Ellwood, Charles A.

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Ellwood, Charles A.



Charles Abram Ellwood (1873–1946), known for his efforts to establish a scientific psychological sociology in the United States, was born near Og-densburg, New York. He entered Cornell University in 1892, initially intending to study law. However, at Cornell he met Edward A. Ross, later a famous sociologist and then, early in his career, teaching economics. Ross induced Ellwood to abandon his plans for a legal career and to turn to the social sciences. Ellwood specialized in sociology and economics. His studies in statistics and demography were mainly directed by Walter F. Willcox; those in political science and economic research by Jeremiah W. Jenks. His instructors were oriented toward social reform, and by the time he was graduated, in 1896, he had become convinced that the main objective of social science should be to improve public well-being. This became the leitmotiv of his sociological writings throughout his life.

Ellwood went to the University of Chicago to pursue graduate work in sociology, being guided by W. I. Thomas and George H. Mead in social psychology, John Dewey in psychology and pragmatic philosophy, and Albion W. Small in systematic sociology and social-reform doctrine. Small advised him to spend a year at the University of Berlin, which he did in 1897/1898, studying historical and reformist economics, mainly under Gustav Schmol-ler, and philosophy and ethics, under Friedrich Paulsen.

He returned to Chicago in 1898 to complete his doctorate, producing as his dissertation, in 1899, Some Prolegomena to Social Psychology. This was the first presentation of social psychology to be firmly based on the principles of academic psychology. The concepts laid down here were amplified and revised in his later systematic works in this field, chiefly under the influence of Charles H. Cooley. Some fifteen years later, in 1914 and 1915, Ellwood studied in England under Leonard T. Hobhouse and Robert R. Marett, leaders in cultural sociology and anthropology, and was led thereby to place psychological sociology within the larger framework of a cultural interpretation of the social process.

Ellwood traveled extensively in Europe in 1927 and 1928 and in Latin America in 1937, thereby developing a deep interest in international relations, which he interpreted from the standpoint of practical pacifism, holding that world peace is essential to any successful program of social amelioration. Ellwood’s travels, especially in Europe, led him to form many contacts with foreign sociologists. He developed considerable prestige among them and served as president of the International Institute of Sociology in 1935/1936.

In 1900 Ellwood accepted the newly established chair in sociology at the University of Missouri, and he remained there for three decades, turning out students who became distinguished sociologists, such as E. B. Reuter, Luther L. Bernard, and Herbert Blumer. In 1930 he was called to Duke University to establish a new department of sociology, and he remained there until his death. Among his better-known students at Duke were Paul E. Root, Guy V. Price, Austin L. Porterfield, and Leonard Broom.

Ellwood’s most important work in the field of psychological sociology, and the one for which he will also be best remembered as a sociologist, is his Sociology in Its Psychological Aspects (1912), which, as a comprehensive psychological interpretation of human behavior, was far ahead of any other work in the field at this time. This synthesis combined contributions from the evolutionary perspective of Darwin; the biological approach of Lloyd Morgan and E. L. Thorndike; the neurology and comparative psychology of Jacques Loeb, as passed on to Ellwood by W. I. Thomas; Thomas’ own views of folk psychology; William James’s pragmatic and dynamic instrumentalism, especially his emphasis on the importance of habit; the functional psychology of J. R. Angell and John Dewey; the social psychology of G. H. Mead and C. H. Cooley; and Lester Ward’s contention that psychic factors exert dominant control over human and social behavior. Later on, Ellwood’s work was far surpassed by that of specialists like L. L. Bernard. Ellwood’s Introduction to Social Psychology (1917) and Psychology of Human Society (1925a), while broader in perspective than his previous works, were less successful as psychological sociology because he tried to weave into them the cultural concepts that had begun to influence him deeply soon after he finished his masterpiece in 1912.

The cultural approach to the social process dominated Ellwood’s work in formal sociology during the two decades before his death. He had received some suggestions here from W. I. Thomas during his student days at Chicago, but the main impetus to this shift in emphasis came from his work with Hobhouse and Marett. The cultural interpretation was set forth in his Cultural Evolution: A Study of Social Origin and Development (1927a). Primarily because of his contact with Marett, Ellwood was one of the first Americans to cut loose from the unilateral evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, Charles Letourneau, and their associates, which had dominated the historical sociology of the Ward-Giddings-Howard era. Ellwood had a drastically revised and expanded version of his work ready for publication at the time of his death, and it is a serious loss to sociological literature that it was never published.

Ellwood’s comprehensive knowledge of the fields and methods of sociology was best and most constructively exhibited in his Methods in Sociology: A Critical Study (1933). Ellwood cautioned in a reasonable manner against what he deemed to be danger signs in the sociological trends of the mid-1930s: the attempt to recast sociology in the terms and techniques of natural science; increasing fragmentation; excessive emphasis on quantitative methods; and the repudiation of value judgments and of proper recognition of the ultimate role of social amelioration.

Ellwood’s interest in practical sociology was reflected in his 1910 textbook, the first textbook in sociology that appealed to college students. Over 300,000 copies were marketed before it came to be supplanted in the mid-1930s by more substantial and sophisticated textbooks on social problems. Ellwood produced a number of books (see, for example, his 1915 book) that presented his general solutions to social problems, with increasing emphasis on the responsibility of religion. He had planned to expand his introductory treatment of social ethics as a guide to social reconstruction into a comprehensive and systematic work on social ethics, but the strong impulses from the deep-seated religious experience of his younger days eventually led him to regard a modernized Christianity as the best stimulus and guide to needed social reform. Hence, he revamped his presentation and published The Reconstruction of Religion (1922), which became his most widely read book outside college classrooms. This was supplemented by Christianity and Social Science (1923). These books gained for Ellwood a large and powerful following among liberally inclined and social-reformist clergymen. Although Ellwood constantly stressed the fact that social change must be guided by scientific and rational principles, he attributed more significance and potency to religious views and values than any other leading American sociologist of his generation. He especially evaded any attempt to apply rational interpretations to sexual problems.

In seeking to summarize Ellwood’s place in the development of American sociology, one may safely say that he will be remembered first and foremost for the fact that he executed far and away the most successful of the early attempts to link up scientific psychology with systematic sociology. Other sociologists, such as Tarde, Le Bon, Durkheim, Sighele, Giddings, Ross, and Cooley, had produced more striking interpretations of social behavior from the psychological point of view, but most of them selected some special psychological factor, such as invention, imitation, impression, suggestion, crowd psychological impulses, creativeness, sympathy, and the like, rather than having a comprehensive psychological approach to the subject. Moreover, most of them, save for Durkheim and Cooley, had little technical knowledge of formal psychology and based their analysis and generalization on common-sense and rule-of-thumb psychological concepts.

Influenced by Comte, Ward, and Hobhouse, Ellwood shared with Small the mantle of Ward in presenting social telesis, expertly planned social guidance, as the main role and justification of social science in general and of sociology in particular. Ellwood assigned to modern religion a more important role in social telesis than any other leading sociologist of his time.

In our era, which may have settled down to accepting a pattern of “perpetual war for perpetual peace,” Ellwood’s views on international relations are especially wholesome and pertinent. While primarily concerned with social amelioration, Ellwood, inspired by his reading of Kant, was convinced that there is no likelihood of establishing a social utopia or of perpetuating democratic society unless world peace can be attained, and he believed that this was possible only in connection with a strong world organization.

Harry Elmer Barnes

[For the historical context of Ellwood’s work, seeSocial problemsand the biographies ofDewey; Hobhouse; Marett; Mead; Morgan, C. Lloyd; Schmoller; Small; Thomas; Willcox; for discussion of the subsequent development of Ellwood’s ideas, seeEvolution; Pacifism; and the biography ofBernard.]


(1899) 1901 Some Prolegomena to Social Psychology. Univ. of Chicago Press.

(1910) 1943 Sociology: Principles and Problems. New ed., rev. & enl. New York: American Book. → First published as Sociology and Modern Social Problems.

(1912) 1921 Sociology in Its Psychological Aspects. 2d ed. New York and London: Appleton.

(1915) 1919 The Social Problem: A Reconstructive Analysis. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan.

1917 An Introduction to Social Psychology. New York and London: Appleton.

1922 The Reconstruction of Religion: A Sociological View. New York: Macmillan.

1923 Christianity and Social Science. New York: Macmillan.

1925a The Psychology of Human Society. New York: Appleton.

1925b The Group and Society. Journal of Applied Sociology 9:401–403.

1925c The Cultural or Psychological Theory of Society. Journal of Applied Sociology 10:10–16.

1925d Intolerance [Presidential Address]. American Sociological Society, Papers and Proceedings 19:1–14.

1925e Unsere Kulturkrise: Ihre Ursache und Heilmittel. Stuttgart (Germany): Kohlhammer.

1927a Cultural Evolution: A Study of Social Origin and Development. New York: Century.

1927b Recent Developments in Sociology. Pages 1–49 in Recent Developments in the Social Sciences. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

1927c The Social Development of Morality. Sociology and Social Research 12:18–25.

1927d The Development of Sociology in the United States Since 1910. Sociological Review (London) 19:25–34.

1927e Primitive Concepts and the Origin of Cultural Patterns. American Journal of Sociology 33:1–13.

1927f Social Evolution and Cultural Evolution. Journal of Applied Sociology 11:303–314.

1929a Man’s Social Destiny in the Light of Science. Nashville, Tenn.: Cokesbury.

1929b The Background of Good-will. Pages 29–37 in Pacificism in the Modern World. Edited by Devere Allen. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

1929c Sociology in Europe. Sociology and Social Research 13:203–210.

1929d Charles Horton Cooley: 1864–1929. Sociology and Social Research 14:3–9.

1930a Social Education in the United States. Pages 253–270 in Paul D. Schilpp (editor), Higher Education Faces the Future: A Symposium. New York: Liveright.

1930b Recent American Sociology. Scientia 47:335–343.

1930c The Uses and Limitations of Behaviorism in the Social Sciences. Pages 187–211 in William P. King (editor), Behaviorism: A Battle Line. Nashville, Tenn.: Cokesbury.

1930d Uses and Limitations of Behaviorism in Sociology. American Sociological Society, Publications 24:74–82.

1931a The Implications for Religion of Current Trends in the Social Sciences. Pages 74–83 in Milton C. Towner (editor), Religion in Higher Education. Univ. of Chicago Press.

1931b Scientific Method in Sociology. Social Forces 10: 15–21.

1931c The Philosophy of Protestantism in Its Relation to Industry. Religious Education 26:420–426.

1933 Methods in Sociology: A Critical Study. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.


Cramblitt, Mary V. 1944 A Bibliography of the Writings of Charles Abram Ellwood. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.