History of the Iowa Sociological Association

On April 30, 1959, sociology faculty and students from Iowa universities, colleges, and junior colleges met at Iowa State University in Ames for the first “Iowa Sociology Conference.” Planning for the conference began in February of that year at the initiative of the Department of Sociology at Iowa State and in response to interest throughout the state in having an annual sociology conference. Professor Lee Burchinal of Iowa State chaired the first program committee composed of faculty members from Drake, Cornell, Grinnell, Iowa State, Simpson, and Wartburg.

In attendance at the one-day conference in 1959 were 27 faculty and 134 students from 15 Iowa institutions. Professor Harold Ennis of Cornell College opened the conference, while Professor Burchinal and others appeared on the WOI-TV show “The Welcome Mat” to talk about sociology and the conference. After Professor Ennis’s opening remarks, faculty and students participated in separate programs. Students heard a talk on “An Overview of Sociology” by a Dr. Meadows of the University of Nebraska and then attended a panel discussion on the occupational roles of sociologists. In the afternoon, students presented papers, beginning the emphasis of all future annual meetings of Iowa sociologists on student research. Faculty members attended one of three seminars in the morning—on theory, small groups, and anthropology. In the afternoon, faculty engaged in a discussion of the role of sociology at small liberal arts colleges.

First ISA conference

The first meeting concluded with a demonstration for all participants of the use of IBM cards. The registration data for the conference was coded on cards and a card sorter was used to the create frequency distributions and cross-tabulations. At a business meeting, Professor Manford Kuhn of the State University of Iowa was selected to chair the program committee for the second Iowa Sociology Conference.

Second ISA conference

The second Iowa Sociology Conference was held on May 2, 1960, at the State University of Iowa. In attendance were 38 faculty and 150 students. In contrast to the previous year, the conference included a single program for both faculty and students. The program included two sessions:

  1. a morning session on sociology as a profession, with discussions of opportunities for graduate training in sociology at Iowa State University and the State University of Iowa and of career possibilities in sociology and
  2. an afternoon session devoted to the presentation and discussion of student research papers. Some titles of student papers included, “The Role of Public Opinion in Negro-White Intermarriage,” “Nursing Attitudes and Social Distance,” and “The Cedar Rapids Taxi Driver and His Fare.”

At the business meeting, the representatives of the sixteen institutions with faculty attending the conference decided that a permanent organization for sociology faculty and students should be established and that at least one annual meeting be held. A program committee with Professor William Kinkel of Iowa State University serving as chair and including representatives from Cornell College, Iowa State Teacher’s College (now the University of Northern Iowa), Iowa Wesleyan University, and the State University of Iowa was established

Third annual conference

The third annual Iowa Sociology Conference was held on April 7, 1961, at Iowa State University. This meeting featured the adoption of a constitution and by-laws officially establishing and naming the Iowa Sociological Association. According to the original constitution:

The purpose of the Iowa Sociological Association shall be to meet the particular and important needs of undergraduate sociology students, graduate sociology students, and sociology instructors in Iowa that are not being met through existing organizations.

Specifically, the constitution established that the new association would:

  1. Broaden the professional knowledge and experience of students through opportunities for the exchange of ideas among students and faculty of various Iowa institutions;
  2. Disseminate information about opportunities for graduate work in sociology in Iowa, information about occupational opportunities for sociology majors with bachelor’s degrees, and information about professional opportunities for students with graduate degrees; and
  3. Improve the teaching of sociology in Iowa by providing opportunities for interaction among faculty.

The constitution also provided for the election of three officers to serve one-terms: a president, a president-elect and a secretary-treasurer. Membership in the association was open to undergraduate sociology majors and minors, graduate students in sociology, and sociology faculty at Iowa colleges and universities, as well as any Iowa student or faculty with an interest in the program of the association. A slightly revised version of the constitution was adopted in 1979, but the Iowa Sociological Association retains its original purposes and organization.

The Iowa Sociological Association has met annually since 1961, with the institution of the president-elect hosting the meeting. At the 1967 business meeting, members suggested that the papers read be limited to undergraduate students, and subsequently the presentation of undergraduate papers has been the focus of the annual meetings. An additional regular feature of the annual meetings is a keynote address by a sociologist invited by the host institution. In the 1960s, Kenneth Clark and Jessie Bernard were among those giving addresses at the annual meetings.

In 1968, the Association began the practice of presenting an award for the best student paper presented at the conference. Initially named in honor of Edward A. Ross, a graduate of Coe College and the fourth president of the American Sociological Association, the first recipients of the award were Miss Shirley Kearney and Miss Mary Ann Koenigsfeld of Briar Cliff College for their paper, “Affiliation and Conformity.” In 1980 the award was renamed in honor of Manford H. Kuhn, the founder of the “ Iowa School” of symbolic interactionism, who taught at the University of Iowa from 1946 until his death in 1963. In 1986, the Association began to select Kuhn award winners in both a freshman/ sophomore division and a junior/senior division. In 1989, the freshman/sophomore award was named in honor of Mary Alice Ericson, long-time member of the Department of Sociology at Coe College and active in the ISA from its earliest days. In 1993, the Association added an award named in honor of W. Ward Reynoldson, a former chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, for the best criminal justice-oriented paper. Since 1988, copies of winning papers have been added to the collection of the Kirkwood Community College Library.

The annual meetings of the Iowa Sociological Association continue to feature the presentation of undergraduate papers, three awards for to the best papers, and a keynote speaker. As its founders intended over four decades ago, the Association continues to provide opportunities for interaction among sociology faculty and students at Iowa’s colleges and universities.

* History compiled by Chris Carlson, Cornell College