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Iowa State University Library

American Statistical Association Records, Special Collections Department

Collection Profile

Founded on an 1839 wintry morning in Boston, the American Statistical Association was organized to "collect, preserve, and diffuse statistical information in the different departments of human knowledge." The American Statistical Society (Association as of 1840) was chartered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and by 1841 its membership of 109 individuals included President Martin Van Buren. Other early members included Florence Nightingale, Andrew Carnegie, Herman Hollerith, and Alexander Graham Bell. Now known as one of the oldest professional organizations in the United States, the Association numbers nearly 18,000 members in the United States, Canada, and internationally. As noted in a recent history of the ASA, the organization continues "a tradition of promoting excellence in statistics in its application to the frontiers of science, from biological to socio-economic to the physical sciences."

Iowa State University, founded in 1858 as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm, became a land-grant university in 1862. Its early coursework utilized statistics in several fields, but the university truly came of age when mathematics professor George Snedecor arrived in 1913 and began teaching courses with statistical content. He was a pioneer in the area of applying statistical methods to agricultural research and worked with Henry A. Wallace, editor of Wallace's Farmer, in this area in the 1920s. In 1933 Professor Snedecor established and became the first director of the Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State, the first institute of its kind in the United States; he served as its director until 1947. He remained in the Statistics Department until his retirement in 1958. He also served as president of the American Statistical Association in 1948.

Due to these close relationships, the ASA collection was donated to Iowa State in 1984. It documents the ASA from its beginning to the present. The records include the original constitution, correspondence, committee files, financial records, publications, indexes to journals, conference proceedings, news clippings, and research proposals. The collection contains some records dealing with international programs as well as the organization of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. In addition, the Special Collections Department houses collections documenting the editorial activities of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, published by ASA, and the Annals of Statistics, published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS). There are also collections of personal papers of notable statisticians in the United States, many of them former officers and fellows of the ASA or the IMS, including Joseph Berkson, Raj C. Bose, Ralph Bradley, Dorothy St. John Cooke, Jerome Cornfield,William C. Guenther, H. O. Hartley, Oscar Kempthorne, C. Frederick Mosteller, and George Snedecor.

Thanks to ongoing support from the ASA, the department has been able to preserve and provide online access to the collection guide and make it available to scholars. The department also works collaboratively with the ASA Archives Committee to ensure better documentation of the statistics field and also provides assistance and advice for ASA members interested in locating a repository for their papers. The finding aid for the American Statistical Association is available online.

Collection Profile: Tanya Zanish-Belcher
Illustrations: Michele Christian

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