Department of Sociology

The first course in sociology at the Massachusetts Agricultural College was introduced in 1908 by the college's reform-minded President, Kenyon L. Butterfield. A rural sociologist by training who shared a Progressive-era interest in the well being of rural Americans, Butterfield offered a course called “The Rural Community” that covered topics such as “the present social conditions of farm people”, and “social class and social status of the rural population”

A reformer with an expansive vision of the role of the college in the life of the Commonwealth, Butterfield established a new Division of Social Science in 1909, including most prominently the Departments of Rural Sociology and Agricultural Economics, and at the same time, he expanded the college's extension services, taking the results directly to the people. Randall Stokes suggests that from the beginning, the Division of Social Science was “a self-consciously uplifting and progressive enterprise,” and many of its courses were explicitly intended to improve rural lives and small farms. Among the course offerings in the 1920s were “Rural Village and Town Sociology,” “Rural Government,” and “Rural Organization,” which collectively taught students about concepts of class, political institutions, and mobilization for rural betterment. The first masters graduate degrees in Sociology was issued in 1921 followed in 1932 with the award of the first PhD to Ezra Morgan.

Although not all of Butterfield's ideas outlived his tenure as President (1906-1924), his ethos left a mark on the Sociology. At a time when Social Darwinist ideas dominated sociological thought at other universities, MAC was led by a faculty with a strongly progressive, even radical bent, and many were social activists.

In addition to Butterfield, faculty before WWI included professors Newell Sims, James Cutler, John Phelan, Joseph Novitski and John Skinner. Like Butterfield, all were activists in the progressive movement. Newell Sims, for example, left Massachusetts for the University of Florida where, in 1920, his house was raided by Department of Justice representatives in search of “radical” literature. Various tracts advocating racial and class equality were discovered, and he was forced to resign his faculty position.

The modern era of Sociology at UMass began with Henry Korson’s arrival from Yale in 1944. At this time the University still had fewer than 1000 students. Korson became the head and only member of a new freestanding department of Sociology. Within a few years John Manfredi, Edwin Driver (the first African American member of the UMass faculty), and T.O. Wilkinson joined Korson, and these four formed the core of the Department until the explosive growth of Sociology that began in the early 1960s.

Between 1963 and 1974, faculty size increased from 10 to 31, including a number of people who were already or became distinguished scholars. Among these were Milton Gordon, Lewis Killian, Charles Page, Alice Rossi and Peter Rossi (both to become ASA Presidents), Hans Speier, William J. Wilson, and Jay Demerath, who came from Wisconsin as chairperson. Under the directorship of Doug Anderton, the Department's Social and Demographic Research Institute (SADRI ) continues on the path blazed by Pete Rossi, and even earlier by Kenyon Butterfield, with the mandate to carry out empirical and applied policy research on issues of broad public concern (see The Demerath era of the Department was capped in 1983 when the NRC report on graduate programs ranked UMass sociology 18th in the nation, eleventh among public universities.

Fourteen of our 24 current tenure track faculty received their Ph.D.s after 2000, and the mounting number of recent major publications, grants, and awards suggests that sociology's best days lie just ahead. UMass sociology remains tied to our progressive origins, blending the tools of contemporary sociological research with our historical legacy.


Stokes, Randall, “UMass Sociology 100 Years Old” (RG 25/S7/2)

Other resources

Records of the Sociology Department are housed in Special Collections and University Archives (RG 25/S7/2).

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