sweden. Some easily recognizable names included Beebe, Birge, Braun, Clements, Cooper, Cowles, Gleason, Juday, and Shelford. The second membership directory was published in July 1923; by this time, membership had increased to 475 with 52 (10.9%) recognizably female names. Almost all members indicated their employment position, and only a handful appeared to be students (of which one was Charles Elton). There were a surprising number of high school teachers among the early membership.
In 1915, ESA’s members paid annual dues of $1. The 1918 Treasurer’s report indicated an income from dues of $282.00 with expenses totalling $274.47. The major expense was printing Bulletins, circulars, and stationery. By 1922, dues had tripled to $3. After the dues were further raised to $4 in 1923 (this included subscriptions to Ecology and the quarterly Bulletin), the Secretary-Treasurer (A.O. Weese) noted in the Bulletin: “Very few members of the Society have felt it necessary to resign on account of increase in annual dues. About a hundred [of the 475 members], however, have neglected to pay their 1923 dues. The officers will appreciate prompt attention to this matter on the part of those who are delinquent.”
Life memberships were introduced in 1922 for $80. The 1923 directory indicates four life members: one from France, one from Philippines, and two from Switzerland. By 1925, the cost of life membership had increased to $100, and two more had become life members: Barrington Moore, editor of Ecology, and Arthur G. Tansley, editor of Journal of Ecology.
Initially, the Society saw one of its roles in organizing the science of ecology by forming committees for the promotion and conducting of research. The first two standing committees were focused on Climatic Conditions and Soil Temperature. In 1916, three more committees were appointed: Freshwater Fish and Fisheries, Succession and the Interaction of Organisms in Communities, and Economic Entomology. The following year saw the creation of the Committee on Preservation of Natural Conditions, which was interested in identifying and working to preserve areas of ecological importance. In 1917, the Committee on Economic Entomology, which regarded their charge as simply reporting on what needed to be studied further, filed their report and did not request to be renewed. After a survey of its prospective field, the Committee on Succession decided that “it will not be able, at this time, to prosecute a useful line of work with respect to the organization of either ideas or investigations on succession” and the committee was discharged. By 1922, there were two more committees, on The Pollution of Inland and Coastal Waters, and on Co-operation, the latter “to further the co-operation of different phases of the work of the Ecological Society.” The Committee on Co-operation was charged with drawing up a list of problems upon which work was necessary and working on a concrete problem. The first problem they chose was “the factors limiting distribution on the mountains in the northeastern states.” In the 1923 Bulletin, only four committees were still listed: Preservation of Natural Conditions, Classification of the Content of Ecology, Soil Temperature, and Co-operation. Often reports from one or more of these committees comprised issues of the Bulletin.
The early Bulletins consisted largely of announcement of the Annual Meeting (held with AAAS in December) and the Pacific Coast meeting (held with the Pacific and Southwestern divisions of AAAS in June), the call for abstracts, the meeting program with abstracts, and then a report on the meeting. Of the 307 ESA members in 1916, 125 attended the first regular ESA meeting in New York. At the 1917 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh (which drew only ~70 people), the cost of a room at the ESA headquarters hotel ranged from $1 to $3. The 5–6 sessions of these early Annual Meetings were generally held jointly with the American Society of Zoologists, the Botanical Society of America, and the American Society of Naturalists. The ecological sessions were often titled simply, “Sessions for the Reading of Papers of General Ecological Interest.” In the Call for Abstracts, contributors were asked to indicate the length of their talk, which seemed to vary from 5 to 20 minutes. There were some early attempts to have one or two sessions with an actual time schedule, but the variable presentation times persisted. By the end of ESA’s first decade of meetings, the programs still listed talks lasting 5, 8, 10, 12, or 15 minutes. However, since there were no concurrent sessions, this did not present any problems.
As an indication of how times have changed, the program for the 1918 meeting in Baltimore listed a social event called “Biologists’ Smoker,” which then appeared as a regular part of the program in subsequent years, often following the informal ESA dinner. The first “poster” session appeared at the 1923 meeting in Cincinnati. Although the session was titled “Exhibits,” judging from the abstracts of the 14 exhibits presented, it would appear that these were equivalent to our current posters presenting research, not to our current exhibits by publishers and suppliers of field and lab equipment.
Read More: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/0012-9623-94.3.204