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Thomas, Dorothy Swaine



Dorothy Swaine Thomas was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and educated at Barnard College (B.A.1922) and the London School of Economics (Ph.D.1924). Her principal mentors were the sociologist William F. Ogburn, the economist Wesley C. Mitchell, the statistician Arthur L. Bowley, and one of the founders of American sociology, W. I. [William Isaac] Thomas, whom she married in 1936.

Between 1924 and 1948 Thomas received research or academic appointments at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Social Science Research Council, Columbia University Teachers College, Yale University, the Social Science Institute at the University of Stockholm, and the University of California at Berkeley. In 1948 she became the first woman professor in the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a research professor of sociology. At the Wharton School she initiated an interdisciplinary doctoral training program in demography and helped found and direct the Population Studies Center.

After her retirement from the Wharton School in 1970, Thomas taught at Georgetown University for four years. She served on numerous occasions as a technical consultant to the United Nations and to U.S. government agencies. She was the first woman elected president of the American Sociological Association (1952), was president of the Population Association of America (1958–1959), and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 for her work in demography.

In her demographic career two features are evident in Thomas's work: the importance of careful measurement and sensitivity to the interplay between demographic change and economic change. In Thomas's demographic work her concern with measurement centered primarily on internal migration, the subject that eventually became the focus of her research. As chair of the Social Science Research Council's Committee on Migration Differentials, she authored a 1938 study that set the research agenda of the field for the next several decades. Subsequently she codirected with the economist Simon Kuznets the University of Pennsylvania project on population redistribution and economic growth (Thomas, 1957, 1960, 1964). Among its other findings, this project produced definitive estimates of internal migration in the United States by sex, age, race, nativity, and state of origin and destination by decade, covering the period 1870–1950; the study was authored by Everett S. Lee. As chair of the Committee on Internal Migration of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Thomas collaborated in producing United Nations Manual VI, Methods of Measuring Internal Migration, in 1970.

Thomas's attention to economic–demographic relationships dates from her 1925 doctoral dissertation, Social Aspects of the Business Cycle, which documented statistically the relationship of vital rates and other social phenomena to short-term business cycles. In her 1941 study Social and Economic Aspects of Swedish Population Movements, the focus shifted to economic–demographic relationships over the long term, again with statistical time series as the basis of analysis. Her 1964 collaborative project on U.S. population redistribution and economic growth demonstrated that decade-to-decade swings in internal migration were linked to the level of economic activity.

Thomas's most famous work, which is not cited frequently by demographers, is her coauthored two-volume 1946 and 1952 study of the forced evacuation, detention, and resettlement of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II. This work was pieced together under difficult circumstances with the aid of graduate student assistants, and–according to Thomas's 1977 obituary in the American Sociological Association's Footnotes–its scientific objectivity "was vindicated when the Supreme Court accepted her books as unbiased evidence of our crimes against our fellow Americans" (quoted in Roscoe 1991, p. 406).

Thomas was a gifted scholar capable of making fundamental contributions to many areas in demography and sociology. At a time when professional academic careers were virtually closed to women, she made a lasting mark and can be considered one of the founders of American demography.

See also: Demography, History of; Kuznets, Simon.


selected works by dorothy swaine thomas.

Thomas, Dorothy S. 1925. Social Aspects of the Business Cycle. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. (New York: Knopf, 1928.) Reprinted, New York: Gordon and Breach, 1968.

——. 1938. Research Memorandum on Migration Differentials. New York: Social Science Research Council.

——. 1941. Social and Economic Aspects of Swedish Population Movements, 1750–1933. New York: Macmillan.

——. 1952. "Experiences in Interdisciplinary Research." American Sociological Review 17: 663–669.

——. 1964. "Temporal and Spatial Interrelations between Migration and Economic Opportunities." In Population Redistribution and Economic Growth, United States 1870–1950, Vol. III: Demographic Analyses and Interrelations, ed. Hope T. Eldridge and Dorothy Swaine Thomas. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Thomas, Dorothy S., Charles Kikuchi, and James Sakoda. 1952. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: The Salvage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Thomas, Dorothy S., ed., with Simon Kuznets. 1957, 1960, 1964. Population Redistribution and Economic Growth, United States, 1870–1950. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. Vol. I: Methodological Considerations and Reference Tables, 1957; Vol. II: Analysis of Economic Change, 1960; Vol. III: Demographic Analyses and Inter-relations, 1964. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, 45, 51, 61.

Thomas, Dorothy S., and Richard S. Nishimoto. 1946. Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: The Spoilage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

selected works about dorothy swaine thomas.

Bannister, Robert C. 1998. "Dorothy Swaine Thomas: The Hard Way in the Profession." Originally published as "Dorothy Swaine Thomas: Soziologischer Objectivismus: Der harte Weg in die Profession." In Frauen in der Soziologie, ed. Claudia Honeggerund und Teresa Wobbe. Munich: Oscar Beck.

Goldenstein, Sidney. 1977. "Dorothy Swaine Thomas, 1899–1977." Population Index 43: 447–450.

Lee, Everett S. 1979. "Thomas, Dorothy Swaine." In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 18: Biographical Supplement, ed. David L. Sills. New York: Free Press.

Roscoe, Janice. 1991. "Dorothy Swaine Thomas (1899–1977)." In Women in Sociology: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, ed. Mary Jo Deegan. New York: Greenwood Press.

United Nations. 1970. Methods of Measuring Internal Migration, Manual VI, Department of International Economic and Social Affairs. New York: United Nations.

internet resource.

University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania. "Guide to Dorothy Swaine Thomas Papers, 1929–1977." <>.

Richard A. Easterlin

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