Biographical summary Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cooley was the son of Thomas McIntyre Cooley, a distinguished jurist and constitutional scholar.2 Charles spent virtually his entire academic career at the University of Michigan, a virtual cloistered academic. He entered the University in 1880 at age 16 but, plagued by problems with his health, interrupted his studies to travel, including a year in Europe. Graduating in 1887 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he returned the following year to continue his studies. In 1890, while working at the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., he returned to Michigan, earning an M.A. in political economy and, in 1894, the Ph.D. – his dissertation, “The Theory of Transportation,” follows along the lines of Herbert Spencer’s sociology. From 1892, Cooley’s academic career centered at Michigan – as a part-time instructor in economics (1890-1899), assistant professor (1899-1904), associate professor (1904-1907), and finally, from 1907, professor of sociology. Although trained as an economist, his conversion to sociology occurred quite early, primarily through his interest in the writings of Spencer3 – his graduate minor was, after
all, sociology, one of his examiners being Franklin Giddings, and he was instrumental in the founding of the American Sociological Society in 1905, becoming president in 1918. Cooley’s significance for present purposes lies in appreciating that his philosophy of social organicism (reminiscent of Thomas Hill Green’s Oxford Idealism) and his concern with societal and racial degeneration as destructive of the moral order comport with Charles Darwin’s identification of the general good “as the rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are subjected” (Darwin 1879: 145). It is with these aspects of Cooley’s sociology that we shall here be concerned, as they represent in great measure defining characteristics of the Progressive philosophy, and thus serve to underline Cooley’s significance to the social thought of the era. Cooley’s appreciation of these issues and his advocacy speak to the concerns held by others desirous of radical social change.