Ward, Lester Frank

Ward, Lester Frank,

1841–1913, American sociologist and paleontologist, b. Joliet, Ill. Largely self-educated, he eventually took degrees in medicine and law. He worked as a government geologist and paleontologist from 1881 to 1906, when he became professor of sociology at Brown. One of the first and most important of American sociologists, Ward developed a theory of planned progress called telesis, whereby man, through education and development of intellect, could direct social evolution. His theories and those of his contemporary, William Graham Sumner, represent two main trends in 19th-century American sociology. Among his important works are Dynamic Sociology (1883), Psychic Factors of Civilization (1893), Pure Sociology (1903), and Glimpses of the Cosmos (6 vol., 1913–18).


See S. Chugerman, Lester F. Ward, the American Aristotle (1939, repr. 1965).

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Ward, Lester Frank

(1841–1913) sociologist, geologist; born in Joliet, Ill. Raised on the frontier, he briefly attended the Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in Towanda, Pa., before serving in the Union army during the Civil War (1862–64). While working for the United States Treasury Department (1865–81), he earned three degrees at Columbian College (now George Washington University); he then worked for the United States Geological Survey (1881–1905) as a geologist, biologist, and paleontologist. While working as a scientist, he was caught up in the current debate over evolution and the conflict between science and religion; increasingly more concerned with social issues, in 1883 he published Dynamic Sociology, the first of his several once influential texts on sociology. He spent his final years as a professor of sociology at Brown University (1906–13). Liberal, humanitarian, and democratic in his ideals, he saw education, economics, and government actions as the key to most of society's problems. His six-volume "mental autobiography," Glimpses of the Cosmos, was published posthumously (1913–18).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.