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Term: Ely, Richard Theodore 1854 - 1943


Richard T. Ely, 1910 (WHi-4763)

professor, economist, social reformer, author, b. Ripley, N.Y. He graduated from Columbia College, N.Y. (1876) and Heidelberg Univ. (Ph.D., 1879). Before coming to Wisconsin, Ely taught at Johns Hopkins Univ. (1881-1892), and during the summers lectured at Chautauqua. In the 1880s he began to publish articles and books critical of both laissez-faire economics and materialist socialism. (Two notable works of this period were Recent American Socialism [1884], and The Labor Movement in America [1886]). In place of these deterministic philosophies, Ely advocated social reforms and evolutionary economics which became the forerunners of the theories of progressivism and the welfare state. He accepted the German concept of a scholar's obligation to the state, and it was principally due to his efforts that the American Economic Association was organized (1885), emphasizing the historical and statistical approach and the need for economic reform. He was secretary of this organization (1885-1892), and later president (1899-1901). He was a member of the tax commissions of Baltimore (1885-1886) and Maryland (1886-1888). His religious beliefs and ethical views made him an influential member of the Social Gospel movement; he was a founder and first president of the American Institute for Christian Sociology (1893), secretary of the Christian Social Union, and author of Social Aspects of Christianity (1889). In 1892 university president Thomas C. Chamberlin (q.v.) brought Ely to Wisconsin to organize and direct the School of Economics, Political Science, and History (later divided into various departments). This school, for practical purposes, represented the beginning of the university's graduate program in the social sciences. In his capacity as director, Ely recruited such professors as J. R. Commons (q.v.), E. A. Ross (q.v.), and others, who emphasized the responsibilities of the social sciences to the state and national governments (the "Wisconsin Idea") and who played important roles in the progressive movement. Ely and the professors of the new school also took an active part in the university's extension program and conducted lectures at numerous extension centers. Ely was first president of the American Association for Labor Legislation (1906) and sponsor of the American Bureau of Industrial Research. In 1920 he established the Institute for Research in Land Economics and Public Utilities, associated with but independent from the university. He took this organization to Northwestern Univ. in 1925, and to New York City in 1933. He was professor of economics at Northwestern Univ. (1925-1933), and after 1933 maintained an office in New York City and later served as professor at Columbia. One of the most important figures in American economics, Ely played a primary role in establishing the Univ. of Wisconsin's reputation as a leader in economic research and the training of graduate experts in administration, economics, and state service. Although he later became more conservative in his economic approach, Ely's major contribution as an economist lay in his refusal to accept the economic determinism of laissez-faire and classical economics, his emphasis on the relative nature of economic truth, and his insistence on the efficacy of Christian social reform. Ely also gave the Univ. of Wisconsin occasion to affirm its dedication to academic freedom, when, in 1894 Ely's interest in socialism led state superintendent of public instruction Oliver E. Wells (q.v.) to charge him with teaching and supporting alien and revolutionary doctrines. An investigating committee appointed by the board of regents exonerated Ely in a report which concluded with the famous affirmation of academic freedom now inscribed on a plaque affixed to the university's Bascom Hall. R. T. Ely, Ground under Our Feet (New York, 1938); M. Curti and V. Carstensen, Univ. of Wis. (2 vols., Madison, 1949); Miss. Valley Hist. Review, 37; R. T. Ely Papers.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Richard Theodore Ely Papers for details.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]

56 records found

Earl, Anthony S. 1936
Earles, William Henry 1852 - 1908
Earling, Albert John 1848 - 1925
Early, Michael P. 1918
Earnest, James Harrison 1818 - 1900
Eastern Orthodox in Wisconsin
Eastman, Ben C. 1812 - 1856
Eastman, George Burden 1811 - 1892
Eastman, Seth 1808 - 1875
Eaton, Edward Dwight 1851 - 1942
Eaton, Samuel Witt 1820 - 1905
Edgerton, Benjamin Hyde 1811 - 1886
Edgerton, Elisha W. 1815 - 1904
Edwards, Benjamin Eugene 1845 - 1916
Edwards, Ira 1893 - 1943
Ehle, Ida Pope
Eielsen, Elling 1804 - 1883
Eikenberry, Jill 1947 -
Ekern, Herman Lewis 1872 - 1954
Ela, Richard Emerson 1812 - 1888
Elconin, Michael H. 1953
Eldred, Anson 1820 - 1895
Eldredge, Charles Augustus 1820 - 1896
Elfers, Earl H. 1913
Ellis, Albert Gallatin 1800 - 1885
Ellis, Michael G. 1941
Ellsworth, Lemuel 1836 - 1898
Ely, Richard Theodore 1854 - 1943
Emery, John Quincy 1843 - 1928
Enderis, Dorothy 1880 - 1952
Engeleiter, Susan Shannon 1952
Engelmann, Peter 1823 - 1874
English immigrants in Wisconsin
Episcopals in Wisconsin
Ernst, August Frederic 1841 - 1924
Erpenbach, Jon B. 1961
Erskine, Manessa Berthier 1819 - 1894
Esch, John Jacob 1861 - 1941
Eschweiler, Alexander Chadbourne 1865 - 1940
Eschweiler, Franz Chadbourne 1863 - 1929
Essie, Patrick 1953
Estabrook, Charles Edward 1847 - 1918
Estabrook, Experience 1813 - 1894
Esterly, George 1809 - 1893
Estonians in Wisconsin
Etherington, George, ca. 1722-1802.
Evangelicals in Wisconsin
Evans, Curtis Alban 1879 - 1947
Evans, Evan Alfred 1876 - 1948
Evans, Joseph Spragg 1875 - 1948
Everest, David Clark 1883 - 1955
Everett, Charles Horatio 1855 - 1947
Everson, Harland E. 1917
Evinrude, Ole 1877 - 1934
Evjue, William T., 1882-1970
Ewing, Mark Clayton 1869 - 1922

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