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History Of The Washington Statistical Society

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A Condensed History

This summary is a brief overview of statistical activities in the Washington, D.C. area since 1896. It summarizes information from more detailed histories prepared over time.

Francis A. Walker
Francis A. Walker

The first American Statistical Association (ASA) meeting in Washington took place December 31, 1896. The Directors of ASA were certainly perceptive when they stated that a development "…which will lead to good results, it is believed, has been taken in authorizing the members living in or near Washington to hold meetings for scientific discussion." That first meeting had one negative note. ASA President Francis A. Walker, who delivered informal remarks about training statisticians, became ill and passed away January 5, 1897. ASA records indicate that at least six additional meetings were held in Washington during the first few months of 1897. One meeting was to draft a resolution that the President of the United States appoint a Board of Statistics.

Few references can be found to presentations from 1897 to 1925. However, there was interest building for a formal organization. A meeting was held January 19, 1926, at which a Washington Statistical Society Constitution was drafted. That Constitution described the WSS as "a branch of the American Statistical Association" but WSS did not apply to become a Chapter.

The 1926 enthusiasm waned over time. According to annual ASA reports, there were no meetings in 1931 and 1933 and only one meeting held in each of the years 1929, 1930, and 1934. A revival of interest took place in 1935 and WSS officially became a Chapter of ASA. The Constitution of 1935 specified that the ASA District Secretary shall be the Society Secretary, which institutionalized the convention already in place. The 1930's were less complicated. Every ASA member in the Washington area was simply considered a WSS member (359 in 1937). Dues were officially $1.00 per year but no serious collection efforts were made. Instead, the Secretary collected 15 cents from each meeting attendee (25 cents at luncheon meetings).

By 1941, WSS was insolvent and had to collect the $1.00 dues. With the increase in statisticians in Washington because of the war effort, WSS claimed its 1942 membership as 1,000 persons but only 200 paid. One notable idea of the 1940's was beginning the "Annual Dinner" tradition. Through the 1950's, the Board of Directors functioned largely as a program committee with an evening meeting scheduled each month for 7 or 8 months. One early history of WSS concluded that the most notable accomplishment of WSS might be "its development of program items which evolve into sessions of the ASA's Annual Meetings."

The 1960's were years of rapid changes and development. The Methodology Section was established, followed by subject matter program committees, which eventually grew to 10 on going committees. This freed officers to consider new programs and services. Recognition of outstanding graduate students at local universities started in 1961 and a monthly employment column in 1967. Another service was a committee to help the Maryland Chapter organize and spin off from WSS.

The 1966 Constitution recognized the need for continuity and formally established President-Elect and Past-President positions. In 1968 was an important "bald head" Board of Directors discussion. The concern was that older members tended to attend the more social meetings while more technical meetings drew the younger members. This led to a membership survey to evaluate members' preferences for types of sessions, locations, and times of day.

WSS cosponsored a 3-day symposium on Statistics and the Environment in 1974, presented a once-a-week 6-week variance estimation course in 1978, and hosted visiting Latin American statisticians. Other notable events were establishment of a "local associate membership" option in 1976 and the Julius Shiskin Memorial Award in 1979.

In the early 1980's, WSS hosted the first visitors from the National Statistical Society of China. A Short Course Committee was founded in 1983 and that Committee started an annual series of very professional Symposia on Quality Assurance in 1988. A landmark activity was the 10 special monthly presentations during 1988 and 1989 in conjunction with the ASA-150 celebration. WSS started judging local Science Fair competitions in 1986.

The 1990's showed an ever growing quantitative literacy emphasis, including expansion to special workshops for Girl Scouts. WSS became a leader in the information age with electronic mail distribution of the WSS calendar and newsletter. WSS has received financial support from outside organizations. In 1990, Westat, Inc. gave WSS a grant to start an annual Morris H. Hansen Lecture. In 1992, the National Association of Business Economists provided a renewed emphasis and new funding for the Shiskin Award. In 1995, WSS received a commitment of $1000 per year from Gallup to provide prizes to local Science Fair winners.

A Data Collection Methods Program Committee was started in 1991 and the Physical Sciences and Engineering Committee was merged with the Quality Assurance Program Committee in 1996 to strengthen those programs. WSS also re-examined its role and the role of statistics in society. In 1999, the WSS Board prepared a letter to the Editors of the Washington Post, weighing in on the scientific issues regarding the 2000 population census. A special event for the 1990's was a commemoration session in 1996 to celebrate the first statistical meeting. One topic was a review of the training for statisticians in the past century, following up on President Walker's 1896 remarks.

Program meetings have formed the nucleus of WSS professional development across the decades. Learning and insight occurred and continue to occur at a wide variety of locations in the greater Washington, DC, area: the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the the Government Accountability Office, the headquarters of the US Postal Service, and the Martin Luther King, Jr., public library in downtown Washington. The most common location over the years has been the conference room facilities of the Bureau of Labor statistics, a convenient and central location for members to expand their horizons during work days in the nation's capital.

During the early 2000's, the society leveraged the power of computers and the Internet to broaden and speed communications of interest to its members. It remains a focal point for the meeting of the best statistical minds on issues of data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Important Dates In WSS History

1896 First ASA statistical meeting held in Washington, D.C.
1926 WSS officially organized and constitution approved
1935 WSS applied for ASA membership
1940 First annual dinner held
1961 Outstanding graduate student award established
1962 Methodology section established
1964 Subject matter program committees established
1966 Vice-President automatically became President; revised constitution effective
1967 Monthly employment service begun
1967 Outstanding paper award for young statisticians
1969 Membership survey conducted to evaluate generation gap
1969 Special memorial meeting to honor William N. Hurwitz
1970 Maryland (Baltimore) chapter established
1974 Cosponsored Symposium on Statistics and the Environment
1976 Special Annual Dinner to celebrate 50 years
1976 "Local Associate" memberships established
1978 Short course on variance estimation held
1978 Reception for visiting Latin American statisticians
1979 Julius Shiskin Memorial Award established
1981 Visit by National Statistical Society of China
1982 First December Holiday Party
1983 Short Course Committee started
1984 WSS logo and mugs designed and revised constitution effective
1985 Annual Presidents' Service Award established
1986 Judging of local Science Fairs started
1988 First Symposium on Quality Assurance in Government
1988 Special ASA-150 sessions presented (1988-89)
1989 Special Washington Academy of Sciences Journal issued
1990 Quantitative Literacy Program established
1991 Morris H. Hansen lecture series started
1992 Curtis Jacobs Memorial prize initiated and revised constitution effective
1995 Electronic WSS Newsletter created
1995 Roger Herriot Award initiated
1996 Funding by Gallup for Science Fair prizes
1996 Statistics and Public Policy Committee established
1996 Girl Scout workshops added to QL
1996 Centennial observance of first Washington, D.C. meeting
1999 First on-line history files
1999 First student representative named
2000 Video conferencing added for some sessions
2002 Revised constitution effective
2005 WSS communications converted from paper to electronic format
2006 First online posting of slides from seminars on WSS website
2007 WSS Officer's and Committee Chairperson's Handbook developed
2007 ASA Executive Director began attending the WSS Board meetings
2008 WSS became an affiliate chapter of Mu Sigma Rho
2015 Inaugural mentoring program kicked-off
2018 Diversity committee formed
2019 40 mentoring pairs formed