About: History & Archives
150 Years of Advancing Science: A History of AAAS
Brought back to life after the Civil War, AAAS grew and assumed a key role in American science in the last third of the 19th century. Increasingly, however, it was forced to share the stage with the National Academy of Sciences and a growing number of disciplinary societies. Several of AAAS's leaders, including Alexander Dallas Bache, were instrumental in forming the Academy in 1863 and devoted their energies to it.
The 1869 meeting, held in Salem, Massachusetts, featured a special symposium on microscopy. Many prominent scientists brought their microscopes and offered demonstrations.
From its origin AAAS welcomed all members, regardless of scientific attainment. The issue of status, however, particularly when it came to controlling the quality of papers presented at meetings, was a continuing theme in AAAS affairs. In the 1870s, the constitution was changed to create a more prestigious category of "fellows" for members "professionally engaged in science" or those who "by their labors aided in advancing science."
In 1884, AAAS returned to Philadelphia for the first time since its founding 36 years earlier. The meeting was held in September, instead of the usual month of August, in order to allow members of the British Association, meeting in Montreal, to attend. Many did, and Philadelphia went all out to make the meeting an especially memorable one.
Under the leadership of Frederic Ward Putnam, permanent secretary from 1872 to 1897, the Association became a stabilizing force for the scientific community in the midst of a turbulent environment. Putnam did all of AAAS's staff work: arranging for speakers, negotiating presidential nominations, handling official correspondence, and managing the budget and membership records -- all while maintaining an active career in anthropology and archeology. AAAS made important contributions to both science and policy during these years.
AAAS Section Officers, 1885. Courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution [Bae 4751 (039) 02872300]. The officers of AAAS are shown in this rare photograph, taken at the 1885 meeting in Ann Arbor Michigan. Front row seated, from left to right: F. W. Putnam, Permanent Secretary; just behind him, Dr. Charles S. Minot, General Secretary; left of Putnam is Past President Dr. T. Sterry Hunt; President H. A. Newton; Past President Prof. James Hall; and Mrs. Erminnie A. Smith, Secretary of Section H (Anthropology). Seated behind Smith and Hall is W. H. Walmsley, Secretary of Section G (Microscopy and Histology). To the left of Smith is C. J. Woodbury, Secretary of Section D (Mechanical Science). Back row standing, from left to right: Edward Atkinson, Vice-President of Section I (Economic Science and Statistics); F. P. Dunnington, Secretary of Section C (Chemistry); N. T. Lupton, Vice-President of Section C; Willima Harkness, Vice-President of Section A (Mathematics and Astonomy); E. W. Hyde, Secretary of Section A; J. Burkitt Webb, Vice President of Section D; C. W. Smiley, Secretary of Section I; S. H. Gage, Vice-President of Section G; J. Own Dorsey, Vice-President of Section H; T. J. Burrill, Vice-President of Section F (Biology); and J. A. Linter, Secretary of Section F.
Asa Gray, botanist and early supporter of Darwin's evolutionary theory, devoted his 1872 presidential address to "The Sequoia and Its History." The meeting had been planned for San Francisco but was moved to Dubuque, Iowa, when AAAS was unable to negotiate cheap train fares for East Coast members. Gray went to California anyway and visited Yosemite Valley with naturalist writer John Muir, reinforcing his arguments about migration and isolation of species.
AAAS was deeply involved in conservation issues during the 19th century. Franklin R. Hough's paper on "The Duty of Governments in the Preservation of Forests," presented at the 1873 annual meeting in Portland, Maine, led to the establishment of a AAAS Committee on the Preservation of the Forests in 1874. AAAS influence helped shape subsequent federal and state forest policy initiatives, including the establishment of the Forestry Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (ancestor of today's Forest Service).