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ESA’s Third Decade: The War Years

By Kiyoko Miyanishi
Reprinted from the ESA Bulletin, Vol 95(2), April 2014.
Although ESA membership had declined significantly during its second decade, most likely due to the depression, it regained its former numbers to ~700 by the 1942 directory. Generally, each issue of the Bulletin included lists of names of new members, deaths, and resignations. New members during the third decade included R. F. Daubenmire and Charles Elton (1936), G. Evelyn Hutchinson and W. D. Billings (1937), Eugene Odum (1940), and Hugh M. Raup (1944). Deaths reported in the Bulletin during this decade included W. M. Wheeler (1937), Joseph Grinnell and H. C. Cowles (1939), R. L. Lindeman (1942), Chancey Juday (1944), and F. E. Clements (1945). The first obituaries appeared in 1939 for Grinnell and Cowles, but through this decade, obituaries remained very brief, with one or two paragraphs at most. In 1943, the Bulletin noted the inauguration of “post office zone numbers” (an early version of zip codes) in some large cities and asked members in such places to provide this information in their address.
While the contents of the Bulletin continued to consist largely of announcements of regional and annual meetings (with calls for abstracts) and subsequent programs for these meetings, there were also some interesting issues that arose during the fourth decade, such as revisions to the constitution and changes to the ESA Executive, financial problems and solutions, debates over ESA’s purpose/function, and impacts of the war on meetings.
In 1937, a number of changes to ESA’s Constitution and By-Laws were made. A key amendment split the position of Secretary-Treasurer into two positions. Thus, the previous Secretary-Treasurer, Orlando Park, became Secretary and Stanley Cain was elected Treasurer. Editors and Editorial Board Members for Ecology and Ecological Monographs were from the beginning elected in the same manner as other ESA officers. At this time, ESA had several ad hoc committees and six standing committees: Applied Ecology, Nomenclature, Preservation of Natural Conditions for the USA, Preservation of Natural Conditions for Canada and Newfoundland, Publications, and Study of Plant and Animal Communities.
The finances of the Society were a serious concern, with publication of Ecological Monographs continuing to operate at a substantial annual deficit. Previously in 1928, the Society had dealt with the increased publishing expense by introducing a new category of membership called Sustaining Member, for whom annual dues were $10 instead of the normal $4. The difference of $6 was to support Ecological Monographs. Life Members could also become Sustaining Life Members by payment of an additional $100 over the normal $100. By 1942 the Directory listed 43 Sustaining and 2 Sustaining Life Members. In 1937, when ordinary annual expenses of ESA stood at $630, regular Active Membership dues were $4.25; in 1938, this was increased to $5 and Institutional Membership to $6, while other categories remained unchanged. That same year, V. E. Shelford wrote an open letter in the Bulletin asking for increased financial support for the work of two ESA standing committees: Preservation of Natural Conditions, and the Study of Plant and Animal Communities. He argued that ESA had contributed <30% of the committees’ expenses of $3996 over 18 years. After the Executive considered various options for raising the money needed to support these committees, in 1944 yet another category of membership was introduced, that of Contributing Members, who would pay $10 (similar to Sustaining Members), but who could designate the additional funds to their choice of committee.
Lack of financial support wasn’t Shelford’s only complaint with ESA. When the Committee on the Preservation of Natural Conditions was established in 1917, its duties were “to initiate and carry out actions concerned with preservation of natural conditions.” While the Committee began by simply listing places that its members (representing each state) believed should be preserved, by 1936 Shelford (Committee Chair) was actively leading a fight against a bill introduced in the House of Representatives to open Glacier Bay National Monument to mining; he met with the Park Service in Washington and mailed hundreds of letters to various organizations asking them to send their protests to the Committees on Public Lands of the House and Senate (Bulletin 17(1):3). In 1943, the Committee submitted a number of resolutions to ESA Executive to essentially lobby the government for preservation of specific areas, as well as fight against bills being brought before the House that could threaten specific natural areas (Bulletin 24(1):6–8). In 1944, Shelford wrote in an open letter in the Bulletin (25(2):12–14) about the lack of support and attention by ESA to preservation, compared with its focus on meetings and publications. He cited results of a survey he had conducted (not sanctioned by ESA) that indicated support for his view that ESA’s attention to preservation should be on a par with its other activities. He also urged ESA to make constitutional provisions defining the Preservation Committee’s “existing and needed autonomy” with the right to solicit gifts and contributions.
Around this time, ESA, along with 10 other organizations, was sent an invitation to join a newly formed Conservation Council, whose purpose was “to bring about the conservation of natural resources in the public interest, particularly animals and plants and their environment” (Bulletin 26(1/2):3). In light of this new initiative and some growing concern about the Preservation Committee’s political activism, the ESA Executive recommended that the Committee “refrain from direct action to influence legislation,” pointing out that ESA’s role was that of “a research organization and scientific advisor in its field” and that “direct action to influence legislation would be carried on by those organizations participating in the Council whose major capacity is in that field and with whom we shall be able to maintain close working relationships” (Bulletin 26(1/2):5). Subsequently, in 1945, ESA proposed an amendment to the by-law defining the duties of the Committee on the Preservation of Natural Conditions to read: “It shall encourage the preservation of natural conditions by providing information and advice to those interested in securing sound legislation for this purpose but shall not have authority to take direct action designed to influence legislation on its own behalf” (Bulletin 26(3/4) ):12). The mail-in vote on the amendment was 213 for and 115 against; the ramifications of this referendum vote were to play out in the fourth decade (to be reported in the next installment).
Regarding its meetings, ESA continued to organize one or two regional spring/summer meetings in conjunction with AAAS Divisions (equivalent to our current Chapters) and other societies, as well as its annual meetings in late December with AAAS and affiliated societies such as Botanical Society of America, American Society of Zoologists, American Society of Plant Physiologists, Entomological Society of America, Society of American Foresters, and Limnological Society of America. Often symposia were organized jointly with one or more of these societies. ESA annual meetings continued to be held over four days, usually including at least one day set aside for a field trip. A sign of the meetings’ growth early in the third decade was the introduction in 1936 of two concurrent sessions in each time slot. Also, the end of the decade saw the use of a central agency for handling all accommodation requests in place of meeting participants making their own hotel reservations. Session titles were still mostly very general (e.g., Animal Ecology, Plant Ecology, General Ecology). Presentation times continued to be left to the presenters and varied from 5 to 30 minutes (although most were 10–15 minutes); as a result, the number of talks in a session varied greatly, from 4 to 13. The Biologists’ Smoker continued to be a key social event.
Not too surprisingly, the war had an impact on ESA members and its meetings. In 1942, Treasurer R. E. Shanks had to be replaced as he was “engaged in the armed service of the country,” and one ESA member was reported KIA in 1944. The June 1942 Bulletin announced that AAAS was urging all affiliated societies to include in their annual meeting programs “some material having a bearing on the war.” In response, ESA’s 1942 meeting program included two war-related sessions: “Insects and the War” and “General Session for Discussion of Ecological Work in Relation to War Conditions—Ecology and the War.” An example of a talk in the latter session was “The utility of ecological studies in the long range war program.” Unfortunately, by December, AAAS had postponed indefinitely that meeting in response to a request by the Office of Defense Transportation to curtail civilian travel. However, ESA’s program was printed as usual in the December Bulletin, with the note that the meeting would be considered as “held within the pages of the Bulletin.” The next annual meeting of ESA wasn’t held until September 1944 in Cleveland; the meeting included six sessions with 51 papers, and ~75 people attended one or more sessions. No meeting was held in 1945.