Sanderson, Ezra Dwight

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(b. Clio. Michigan, 24 September 1878: d. Ithaca, New York, 27 September 1944)

entomology, rural sociology.

Sanderson was the son of John P. and Alice Sanderson. He attended Michigan Agriculture College, receiving the B.S. degree in 1897 and, a year later, the same degree in agriculture from Cornell University. His first position was that of assistant entomologist at Maryland Agricultural College, a post he held until the summer of 1899, when he accepted an assistantship with the federal Division of Entomology. During this year he married Anna Cecilia Blanford, by whom he had a daughter.

In the fall of 1899 Sanderson became entomologist for the Delaware Agricultural Experiment Station at Newark and associate professor of zoology at Delaware College, where he remained until 1902. He then accepted the post of state entomologist of Texas and professor of entomology at Tezas Agricultural and Mechanical College, where he remained for two years. He was subsequently appointed professor of zoology at New Hampshire College and, three years later, director of the agricultural experiment station of that institution. In the autumn of 1910 he became dean of the College of Agriculture at West Virginia University and from 1912 to 1915 was director of its agricultural experiment station. He resigned from this position in order to pursue graduate studies in sociology at the University of Chicago, from which he received the Ph.D. in 1921.

In 1918 Sanderson became head of the Rural Social Organization at Cornell, an institution that furthered the cause of rural sociology. He attracted many graduate students to this new discipline, and their joint efforts resulted in the provision of guidelines for ameliorating the plight of many rural communities. Sanderson’s entire attention from 1918 until his retirement in 1943 was directed to these sociological activities.

Sanderson’s active career falls into three fairly definite categories: economic entomology, academic administration, and rural sociology. Although he attained real distinction in each area, his enduring scientific reputation probably will rest on his earlier entomological contributions. The results of these fundamental and pioneering researches appeared in the early issues of the Journal of Economic Entomology, which has become the most important periodical dealing with applied entomology. Sanderson was influential in establishing it, as well as its parent sponsoring agent, the American Association of Economic Entomologists. His research articles are considered landmarks in the development of the recent discipline of insect ecology. Sanderson early realized the value of applying statistical analysis to the problems of applied entomology, an area to which he also contributed through his participation in establishing the standardization of insecticides, work that culminated in the Federal Insecticide Act of 1910. In many respects Sanderson was an “ideas” man who stimulated original thinking in entomology, and his early departure from the field was a distinct loss.

The central concept in Sanderson’s approach to rural sociology appears to have been the building of the natural rural community, in which the centralized school became a major factor in community unification.


Sanderson’s entomological writings include Insects Injurious to Staple Crops (New York, 1902); A Statistical Study of the Decrease in the Texas Cotton Crop Due to the Mexican Cotton Boll Weevil ... (Austin, Tex., 1905); “The Relation of Temperature to the Hibernation of Insects,” in Journal of Economic Entomology. 1 (1908), 56–65: “The Influence of Minimum Temperatures in Limiting the Northern Distribution of Insects,” ibid., 245–262; “The Relation of Temperature to the Growth of Insects,” ibid., 3 (1910), 113–140: and Insect Pests of the Farm, Garden, and Orchard (New York, 1912: 3rd ed., rev. and enl. by L.M. Peairs, 1931).

His sociological works include The Farmer and His Community (New York, 1922): The Rural Community: the Natural History of a Sociological Group (New York, 1932), which contains ecological considerations far ahead of its time; Rural Community Organization (New York–London, 1939); and Rural Sociology and Rural Social Organization (New York–London, 1942).

An obituary is E. F. Phillips, “Dwight Sanderson, 1878–1944,” in Journal of Economic Entomology, 37 (1944), 858–859.

C. E. Norland