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Lester Frank Ward

Born: 18-Jun-1841
Birthplace: Joliet, IL
Died: 18-Apr-1913
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Brookside Cemetery, Watertown, NY

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Sociologist, Geologist, Biologist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Dynamic Sociology

Military service: US Army (Civil War, 1862-64)

Raised in a family too poor to afford formal education, Lester Frank Ward worked in his brother's wagon wheel shop and taught himself to read and write not only in English, but in several other languages. He worked at the Treasury Department, using his earnings to put himself through college, and then embarked on a career as a geologist, biologist, and paleontologist. In the 1880s he was drawn into the then-raging sociological debate over the proper role of government, and by the force and eventual popularity of his arguments he came to be seen as one of America's leading intellectuals. Dismissing the laissez-faire arguments of Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, Ward argued that society is best served when a benevolent government provides education to all, and protects the weak from the strong. Startlingly for his time, he also argued for equal treatment of the races and genders, believing equality could be accomplished by providing "wider diffusion of knowledge" and universal education to all who want it. Despite having no training in sociology, he was given a professorship at Brown University, and subsequently elected the first President of the American Sociological Association.

"When a well-clothed philosopher on a bitter winter's night sits in a warm room well lighted for his purpose and writes on paper with pen and ink in the arbitrary characters of a highly developed language the statement that civilization is the result of natural laws, and that man's duty is to let nature alone so that untrammeled it may work out a higher civilization, he simply ignores every circumstance of his existence and deliberately closes his eyes to every fact within the range of his faculties. If man had acted upon his theory there would have been no civilization, and our philosopher would have remained a troglodyte."

Father: Justus Ward
Mother: Silence Rolph Ward
Brother: Cyrenus Osborne Ward (wagon wheelsmith)
Brother: Lorenzo Ward
Brother: Justin Ward (religious activist)
Wife: Elizabeth Caroline Bought Ward (suffragette, "Lizzie", d. 1872 appendicitis)

    University: Susquehanna Collegiate Institute (attended, 1860-62)
    University: BA, George Washington University (1869)
    Law School: LLB, George Washington University (1871)
    University: MA George Washington University (1872)
    Professor: Sociology, Brown University (1905-13)

    US Geological Survey Paleontologist (1892-1905)
    US Geological Survey Geologist (1889-92)
    US Geological Survey Assistant Geologist (1881-89)
    US Treasury Department (1865-81)
    American Sociological Association President (1906-07)
    American Academy of Political and Social Science
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Guide to the Flora of Washington and Vicinity (1881)
Dynamic Sociology (1883)
Types of the Laramie Flora (1887)
Psychic Factors in Civilization (1893)
Outlines of Sociology (1898)
Pure Sociology (1903)
A Text-Book of Sociology (1905, with James Quayle Dealey)
Applied Sociology (1906)
Glimpses of the Cosmos (1912, memoirs, six volumes)
Young Ward's Diary (1935, posthumous)


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