About: History & Archives
150 Years of Advancing Science: A History of AAAS
AAAS and Science: 1900-1940
Concerned about the future of its meetings in the face of increasing disciplinary specialization, AAAS constituted a committee in late 1900 to develop a response. The committee proposed a "Convocation Week" for the week including New Year's Day, calling on all national scientific societies to meet concurrently during that week, and suggesting that American universities adjust their calendars to allow their faculties to attend. The proposal was endorsed by the Association of American Universities in February 1901 and approved by the AAAS Council in August.
Convocation Week was a great success. The first winter meeting was held in Washington in December 1902, drawing 989 AAAS members and fellows. Twenty-four affiliated societies, with 363 additional registrants, held concurrent meetings. Nature called it AAAS's "most successful meeting ever," and President Theodore Roosevelt received AAAS members at the White House.
Many of the joint meetings were the site of important scientific events. In December 1908, at the joint AAAS-American Physical Society (APS) meeting in Baltimore, two MIT physicists, Gilbert N. Lewis and Richard C. Tolman, introduced American audiences to Einstein's special theory of relativity.
While physicists eventually drifted toward the APS in the early years of the 20th century, biologists increasingly gravitated toward AAAS. Many sessions in the life sciences and an informal "Biologists' Smoker" were part of all AAAS meetings until the middle of the century.
After a dip in attendance during World War I, AAAS sought to revive the spirit of Convocation Week. The 1920 meeting in Chicago succeeded, drawing 2,500 attendees to AAAS and hundreds more to concurrent meetings of 41 affiliates. Albert A. Michaelson reported on his measurements of the diameter of the star Betelgeuse, and Ernest E. Just, an African-American embryologist and professor at Howard University, gave a well-received paper at a symposium on fertility. A biography of Just notes that attending the meeting gave him "a sense of professionalism and camaraderie he could scarcely have found elsewhere."
AAAS meetings in the 1920s and 30s were covered by the major news media. Life magazine devoted several pages to the 1936 meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Major radio networks, such as NBC, also provided extensive reports.