The American Statistical Association (ASA) was established in Boston on November 27, 1839. We do not have a great deal of information on the Association’s beginning, except that five men met to organize a statistical society, to "collect, preserve, and diffuse statistical information in the different departments of human knowledge." The ASA – initially called the American Statistical Society – held its first annual meeting in Boston on February 5, 1840 (at which technical papers were presented). The five men to whom we are indebted for their foresight and conscientious efforts on behalf of the profession of statistics were William Cogswell, Richard Fletcher, John Dix Fisher, Oliver Peabody, and Lemuel Shattuck.
Since early in the 20th century, there has been a formal speech regularly delivered to the whole ASA membership on the state of our Association and profession. Beginning in 1914 the speech has always been made by the ASA President. Prior to that the records we have indicate that in some years the speech was given by the ASA Vice-President (1908 and 1909), while in other years “speakership” is unclear (e.g., 1913). In any case, the custom has been generally to deliver the talks at the Annual (now Joint) Statistical Meetings.
About seven years ago I decided to bring together electronically the talks, if any, of my then 99 predecessor ASA Presidents. That was done informally about the time my Presidency started, on a website donated by my employer, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago – but more on the “back-story” of the site later.
During the first four ASA Presidential terms there are no records of a formal address to the membership. These were the terms of Richard Fletcher (1839-1845) and George Shattuck (1846-1851) – both among the 5 original ASA founders. These founding Presidents were followed by Edward Jarvis (1852-1882) – our longest sitting President; then Francis Walker (1883-1896), who had been a general in the Union Army. The Association seemingly had from its inception a Secretary or business manager, now titled Executive Director. The full list of the first 100 Presidents and the Executive Directors is included on this site.
During the term of the fifth ASA President, Carroll Wright (1897-1909), there were two formal talks “to the membership.” Wright, at the time U.S. Secretary of Labor, himself gave the first talk on January 17, 1908. It is entitled "A Brief Historical Statement of the Origin and Work of the Association." The second ASA Presidential Address, also given in 1908, was delivered by S.N.D. North on December 28. Then, an ASA Vice President, North seems to have established the pattern of delivering these now “Presidential” talks at the annual ASA membership meeting.
Until the 1960's these annual meetings were held regularly in December, as a way of concluding each President’s term of office. Then – for a decade or so – the talks alternated between December and August, since the annual meetings alternated too. Now, of course, the meetings are held only in August. Thus, recent addresses have become less of a summing up of the year’s accomplishments. While there have been gaps, the President's remarks are usually published the following year, typically in the March issue of the Journal of the American Statistical Association or JASA. A full list of the presentations by the first 100 ASA Presidential Addresses (that we have) is provided here, both by year and alphabetically by the President's name.
Only one delivered speech had not been published previously – that of Churchill Eisenhart, given in 1971. Incidentally, while Presidential "speeches" for 1942 and 1943 were published in JASA, there was no annual meeting in those years because of World War II.
Still, while for the most part quite quotable, a few of the speeches are a bit dated. Nonetheless, they have lasting value and deserve this record. By the way, for those of you with a historical bent, I would also recommend the ASA sesquicentennial volume produced in 1989. A more recent paper – the 2001 ASA Presidential address by W. Michael O'Fallon, entitled "Statistical Meetings: View of Past, Vision of Future" – adds depth to the brief remarks in this Preface about our annual meetings ([create link]), as well. Also of interest may be a volume commissioned by the then-ASA President John Koren, entitled The History of Statistics, produced to honor the 75th anniversary of ASA. The 75th Anniversary took place in 1914, the beginning of the Great War (World War I), clearly a turning point. At the time statistics was still close to its literal meaning of “facts about the state”; hence, most of the country-by-
country chapters concern government or official statistics. Not so now! The profession of Statistics has certainly grown a lot since then.
What do these Presidential Papers and related material say about our Association and the times we have lived through? For the most part I will leave such questions for readers of these Presidential papers to answer for themselves. But one of the major contributors here, Susan Cocola Ross, has developed a decade-by-decade summary, which we hope to add later on, that should provide some additional context.
Permit me, though, a few "takeaways." I see an Association initially focused on collecting and describing quantitative phenomena in largely descriptive ways – just as its original founders wanted. True to its founders’ purpose, ASA has had a major role, first in building the governmental statistical infrastructure, notably during and after World Wars I and II, for what, in our time, was to expand beyond government into an infrastructure for the Information Society.
Statistical tool building was always important to ASA members, too. The interest in tool making exploded, especially during and after World War II – making our profession much more mathematical and inferential in its approach. ASA's emphasis on social, economic and business statistical data, paramount up to the 1940's, has now expanded to a world, foreseen by ASA President Helen Walker, our first ASA woman President. In her 1944 Presidential address, she foresaw that statisticians would be potentially active partners in virtually all facets of modern life. And so we have! What a ride it has been for me personally and professionally. For you too, I hope?
My initial goal in this re-publication effort was to assemble the talks of the ASA Presidents, up to and including my own Presidency. There were also to be photographs and even some biographical information about each President, as well as some historical context. All of this was to be accessible in a centralized electronic collection. Now, despite the Internet, this was hard. Surprisingly much of what we found was scattered widely and, had we not begun when we did, might have passed from human memory.
The magnitude of the task, once realized, and the difficulty of locating information on individuals going back over about 170 years led me to scale back my plans. In the end, I decided to limit the website (at least for now) mainly to the texts of the annual addresses and photographs of each of the first 100 ASA Presidents. There are some few additions, noted earlier, that are planned to give context -- taken from the 75th and 150th ASA Commemorative Celebrations.
Most of the Presidential speeches were published in the March issue of JASA, which followed delivery at the preceding annual meeting. We started with those papers we could locate from the Journal itself or via other(e.g., JSTOR) sources. Patsy McClellan, then, of the ASA Office, offered much useful advice. It was she who supplied the JASA citations in which each Presidential address appeared.
These JASA copies were scanned into a .PDF format, and, then, converted to MSWord, so that they could be reformatted into a consistent look and feel. Each paper underwent stylistic editing (by Beth Kilss and Wendy Alvey), mainly to assure uniform handling of references and footnotes. They added or completed some missing information in the notes and references sections of the papers – additions by the editors are indicated by their inclusion in square brackets [ ]. The speeches were then converted back into a .PDF format for posting to this website. Superficially this “remastering” and reformatting task seems only of moderate difficulty. Do not believe it!
The main exception to this approach was the 1976 talk by Churchill Eisenhart. The Eisenhart speech was delivered but never written and, hence, had never appeared in print in JASA or any other journal. A longer version of his original draft notes, though, was obtained from our statistical colleague at the University of Chicago, Steve Stigler.
The current version of what is here called the “Eisenhart Speech” was excerpted from Eisenhart’s draft notes, only dropping some of the more technical details and standardizing the many footnotes that Eisenhart had. Wendy Alvey and I are primarily responsible for editing the talk down to the current version. We hope that our edited version captures the flavor of the Eisenhart original.
In addition to working with the speeches, themselves, pictures of each of the first 100 ASA Presidents had to be located and converted to like-sized images, for inclusion. This was even harder than working on the speeches, which at least were available centrally. Members of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) may be surprised that – unlike the RSS headquarters in London, where all of the over 100 RSS Presidents are in evidence – the ASA has not routinely maintained photos of its leadership.
In addition to problems locating pictures, sadly, in several instances, the graphics obtained are not of high quality. Hence, some of the images do not reproduce as well as we would have liked. Substantial effort was made to locate the best likeness of each person and to include the highest quality version. Patrick Baier, and even my photographer son James Scheuren, jumped in here in a big way to improve image quality.
Susan Cocola Ross assembled most of Presidential photographs. She also did extensive initial reviews of the Presidential speeches and assembled detailed biographical information about many of the Presidents. Her historical information, aside from the pictures, is not provided at this time, but may be added to the site at a later date.
Jana Asher, of StatAid, and later Ernie Tani, our principal research librarian at NORC, played key roles here in completing the collection of pictures mostly obtained by Susan Cocola Ross. Incidentally, if anyone should have better copies of any of these photographs, please contact me. We want to provide the best pictures available.
About a quarter of a century ago Ingram Olkin began the great tradition (in Statistical Science) of interviewing major statistical figures. Well over a dozen recent ASA Presidents have been so honored. Online cites to those that are electronic will be added later.
Let me recount a personal anecdote. I recently (Spring 2010) had an occasion to interview George Box, the 73rd ASA President. Since Box had been interviewed earlier in Statistical Science and elsewhere, I started out focusing on his 1978 ASA Presidential speech, but his wide interests took us to lots of other interesting places, too .
You will find more about that interview in a 2010 issue of Significance. Formerly solely a Royal Statistical Society (RSS) publication, Significance will now be produced jointly by ASA and RSS. George Box is one of the many RSS members (Cochran would be another) who later became an ASA President. Anyway, it was fitting that George Box be interviewed in the inaugural joint issue of Significance.
Patrick Baier put each Presidential address into LaTex as a separate chapter and put the whole set of papers into a form searchable by date and name. The pictures of each President appear just before their speeches. Patrick also developed the poster containing the likenesses of the first 100 ASA Presidents. This is too big to be put on a website at full pixel, but it can be obtained from the ASA Office at the cost of postage and handling.
Mike Cooke, Stephen Fitzpatrick, and Shelby Mott obtained the Web site URL being used, which is www.ASAPresidentialPapers.info. They then arranged and loaded the material into the formats you see.
The preparation of this compilation, like any other large project, owes its success to the teamwork of many people, not all of whom ever get mentioned. Each deserves acknowledgment and this has been done in the narrative of the “Back Story” told so far, in particular the roles played by Wendy Alvey, Patrick Baier, Beth Kilss and Susan Cocola Ross. But others not mentioned already also played important roles. Megan Murphy, from the ASA Office, was invaluable in helping us track down some of the Presidential pictures and other missing material. Marilyn Ford (at NORC) obtained many of the older JASA articles from JSTOR and initially organized them – attempting to fill in gaps, where possible. Even though largely self-funded, a personal appreciation goes to John Thompson and Craig Coelen, NORC Presidents, for their support and that of NORC throughout my efforts and for the use of this site.
Material that you find on this Web site can be copied, but remember that everything here is covered by copyright laws. A single copy of a single Presidential speech or a single picture is permitted, say, for personal or class use. But commercial use is not permitted without prior approval from the ASA. Bottom line, unless otherwise stipulated above, you need to get permission from ASA for any re-use or distribution of the materials found here for commercial purposes.
About the Title
The main title of this collection “Lead Us” was chosen to be short and simple. The verb “lead” is in the historical present. The pronoun “us” was used because an ASA President is a community leader, not just an Association figurehead. The subtitle defines the present scope of the website, ending with my Presidency. It could have been extended. But there remains so much to do on the period before 2000 that I felt it wise to stop. And much more will be added to give context to the early Presidential roles. But, truth to tell, the work has been much harder and taken much longer than anticipated. So stopping for now would at least give something of value, with the promise of yet more to come, God willing.
Over the years that I have been an ASA member (a number surprisingly large, for someone still so young) I have had the honor to meet many of the ASA Presidents whose speeches and pictures are found here. Now I will not try to recall all of these occasions. Instead, let me mention just three:
- I can almost hear Churchill Eisenhart’s voice. As a student, I had met and admired Eisenhart. At that time he was still at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards, now the U.S. National Institute for Technology and Standards (NIST). I first heard him speak at a Washington Statistical Society meeting. Perhaps that guided Wendy Alvey and me in putting together his “speech.”
- My first Joint Statistical Meeting was in 1968, when Frederick Mosteller spoke. Those were early student days for me (It took me nine years after my English Literature undergraduate degree from Tufts in 1963 to complete my mathematical statistics dissertation in 1972, as I had to go nights.) Professor Mosteller and I were never to speak but, despite that, Mosteller’s speech – one of the more technical presidential speeches – was to make a big impression on me. At the point he gave it, log-linear modeling was all the rage, with new computing ideas and software coming out all the time. What fun, then and now!
- Margaret Martin was the first ASA President I actually got to know well. For me, she has come to represent (in her understated way) the values which have kept so many of us in the ASA and made it such an enriching community. I had been her overall program chair when she was ASA President in 1980. The meetings were in Houston and we had a brush with a hurricane. Thank God it was mostly heavy rain by the time it got to Houston, not like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, more recently.
Permit me a last word about to the ASA Presidents themselves. Their work is certainly memorable enough to be brought together electronically. Anyway, it has been a joy to have done so. As President of ASA in 2005, collecting these papers allows me to try to partly discharge the debt of honor I owe them. One of my roles as President, after all, was to try to help continue the good work done by my predecessors. I hope that, inspired by these talks, you will join me in that endeavor.
100th ASA President