Society Formation

The wide gap that existed in the first third of the 20th century between genetics on one hand, and taxonomy and paleontology on the other, began to narrow down in the 1930's to such an extent that representatives of both groups began to see that there was no fundamental conflict between their views. It was particularly in regard to the study of evolution that an area of understanding and mutual interest developed. Julian Huxley suggested to several participants of the A.A.A.S. meeting at Columbus, Ohio, in December, 1939 (Dobzhansky, Epling, and Mayr), that a society be formed including members of the various fields interested in speciation. Dr. Alfred E. Emerson of the University of Chicago undertook to organize an informal Society for the Study of Speciation and issued a number of mimeographed bulletins. Owing to war conditions, this society never became formally organized. Shortly afterwards, a parallel movement started under the initiative of Professor Walter Bucher of Columbia University at whose recommendation the National Research Council established on February 6, 1943, a Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology and Systematics. This committee held two discussion meetings in the summer of 1943, one of a group consisting primarily of botanists at Berkeley (University of California) on June 14-16, and the other one consisting primarily of animal paleontologists and geneticists at the American Museum History in New York on July 24-25. Since further such meetings were impossible owing to wartime travel difficulties, it was decided to continue an exchange of ideas among members of the Committee through correspondence. Copies of these letters were gathered and issued in mimeographed bulletins under the editorship of Dr. Ernst Mayr. Six such bulletins were issued, four of which contained a discussion of numerous evolutionary problems.

The work of the Committee revealed that such a keen interest in the problems of evolution that it was felt that a larger and more permanent organization was needed than a temporary Committee of the National Research Council. This was particularly true in view of the obvious need for a journal that would include evolutionary studies from the diverse fields of biology and thus help to bridge the gaps between them. Informal correspondence between Professor Dobzhansky, Dr. Simpson, Dr. Mayr, and other members of the Committee, revealed much enthusiasm for such a journal, as well as for a society that would support it. Dr. Emerson suggested that the dormant Society for the Study of Speciation should join forces with the National Research Council group in the establishment of a Society for the Study of Evolution. An organization meeting was held in St. Louis on March 30, 1946, at which Dr. Emerson presided. At this meeting, attended by fifty-seven biologists, the Society for the Study of Evolution was officially founded, a tentative policy adopted, and a slate of officers elected. The officers of the first year were the following:

President: G. G. Simpson
Vice Presidents: E. B. Babcock, A. E. Emerson, and J. T. Patterson
Secretary: E. Mayr
Treasurer: K. P. Schmidt
Council: E. R. Dunn, H. J. Muller, Sewall Wright, G. L. Jepsen, Th. Dobzhansky, and R. Chaney

Over 500 members joined the Society during the first year of its existence, and on the occasion of the First Annual Meeting in Boston, December 28-31, 1946, the Society felt sufficiently well established to authorize publication of a research journal in the field of evolution. In a wave of enthusiasm and optimism the Council voted to publish 1500 copies of the Journal. Thanks to this decision the Society lived for years on the sale of back copies. A grant had been awarded to the Society by the American Philosophical Society to make this publication possible. At this same meeting, a constitution was also adopted by the Society.

Despite considerable interest in assuming control of the American Naturalist the Society decided to found a new journal. Some of the older members wanted the word "Organic" included in the Journal title but in the final vote the title "Evolution" won out, not only for its simplicity but also because it corresponded to Ecology and Genetics. Several long defunct journals had that same name and efforts to avoid legal difficulties included leters to the former publishers all of which were returned for a "better address". During the fall of 1946 six firms were invited to submit bids for the printing. All but Lancaster Press declined to submit a serious bid because of the post war printing backlog and the great paper shortage. Additionally there was a shortage of suitable manuscripts and at least one paper was written just to fill an issue. There was strong support from the very beginning to have the journal as international as possible. Indeed the editorial board included distinguished evolutionists from abroad.

Following policies established during its first year of existence, the function of the Society is to promote the study of organic evolution in all its aspects. The Society is a common meeting ground for representatives of all fields of science concerned with organic evolution, including genetics, paleontology (vertebrate, invertebrate, plant), taxonomy (animal, plant), ecology, anthropology, and others. The journal EVOLUTION is established in order to stimulate evolutionary research and to bring its results together in readily accessible form. A journal broadly devoted to the particular subject of evolution will help to counteract the previous extreme scattering of pertinent literature, which has handicapped evolutionary study by the tendency to confine results within numerous different narrowly specialized groups. The journal will not publish taxonomic monographs or other descriptive studies properly addressed to a more specialized audience, but it will encourage the expression of the evolutionary significance of such material and will make this available to the broader group of students of evolution in general. Research primarily directed toward various evolutionary problems will also be encouraged.

The aims of the Society, through its journal and otherwise reflect the conviction that the evolutionary approach will clarify many unsolved biological problems and will provide common goals and mutual comprehension among all the life sciences.

E. Mayr


Read more

Read more about the founding of the Society for the Study of Evolution:

"Disciplining Evolutionary Biology: Ernst Mayr and the Founding of the Society for the Study of Evolution and Evolution (1939–1950)" by Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis

"Organizing evolution: Founding the society for the study of evolution (1939–1950)" by Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis



SSE Elected Representatives 1988-2019

View a pdf of past elected representatives here.

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