secondary banner image

For a list of TAS Presidents, please see this link. We would appreciate any additional information that members can provide.

A summary of TAS history is located below. For a more detailed timeline, please see this link. We would appreciate any additional information that members can provide.

TENNESSEE ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, founded in 1912, has provided direction for Tennesseans on a number of science issues. The academy organizes symposia, manages on-going programs in many fields, and communicates with the national scientific culture. The Tennessee Academy of Science is affiliated with two national societies and seven Tennessee societies.

The first two gatherings of the Academy in 1912 drew 29 participants, primarily college professors and government scientists. Those first members planned twice-yearly meetings and chose an Executive Committee to oversee the organization. Organizing on the eve of World War I, the Academy grew slowly, and for a brief period one member funded the publication of The Science Record. Three issues of the Record had appeared before the Executive Committee assumed the journal's modest debt in March 1913. Thereafter the Academy published Transactions of the Tennessee Academy of Science in 1914 and 1917.

The Academy grew slowly, averaging 16 new members per year. In 1923 the Academy began publishing a quarterly Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science, which continues to the present. The Academy experienced renewed vigor after 1925 as a result of the Scopes Trial and the publicity surrounding the state's anti-evolution law. Strong support for Scopes and a favorable reception of the new journal brought in 125 new members annually for the period 1925 through 1928.

On the eve of the Great Depression, the Academy launched several new programs: some survived the economic decline. One new program created an Academy library with a professional librarian. A more successful innovation developed a research center, the Reelfoot Lake Biological Laboratory, which remained in operation from 1935 to 1977. For many years reports from the lab were offered as a separate series of Academy publications before being republished in the Journal.

Initially the Academy met twice annually, in the spring and fall, and presented talks on diverse subjects. In 1930 the Academy published its first symposium, a program on Tennessee caves. During the 1930s the Academy also held separate meetings for a Botany Section, a Geology Section, and a Physics Section. In addition, some sections held special field meetings. Flexible arrangements were made for luncheons, banquets, and other special events.

Although World War II was a stressful period for the Academy, a vigorous Junior Academy emerged early in the decade, and new sections in Chemistry, Mathematics, Zoology, and Psychology appeared. Soon sectional programs prospered; still the overall program declined, perhaps a reflection of the gas and food rationing that inhibited travel and the number of scientists who entered military service. During the 1940s the spring meeting permanently ended. From 1912 to 1944 the Academy published proceedings of the meetings and provided materials for the organizational archives. There were no published or archival records for 1945, but records resumed in 1946, although archival materials became less detailed.

The Academy began admitting African Americans in the 1940s, and the nature of scientific research changed to reflect the atomic age. Women had been a part of the Academy since its founding in 1912, but the increase in the number of women in the work force during World War II brought an expansion in female membership. The Academy joined a national trend toward the funding of science education projects by private companies, academic societies, and federal agencies. The Tennessee Academy awarded certificates to secondary science teachers and supported high school students' research projects. The Academy still recognizes secondary teachers, funds secondary school research, and awards prizes to accomplished students.

In 1952 the Psychology Section, which formed in the 1940's, left the Academy and became the Tennessee Psychological Association, one of the Academy's seven affiliated societies. An Engineering Section started in 1955; Medical Sciences began in 1960; and in 1962 the Science and Mathematics Teachers Section was created. The Academy participated in the national interest in science education that continued through the 1970s and supervised statewide federally funded training programs for secondary school teachers. Teacher certification emerged as an Academy concern, as did a resurgence of anti-evolution legislation.

As part of the education thrust of the Academy, it strengthened the Junior Academy and in the 1950s if formed a Collegiate Division to serve the research needs of college students. The Journal added two short-lived sections to serve high school readers and the Collegiate Division. In addition, the Academy established a Visiting Scientist Program to send senior scientist to are high schools. In some years the programs reached as many as 3,500 secondary students. The Collegiate Division always met with the fall annual meeting, but soon also sponsored spring meetings in each of the three Grand Divisions. In recent years approximately 125 college students participate annually. The Visiting Scientist Program, the Collegiate Division, and the Junior Academy issued handbooks, directories, and other publications to spotlight the organization's accomplishments and programs.

Academy membership, with 971 members, reached an all-time high in 1963. It also reached new audiences such as medical professionals and teachers. Much of the growth reflected federal and state funding. After federal funding ended, the State of Tennessee began subsidizing science education programs in 1968. With state funding, the meetings were well attended, and the Journal flourished. At the 1975 annual meeting, a symposium on a focused topic-genetic engineering-replaced the diffuse general program; similar symposiums became the norm in future meetings. In 1981 state funding stopped; most programs survived, but they were less active. Money problems may have intensified a long-term decline in enrollment. The membership dropped to 483 in 1983, when state funding resumed. Today membership stands at 703, signaling a renewed vigor, despite another loss of state money in the 1990s.

The Academy continues to grow and change. A History of Science Section began in the 1980s, followed by an Ethics in Science and Technology Section in the 1990s. Biological programs recently diversified to develop sections in Microbiology and Cell and Molecular Biology. Several other sections have undergone name changes to reflect new research interests.

James X. Corgan, Austin Peay State University

Copyright and all rights reserved by the Tennessee Historical Society. Written permission must be secured from the THS to use or reprint any part of The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, except for brief quotations in critical reviews and articles.