About: History & Archives
150 Years of Advancing Science: A History of AAAS
AAAS and Science: 1900-1940
From its origin, AAAS had many links to the Smithsonian Institution. AAAS's 1849 president, Joseph Henry, was the first secretary of the Smithsonian. Spencer Baird, AAAS's first permanent secretary, was Henry's successor. Ties to the Smithsonian were reinforced in 1907 when AAAS was given its first permanent home, a rent-free suite of offices in the Smithsonian's "castle." Prior to 1907, AAAS's offices had been in the office or home of the permanent secretary.
Leland O. Howard served as permanent secretary from 1898 to 1920. According to historian Michael Sokal, Howard served part-time and "never allowed AAAS to interfere either with his career as the Department of Agriculture's chief entomologist or his active social life as a resident of Washington's Cosmos Club." His relative inactivity created a void which allowed James Cattell to assume a dominant role in AAAS that lasted well beyond Howard's tenure. A group of reform-minded leaders, including Cattell, replaced Howard with plant physiologist Burton E. Livingston in 1920. Livingston served, also part-time, for ten years. Livingston brought Sam Woodley as assistant secretary in 1920. Woodley served for 25 years, bringing much-needed stability and order to AAAS's administrative affairs which were in some disarray when he arrived
The AAAS constitution was amended in 1919 to strengthen ties to other societies and the Association made efforts to recruit societies that had not previously been affiliates. By 1925 AAAS listed 53 affiliated societies, 16 affiliated state academies of science, and more than 30 "associated societies."
Astronomer Forest R. Moulton brought both scientific distinction and administrative leadership to AAAS when he was appointed permanent secretary in 1937. He was well respected for his planetesimal hypothesis on the origins of the planets, a member of the Academy, and had also served as financial director of Chicago's Utilities Power and Light Corporation. Moulton served until 1948.
AAAS held its first West Coast meeting in San Francisco in 1915. Transcontinental travel was far from routine at that time, and leading western scientists used the occasion to form a AAAS Pacific Division to serve their needs. A Southwestern Division, later the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division, was formed in 1920.
Despite many changes in the Association and in American science, the
basic character and goals of AAAS in the 1930s remained much the same as
they had been in 1848.