History of the Department

The Department of Sociology and Gerontology at Miami University has a long and rich history. Over the course of our 100+ year existence, our commitment to research and education has been impressive, and department faculty and alumni have played pivotal roles in the development of both disciplines.

1891-1930: the early years 

Edward C. HayesMiami students could take “Introduction to Sociology” as early as 1891, when it was offered by the Department of Political Science as a part of their two-semester course in political economy. In 1902, the Department of Economics and Sociology was established by Edward C. Hayes, who came to Miami University after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago under the guidance of Albion Small. In addition to starting Miami’s first sociology department, Hayes was among a small number of academic sociologists to attend the first meeting of the American Sociological Society [now known as the American Sociological Association] in 1905. Later, he served on the “Committee of Ten,” which created a universal model for undergraduate introductory sociology courses. Hayes’s influence on the discipline continued when he became the 11th president of the American Sociological Society in 1921.


By 1913, Sociology became a stand-alone department, placing it among the oldest sociology departments in the Midwest. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the department grew steadily, first under the direction of Scott E. W. Bedford, and later Thomas Luther Harris. By 1927, Miami’s Sociology Department had three faculty members and 9 course offerings, including “Introductory Sociology,” “Criminology,” “Group Leadership in Recreation,” and “Basic Social Controls.”

1930-1970: growth and influence 

By the mid-twentieth century, the Miami University Department of Sociology was among the most productive and influential sociology departments in the nation. Much of this was due to Professor Read Bain, who joined the Read Baindepartment in 1927 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In addition to his voluminous scholarly output, which included 97 articles [appearing regularly in the American Journal of Sociology (AJS) and the American Sociological Review (ASR)] and 2 books, Bain was also influential in the professional advancement of the discipline. He was part of the core group of “rebels” who, dissatisfied with AJS’s close alignment with the Chicago School of Sociology, founded the American Sociological Review. From 1938-1942, he served as the second editor of ASR. Bain served as the Vice President of the American Sociological Society and was a founder and first president (1930-1934) of Alpha Kappa Delta, the national sociology honor society.

Bain was joined by other influential sociologists during this period, including W. Fred “Doc” Cottrell, who joined the department in 1930 after receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford University. Cottrell quickly became a pioneer in “industrial sociology.” Cottrell’s interest in technology-society relations span from some of his earliest research on the social impacts of the railroad—an interest throughout his entire career—to one of his last books, Technology, Man, and Progress. In his classic Energy and Society, Cottrell examined the causal role of surplus energy-increasing technologies in the transition from premodern, “low-energy” societies to modern, “high-energy” societies . Whether categorized as an early treatise in industrial sociology or environmental sociology, it was ahead of its time and is recognized as foundational to the social scientific study of energy . Cottrell’s pioneering scholarship also significantly influenced the development of Miami’s Department of Sociology and Gerontology; he worked with Mildred Seltzer to develop the Department’s first “Social Gerontology” course (one of the first gerontology courses in the nation) shortly after becoming the third director of the Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems in 1964, following Warren Thompson and P.K. Whelpton in that position.Fred

Warren Thompson [Ph.D. Columbia University] came to Miami in 1922 at the urging of newspaper magnate E.W. Scripps, who wished to fund an independent research foundation devoted to the study of population and demography. Under his directorship, the Scripps Foundation became the preeminent center for the study of population in the U.S., and Thompson himself pioneered the Demographic Transition Theory, which remains a foundational perspective in demography. In addition to serving as the 3rd president of the Population Association of America [PAA], he also published landmark works in demographic studies, including Danger Spots in World Population, “Population” in AJS, and Population Problems, the first demography textbook which remained the gold standard until the 1960s . His first assistant director, Pascal Kidder [PK] Whelpton, served as 7th president of PAA in 1941-1942 and assumed the directorship of Scripps in 1953. Over the course of his career, Whelpton continued the influential work of the Scripps Foundation with Thompson and in his own groundbreaking work on population projection methods and fertility. Two other notable demographers, Donald Bogue and Norman Ryder, also held appointments at Scripps in the late 1940s and early 1950s, both going on to serve as PAA presidents in later years.

1970-2000: new directions

Robert AtchleyThough the Scripps Gerontology Center [renamed in 1972] remains separate from the Department of Sociology, Robert Atchley, who became director in 1974, reinforced strong ties between the two through his research in the sociology of aging and retirement, his work with Millie Seltzer on the development of academic programs in gerontology. In 1976, the U.S. Administration on Aging designated the renamed Scripps Gerontology Center one of only seven multidisciplinary centers on aging. The $190,000 grant accompanying this designation allowed for the expansion of the gerontology curriculum and the production of a guide called “Developing Programs in Gerontology.” Atchley shifted the focus of the Scripps foundation more squarely on aging, and Scripps again became a leader, this time in the burgeoning field of gerontology. In 1977, the Department of Sociology and Gerontology launched the Master of Gerontological Studies (MGS) program, which was the first to be recognized by the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) as a Program of Merit. Atchley and Selltzer continued to publish prolifically (separately and together) on aging and gerontological education, producing seminal works including “The Concept of Old: Changing Attitudes and Stereotypes,” Gerontology in Higher Education: Perspectives and Issues, Social Forces and Aging, and “The Continuity Theory of Normal Aging” among others .

Sociology faculty were also busy rethinking the professional orientation and organization of their discipline during this period. Dissatisfied with the compartmentalization and overly positivist direction in which academic sociology was headed, Miami professors Chuck Flynn and Ann Davis launched an effort to create and recruit members to a new professional society with a different, more inclusive and humanistic orientation. In 1976 they established the Association for Humanist Sociology (AHS) and held the first annual meeting of the AHS in the living room of Chuck’s Oxford home . He also produced the Association’s first newsletter, which eventually became the journal Humanity and Society. Three decades later, Miami professor Gina Petonito continued this Miami connection when she served as the AHS president in 2007.

During this same period, the department played a key role in the development of the scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology. Theodore C. Wagenaar served as the inaugural editor of Teaching Sociology under American Sociological Association auspices from 1986-1990 and published numerous articles in that journal outside of his editorial term. He served as a Carnegie National Scholar in the scholarship of teaching and learning (1999-2000) and contributed to various publications and task forces on the scholarship of teaching and learning. For several decades, he played key roles in the Lilly Conference on College Teaching at Miami, an international conference on the scholarship of teaching and learning.

2000-present: new developments for a new century

Sociology and Gerontology at Miami University continues to evolve in the 21st Century. In 2005, the department launched a Ph.D. program in gerontology—joining only a handful of other such programs in the country. Since its inception, our Ph.D. graduates have a 100% employment rate, and have gone on to tenure-track faculty positions, prestigious postdocs, and other research and policy jobs. The Scripps Gerontology Center maintains its close ties to the department, and has been designated an “Ohio Center for Excellence,” recognizing its important place in shaping aging research, policy, and professional practice in Ohio and beyond. More recently, the department launched an undergraduate major in Social Justice Studies, one of the first of its kind in the United States. Graduates from all of our undergraduate programs go on to an impressive variety of positions, including Teach for America; the U.S. Department of Defense; highly ranked law, medical, and graduate schools; and private sector firms. Our students and curricula have become more international in the past decade; students can take a Social Justice Studies course in Fiji and a Gerontology course in Thailand. Our faculty continue to build on the department’s legacy of excellence by serving in leadership positions in national professional organizations in sociology and gerontology and by being recognized regularly for their teaching, research, and service. Over the course of our over 100 year history, our faculty and alumni have played important roles in the advancement of sociology and gerontology. As we move into our second century, the Miami University Department of Sociology and Gerontology looks forward to continuing to make the kinds of lasting contributions to our disciplines and the world that we have since our inception.

Notable Alumni:

Edwin Lemert (B.A. Sociology, 1934): Lemert spent much of his career at UCLA and the University of California at Davis, where he was a pioneer in the sociology of crime and deviance. He produced groundbreaking work on labeling theory, and developed the concepts of primary deviance and secondary deviance. Prominent works included Social Pathology: A Systematic Approach to the Theory of Sociopathic Behavior (1951); Social Action and Legal Change (1970); Instead of Court: Diversion in Juvenile Justice (1971); and Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social Control (1972).


Ersel LeMasters (B.A. Sociology, 1934): LeMasters became a professor of Social Work at University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his career, he focused on class, community, and the family, and published the books Modern Courtship and Marriage (1957) and Blue-Collar Aristocrats: Lifestyles at a Working-class Tavern (1974).


Delbert C. Miller (B.A. Sociology, 1935): Miller became a professor of sociology and business administration at Indiana University-Bloomington. He was a nationally recognized expert in research design, and his book Handbook of Research Design and Social Measurement remained a standard text on that topic for decades. In addition, he was author of Industrial Sociology: Work in Organizational Life (1951); International Community Power Structures: Comparative Studies of Four World Cities (1970); and Leadership and Power in the Bos-Wash Megalopolis: Environment, Ecology and Urban Organization (1975).


Ruth Hill Useem (B.A. Sociology, 1936): Hill-Useem was Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University for 32 years. She was among the first women to get a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and developed the concept of “Third Culture Kids” (TCK) to describe children who grew up outside of their citizenship countries because of a parent’s work abroad. (http://www.tckworld.com/useem/home.html)


Ray Birdwhistell (B.A. Sociology, 1940): Birdwhistell was Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School of the University of Pennsylvania. He was renowned for his research in the field of nonverbal communication. His most famous book was entitled Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication (1970), and he was also involved in the making of numerous films.


Mildred Seltzer (B.A. Sociology, 1942): Mildred “Millie” Seltzer got a Master’s Degree in Social Services Admininstration at the University of Chicago, and them came back to Miami University for her Ph.D. in Psychology. She worked with Bob Atchley to develop the first course in social gerontology at Miami, and officially joined the Department of Sociology and Gerontology in 1970. Over the course of her career, she helped build Miami’s gerontology program, and published many foundational works in gerontology.


Bob Atchley (B.A. Sociology, 1961): Atchley is Professor (Emeritus) of Gerontology at Miami University and Director of the Scripps Gerontology Center. Atchley is a pioneer in academic gerontology, and published many groundbreaking books on aging and retirement. He is past president of the American Society of on Aging, and founding editor of Contemporary Gerontology.


Linda George (B.A. Sociology 1969; M.A. Sociology 1972): George is professor of sociology at Duke University. professor of sociology and associate director of the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University.  She has received numerous awards throughout her career including the W. Fred Cottrell Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Aging (Bestowed by Miami University, 1992); the Distinguished Mentorship Award, Behavioral and Social Sciences Section (Gerontological Society of America, 1996); the Robert W. Kleemeir Award (Gerontological Society of America, 2001); the Matilda White Riley Distinguished Scholar Award (American Sociological Association, 2004); and the Distinguished Career Award, Behavioral and Social Sciences Section (Gerontological Society of America, 2010).  She is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and served as that organization’s president in 1993-1994.