Home » 175, Columns

Boston: The Association’s Home City

1 April 2013 153 views One Comment
The ASA will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2014. In preparation, column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and, best yet, how you can get involved in propelling the ASA toward its bicentennial.


Contributing Editor John McKenzie
John McKenzie is professor emeritus of statistics at Babson College. He earned an AB from Amherst and two master’s degrees and a PhD in statistics from the University of Michigan. He has held a number of positions with the American Statistical Association, among them Council of Chapters Representative to the ASA Board of Directors. He is an ASA Fellow and winner of the Founders Award.


This column will present a brief history of the interface between the American Statistical Association and its birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts.

1839: On November 27, five men organize the American Statistical Society in the fourth-largest U.S. city. The organization’s name is quickly changed to the American Statistical Association. It is now the second-oldest, continuously operating professional association in the country. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, and diffuse statistical knowledge. The founders are trained in the law, medicine, theology, literature, and education.

1864: There is no 25th anniversary celebration for the local statistical society centered in Boston. Its first and second presidents each served six years, and its third president is in the 12th year of his 30-year presidency.

1889: Again, no celebration occurs, but the ASA’s fourth president—Francis Walker, who is also president of Boston-located MIT—asks a new faculty member to solicit members from the entire country. Within six years, the membership triples to 600. The year before saw the first edition of the Publications of the American Statistical Association, renamed Journal of the American Statistical Association four years later. For the next 40 years, the journal primarily contained articles that used simple arithmetic and quantitative explanations of phenomena to describe society and access related patterns.

1896: President Walker makes a presentation at the ASA’s first non-Boston meeting, after which he dies shortly after returning from Washington, DC. Two years after the meeting, the ASA library collection of more than 2,500 volumes and pamphlets is moved from MIT to the Boston Public Library.

1908: This is the next-to-last year of the ASA’s multi-term presidents and the first year of moving its annual meetings throughout the United States and Canada. The Atlantic City, New Jersey, meeting is with the American Economic Association and American Historical Association.

1914: The annual meeting is again back in Boston, due to World War I, as it was two years before. It takes the form of a 75th anniversary celebration, with a banquet and three sessions devoted to the progress of statistical science.

1917: The association’s headquarters begins its departure from Boston to New York City, where its secretary—that is its executive director—is a professor of economics at Columbia University. Two years later, documents are no longer sent to the Boston Public Library. About the same time, the association began to acknowledge the importance of mathematical statistics.

1928: The Boston District Organization, a regional group affiliated with the ASA, is organized. Forty-six percent of its membership is made up of economists, bankers, and census employees. A year later, its charter is approved. It is now known as the Boston Chapter of the ASA (BCASA).

1939: The first centennial event is a subscription dinner in MIT’s Walker Memorial Building. After greetings, there are three presentations. The second event is the 100th annual meeting in Philadelphia.

1951:The annual meeting returns to Boston, the third time since the association decided to meet outside its home city.

1964: On November 27, the 125th anniversary is held in New England’s largest city. Members meet to hear the delivery of six papers and attend an anniversary dinner.

1976: The Joint Statistical Meetings (and the association’s annual meeting) return to the ASA’s home city at the bicentennial anniversary of the United States.

1989: The first sesquicentennial anniversary event is the annual meeting at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Washington, DC. The second is in Boston, with a meeting of the association’s Board of Directors, a one-day symposium on the future of statistical education at MIT, and a gala banquet. The Boston Chapter presents Fred Mosteller with its inaugural Statistician of the Year Award (renamed the Mosteller Statistician of the Year Award in 1997 at a celebration of his 80th birthday). Mosteller is the last of at least nine ASA presidents who have come from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—the states served by the BCASA.

1992: JSM is in Boston for the fifth time since the decision to move the annual meeting to different locations each year.

2014: The Joint Statistical Meetings come back to New England’s largest city, but the nation’s 21st largest. There, the ASA will celebrate its dodransbicentennial anniversary. The Boston Chapter, the ASA chapter with the second-most members, plans to conclude the celebratory year with a one-day symposium and banquet. BCASA is an active chapter with a quarterly newsletter and a schedule of events that occur approximately once a month, except in the summer.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

One Comment »

  • Fritz Scheuren said:

    Dear John:

    Wonderful historical notes. One add and one amendment, please:

    Add first. You might, since we are doing history, mention the 75th ASA Anniversary Volume, started in 1914, called “The History of Statistics,” I will try to update. Want to help?

    Amendment now. Since I was the 100th ASA President you need to amend your history. Boston is where I was born and grew up. Stayed until I graduated from Tufts, never to return to live, except for family and more recently JSM. Hope to be at the JSM meeting in 2014. Would be happy to join the anniversary committee too?

    Bless all, Fritz