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Lester F. Ward (June 18, 1841 - April 18, 1913) was an American botanist, paleontologist, and sociologist. He served as the first president of the American Sociological Association.
Ward was a pioneer who promoted the introduction of sociology courses into American higher education. His belief that society could be scientifically controlled was especially attractive to intellectuals during the Progressive Era. His influence in certain circles (see: the Social Gospel) was affected by his opinions regarding organized priesthoods, which he believed had been responsible for more evil than good throughout human history.
Ward emphasized the importance of social forces which could be guided at a macro level by the use of intelligence to achieve conscious progress, rather than allowing evolution to take its own erratic course as proposed by William Graham Sumner and Herbert Spencer. Ward emphasized universal and comprehensive public schooling to provide the public with the knowledge a democracy needs to successfully govern itself. Lester Frank Ward was born in Joliet, Illinois, the youngest of 10 children born to Justus Ward and his wife Silence Rolph Ward. Justus Ward (d.1858) was of old New England colonial stock, but he wasn't rich, and farmed to earn a living. Silence Ward was the daughter of a clergyman; she was a talented perfectionist, educated and fond of literature.
When Lester Frank was one year of age the family moved closer to Chicago, to a place called Cass, now known as Downers Grove, Illinois about twenty-three miles from Lake Michigan. The family then moved to a homestead in nearby St. Charles, Illinois where his father built a saw mill business making railroad ties. Ward first attended a formal school at St. Charles, Kane Co., IL, in 1850 when he was nine years old. He was known as Frank Ward to his classmates and friends and showed a great enthusiasm for books and learning, liberally supplementing his education with outside reading.
Four years after Ward started attending school, his parents, along with Lester and an older bother, Erastus, traveled to Iowa in a covered wagon for a new life on the frontier. Four years later, in 1858, Justus Ward unexpectedly died, and the boys returned the family to the old homestead they still owned in St. Charles. Ward's estranged mother, who lived two miles away with Ward's sister, disapproved of the move, and wanted the boys to stay in Iowa to continue their father's work.
The two brothers lived together for a short period of time in the old family homestead they dubbed "Bachelor's Hall," doing farm work to earn a living, and encouraged each other to pursue an education and abandon their father's life of physical labor.
In late 1858 the two brothers moved to Pennsylvania at the invitation of Lester Frank's oldest brother Cyrenus (9 years Lester Frank's senior) who was starting a business making wagon wheel hubs and needed workers. The brothers saw this as an opportunity to move closer to civilization and to eventually attend college.
The business failed, however, and Lester Frank, who still didn't have the money to attend college, found a job teaching in a small country school; in the Summer months he worked as a farm laborer. He finally saved the money to attend college and enrolled in the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in 1860. While he was at first self-conscious about his spotty formal education and self learning, he soon found that his knowledge compared favorably to his classmates, and he was rapidly promoted. It was while attending the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute that he met Elizabeth "Lizzie" Carolyn Vought (some sources cite Bought), and fell deeply in love. Their "rather torrid love affair" was documented in Ward's first journal Young Ward's Diary. They married on Aug. 13, 1862.
Almost immediately afterward, Ward enlisted in the Union Army and was sent to the Civil War front where he was wounded three times. After the end of the war he successfully petitioned for work with the federal government in Washington, DC, where he and Lizzie then moved.
Lizzie assisted him in editing a newsletter called "The Iconoclast," dedicated to free thinking and attacks on organized religion. She gave birth to a son, but the child died when he was less than a year old. Lizzie died in 1872. Rosamond Asenath Simons was married to Lester F. Ward as his second wife in the year 1873. By the early 1880s the new field of sociology had become dominated by ideologues of the left and right, both determined to claim "the science of society" as their own. The champion of the conservatives and businessmen was Herbert Spencer; he was opposed on the left by Karl Marx. Although Spencer and Marx disagreed about many things they were similar in that their systems were static: they both claimed to have divined the immutable stages of development that a society went through and they both taught that mankind was essentially helpless before the force of evolution.
With the publication of the two volume, 1200 page, Dynamic Sociology--Or Applied Social Science as Based Upon Statical Sociology and the Less Complex Sciences(1883), Lester Ward hoped to restore the central importance of experimentation and the scientific method to the field of sociology. For Ward science wasn't cold or impersonal; it was human-centered and results-oriented. As he put it in the Preface to Dynamic Sociology, "The real object of science is to benefit man. A science which fails to do this, however agreeable its study, is lifeless. Sociology, which of all sciences should benefit man most, is in danger of falling into the class of polite amusements, or dead sciences. It is the object of this work to point out a method by which the breath of life may be breathed into its nostrils."
Ward theorized that poverty could be minimized or eliminated by the systematic intervention of society. Mankind wasn't helpless before the impersonal force of nature and evolution - through the power of Mind, man could take control of the situation and direct the evolution of human society. This theory is known as telesis. Also see: meliorism, sociocracy and public sociology. A sociology which intelligently and scientifically directed the social and economic development of society should institute a universal and comprehensive system of education, regulate competition, connect the people together on the basis of equal opportunities and cooperation, and promote the happiness and the freedom of everyone. Ward was a strong advocate for equal rights for women and even theorized that women were naturally superior to men, much to the scorn of mainstream sociologists. In this regard, Ward presaged the rise of feminism, and especially the difference feminism of writers such as Harvard's Carol Gilligan, who have developed the claims of female superiority. Ward is now considered a feminist writer by historians such as Ann Taylor Allen. However, Clifford H. Scott claims that some suffragists ignored him. Ward's persuasion on the question of female intelligence as described by himself: "And now from the point of view of intellectual development itself we find her side by side, and shoulder to shoulder with him furnishing, from the very outset, far back in prehistoric, presocial, and even prehuman times, the necessary complement to his otherwise one-sided, headlong, and wayward career, without which he would soon have warped and distorted the race and rendered it incapable of the very progress which he claims exclusively to inspire. And therefore again, even in the realm of intellect, where he would fain reign supreme, she has proved herself fully his equal and is entitled to her share of whatever credit attaches to human progress hereby achieved." Clifford H. Scott argues that practically all the suffragists ignored him. Ward's views on the question of race and the theory of white supremacy underwent considerable change throughout his life.
Ward was a Republican Whig and supported the abolition of the American system of slavery. He enlisted in the Union army during the Civil war and was wounded three times. However, a close reading of his "Dynamic Sociology" will uncover several statements that would be considered racist and ethnocentric by today's standards. There are references to the superiority of Western culture and the savagery of the American Indian and black races, made all the more jarring by the modern feel of much of the rest of the book.
However, Ward lived in Washington D.C., then the center of anthropological research in the US; he was always up-to-date on the latest findings of science and in tune with the developing zeitgeist, and by the early twentieth century, perhaps influenced by W.E.B. Du Bois and German-born Franz Boas he began to focus more on the question of race.
During this period his views on race were arguably more progressive and in tune with modern standards than any other white academic of the time, with, of course, the exception of Boas, who is sometimes credited with doing more than any other American in combating the theory of White supremacy. Ward, given his age and reputation, could afford to take a somewhat radical stand on the politically explosive question of White supremacy, but Boas did not have those advantages.
After Ward's death in 1913, and with the approach of World War I, Franz Boas came to be seen by some, including W.H. Holmes, the head of National Research Council (and who had worked with Ward for many years at the U.S. Geological Survey), as possibly being an agent of the German government determined to sow revolution in the US and among its troops.
The NRC had been set up by the Wilson administration in 1916 in response to the increased need for scientific and technical services caused by World War I, and soon Boas's influence over the field of anthropology the US began to wane. By 1919, Boas was censured by the American Anthropological Association for his political activities, a censure which would not be lifted until 2005. (See also: Scientific racism, Master race, and Institutional racism) (the source for the information about Boas is Gossett, Thomas F.; Race: The History of an Idea in America) Ward is often categorized as been a follower of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Ward's article "Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Lamarckism" shows Ward had a sophisticated understanding of this subject. While he clearly described himself as being a Neo-Lamarckian, he completely and enthusiastically accepted Darwin's findings and theories. On the other hand, he believed that, logically, there had to be a mechanism that would allow environmental factors to influence evolution faster than Darwin's rather slow evolutionary process. The modern theory of Epigenetics suggests that Ward was correct on this issue, although old-school Darwinians continue to ridicule Larmarkianism. While Durkheim is usually credited for updating Comte's positivism to modern scientific and sociological standards, Ward accomplished much the same thing 10 years earlier in the United States. However, Ward would be the last person to claim that his contributions were somehow unique or original to him. As Gillis J. Harp points out in "The Positivist Republic", Comte's positivism found a fertile ground in the democratic republic of the United States, and there soon developed among the pragmatic intellectual community in New York City, which featured such thinkers as William James and Charles Sanders Peirce and, on the other hand, among the federal government scientists in Washington D.C. (like Ward) a general consensus regarding positivism. In "Pure Sociology: A Treatise on the Origin and Spontaneous Development of Society"(1903) Ward theorizes that throughout human history conflict and war has been the force that is most responsible for human progress. It was through conflict that hominids gained dominance over animals. It was through conflict and war that Homo Sapiens wiped out the less advanced hominid species and it was through war that the more technologically advanced races and nations expanded their territory and spread civilization. Ward sees war as a natural evolutionary process and like all natural evolutionary processes war is capricious, slow, often ineffective and shows no regard for the pain inflicted on living creatures. One of the central tenets of Wards world view is that the artificial is superior to the natural and thus one of the central goals of Applied Sociology is to replace war with a system that retains the progressive elements that war has provided but without the many downsides. Ward influenced a rising generation of progressive political leaders, such as Herbert Croly. In the book Lester Ward and the Welfare State, Commager details Ward's influence and refers to him as the "father of the modern welfare state".
As a political approach, Ward's system became known as social liberalism, as distinguished from the classical liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which featured such thinkers as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. While classical liberalism had sought prosperity and progress through laissez-fare, Ward's "American social liberalism" sought to enhance social progress through direct government intervention. Ward believed that in large, complex and rapidly growing societies human freedom could only be achieved with the assistance of a strong democratic government acting in the interest of the individual. The characteristic element of Ward's thinking was his faith that government, acting on the empirical and scientifically based findings of the science of sociology, could be harnessed to create a near Utopian social order.
Progressive thinking had a profound impact on the administrations of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson and on the liberal wing of the modern Democratic Party. Ward's ideas were in the air but there are few direct links between his writings and the actual programs of the founders of the welfare state and the New Deal.
For more information, see Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lester_Frank_Ward .
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