American Sociological Association


GEORGE E. VINCENT (1864-1941)
From The American Sociological Review, 1941 pp. 273-275

With the death of George Edgar Vincent on February 2, there ended one of the most brilliant and influential careers in the sphere of education and philanthropy in the social history of America. It is given to but few men to have left such a record of achievement in so wide a range of social activities.

First of all was his contribution to the development of the then new science of sociology. He was a pioneer in this subject and throughout his life he never ceased to regard himself as belonging to this fraternity. He was a charter member of the Society and a constant member till his death. There was an interval, however, in which he devoted his energies to another service. Soon after graduating from Yale in 1885, he identified himself with the Chautauqua movement in which he was reared and of which his father, the late Bishop (Methodist) John Heyl Vincent, was the chief founder and promoter. Young Vincent became successively literary editor of the Chautauqua Press, vice principal, principal, and president of the Chautauqua Institution. Through programs, lectures, publications, and administrative leadership, he made Chautauqua one of the outstanding contributions to American culture.

Intellectually eager and able, he felt the need for more thorough academic training, so in the fall of 1892 he became a fellow in sociology at the University of Chicago, acquiring his doctorate in that subject in 1896. He remained on the staff and advanced through the ranks to a full professorship in 1904. It was under the inspiration and guidance of Albion W. Small, whom he always regarded as one of the greatest teachers in America, that he acquired his reputation as a scholar in this field. He published jointly with Small, while he was still a graduate student, An Introduction to the Study of Society, which, if it did not prove to be a classic in the light of later developments in the subject, nevertheless had the merit of being the first textbook in sociology in an American university, and set the pace for future achievements. In 1896, he published independently his own study Social Mind and Education, a pioneer work in this field. Perhaps it should be said that his greatest contribution to sociology was not so much in his writings as in his popularization of the sociological point of view both in the classroom and in public address, a service much needed at the time. From 1900 to 1907, he served as dean of the Junior College and of the faculties of Arts, Literature, and Science, an experience which proved valuable in his future career.

Upon the retirement of President Northrup, of the University of Minnesota in 1911, Vincent was called to succeed him. Here his executive and administrative abilities had wide scope and a period of expansion of the University’s activities ensued, including the establishment of the Mayo Foundation of Medical Research. Probably the strong sociology department for which Minnesota is still noted is due, at least partially to the sociological interest of President Vincent.

In 1917, in the midst of the World War, Vincent resigned to become the executive head of the Rockefeller Foundation to which he devoted twelve years of the most vigorous and brilliant period of his career. This was the decade, during his tenure of office, of the greatest expansion of the Foundation in the work of medical research in this country and throughout the world. The great Union Medical College and Hospital in Peking is a good example of the assistance rendered to other countries abroad. During Vincent’s administration, John D. Rockefeller enlarged the endowment of the Foundation with an additional gift of $50,000,000 in order that Vincent still further might enlarge the scope of its worldwide medical activities in its battle against misery, pestilence, and disease. Large contributions were made by the Foundation to many universities for the expansion and improvement of their medical equipment and training. No one outside the medical profession, if indeed within it, has made a greater contribution to the development of the public health services in the United States than George E. Vincent through the wise expenditures of the Foundation’s funds in this sphere. When the history of the Rockefeller Foundation is written, one of the most important chapters of it will read almost like a biography of this period of Vincent’s life.

Dr. Vincent, son of Bishop John H. and Elizabeth D. Vincent was born in Rockford, Illinois, on March 21, 1864. Prior to his entering Yale, he attended the public schools of Plainfield and the Pingry Academy of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he spent much of his youth. During his conspicuous career, he received many public honors, among which was the LL.D. degree from the universities of Chicago, Yale, Michigan, and Minnesota. He served on several public institutional boards and his advice and counsel was sought by many public service organizations. He was a past president of the American Sociological Society, the one learned society in which he maintained his active membership throughout his entire life.

Possessed of a brilliant intellect, a rapid and vivid flow of language, an affable and charming personality, a keen sense of humor, and a broad and sympathetic outlook on world affairs, he was sought after as a public speaker and lecturer through the entire country. By many, he was regarded as the most entertaining and fascinating after-dinner speaker in America.

J.P. Lichtenberger
University of Pennsylvania, Emeritus

Last Updated on May 26, 2005
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