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TAS Centennial
TAS Centennial

TAS was officially founded in 1912, making 2012 our Centennial Year! This page was created to inform people of this history of TAS as well as describe some of the activities that were performed to celebrate the centennial.

TAS had several events planned for the Centennial Year! Please visit the Past Meetings page to see the events that happened at the 2012 meeting at Vanderbilt University.

Bill Haslem, the Governer of Tennessee, proclaimed Nov 11-17, 2012 as the Tennessee Academy of Science Week! You can find the proclamation here.

Below, you can read an article about the early years of TAS and see the changes to the Journal of TAS.

Towards a Centennial: The Early Years of the TAS

By George E. Webb

For: The Courier (February 2011), a publication of the Tennessee Historical Commission

            By the second decade of the twentieth century, scientists could be found in various areas of Tennessee.  They were employed by colleges and universities, served in state agencies, and pursued scientific endeavors as dedicated amateurs.  Missing from the state, however, was an organization of scientists to provide a forum for discussion and an outlet for the results of research efforts.  Such organizations had emerged throughout the United States during the early years of the century, indicating a growing professionalization of technical fields and creating a community of interest for professionals and amateurs alike.  The Tennessee Academy of Science emerged from this combination of events.

Many Tennessee scientists received a letter in early March, 1912, inviting them to attend an organizational meeting in Nashville to discuss the creation of a state science academy.  Signed by scientists from the Tennessee Geological Survey, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the invitation was the culmination of a two-year campaign led by State Geologist George H. Ashley.   The letter, drafted by University of Tennessee geologist C. H. Gordon, noted the “urgent need of a closer association of those interested in the study of the sciences and related branches in the State of Tennessee” and stressed that “the time is ripe for an organization that will promote these interests ….”   Some two dozen interested individuals assembled on 9 March in the State Capitol, where they drafted a constitution and by-laws, elected temporary officers, and called for another meeting the following month to finalize the creation of the Tennessee Academy of Science.  At the 6 April meeting at the Carnegie Library in Nashville, members of the new organization elected permanent officers (including C. H. Gordon as president) and listened to a dozen papers on a wide variety of topics.  To satisfy the constitutional requirement that annual meetings be scheduled for November, the April meeting also accepted the invitation of the University of Tennessee to meet in Knoxville on 29 November 1912.

The first decade of its existence was a difficult time for the new science academy.  Membership had reached more than seventy by the time of the 1912 Knoxville meeting, but only modest growth characterized the Academy after that.  Similarly problematic was the organization’s journal.  Such a publication was called for in the constitution, but neither The Science Record (a private venture subsidized by the Academy) nor the Transactions of the Tennessee Academy of Science (published by the Academy in 1914 and 1917) proved viable.   The Academy had no further publications until the creation of the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science in 1926.  

The mid-1920s, however, witnessed a dramatic expansion of both the membership and visibility of the Tennessee Academy of Science.  The majority of the scientists involved in the Academy were interested in biology and geology.  Among the more intriguing regions for such study was the area around Reelfoot Lake in the northwestern part of the state.  As early as the 1918 meeting, members of the Academy had discussed the wildlife and geology of the site, but in 1923 the organization began a campaign to establish a state park and biological research station at Reelfoot Lake.  During the next eight years, the Academy continued to discuss the proposed research station at its meetings and forwarded resolutions to the state government, which finally created the park and research facility in 1931.

As the Reelfoot Lake campaign continued, the Academy found itself involved in a much more contentious issue.  In the spring of 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed the infamous Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolutionary concepts in the state’s public schools.  Scientists had little opportunity to influence the legislative debates or the famous Scopes Trial that followed in July.   Indeed, the Academy’s first opportunity to respond to the Butler Act did not come until its November 1925 meeting at Vanderbilt University, at which time it passed a resolution calling for the repeal of the antievolution law.  This resolution referred to the Butler Act as “an unfortunate limitation of the intellectual freedom of teachers of science in our public schools” and “a backward step in our educational program.” The organization also engaged legal counsel to prepare an Amicus Curiae brief to file with the Tennessee Supreme Court to support Scopes’s appeal of his conviction.  The Academy’s efforts had little impact.  Although Scopes’s conviction was overturned on a technicality in 1927, the Butler Act remained on the statute books until its repeal in 1967.

As the Academy waited for the Court to determine the fate of Scopes and the antievolution law, it pursued another topic of growing interest to the people of Tennessee.  The idea of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains had been gestating since the early 1920s and had, by 1926, gained Congressional authorization.  Fundraising to purchase land in the area was proceeding steadily, if somewhat slowly, and enthusiasm was widespread.  The Tennessee Academy of Science, which viewed the Smokies as a valuable natural laboratory, devoted the April 1926 issue of the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science to a discussion of the proposed park.   Articles included an introductory essay outlining the current status of the project, as well as descriptions of the flora, fauna, and geology of the region.  Although the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was not formally established until 1934, the Academy continued to emphasize the region’s value to both the public and the scientific community.

The increased activity and visibility of the Tennessee Academy of Science led to a dramatic increase in membership (approximately 300 by 1926) and an awareness that it was part of a growing national scientific community. To more firmly establish itself within that community, the Academy successfully pursued a campaign to host the December 1927 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Nashville.  In addition to its planning and coordination of the meeting, the Academy organized a commemorative program celebrating the famous astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923), a Nashville native who had enjoyed a distinguished career at the Lick and Yerkes observatories.  This program included a series of papers discussing various aspects of Barnard’s life and career, followed a few weeks later by a special issue of the Academy’s Journal as a memorial to the astronomer.  

As the Tennessee Academy of Science celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 1927, it could look back with satisfaction on its emergence as a recognized member of the American scientific community.  The organization would continue to grow and became increasingly involved not only in extending scientific research in the state, but also in increasing the quality of science education.  When it celebrates its centennial in 2012, the Tennessee Academy of Science will be able to look back on a century of significant contributions to science and to the State of Tennessee.

Journal of the TAS

The journal made several changes to celebrate the TAS Centennial in 2012. Some space was devoted in each of the four issues of volume 87 of JTAS to subjects that drew attention to, and celebrated, accomplishments during the first century of the Academy's existence.

A brief list of some cosmetic changes in the Centennial volume follows:

  1. The cover of each issue for 2012 was pale blue, the color used for many volumes of the journal published during the early and mid-20th Century.
  2. The cover of each issue for 2012 displayed the phrase "Centennial Volume."
  3. The font used for text in the journal was be changed.
  4. Some matters of style and format were changed, including the entries in the Literature Cited section of articles.

A list of some special content that appeared in the issues of volume 87 follows:

  1. Short, highly relevant articles and other items, including those published in the Transactions and in the journal, were reprinted (*) in the issues for 2012.
  2. Short, anecdotal reflections and memories from the living former editors and managing editors of JTAS will be presented in several or all of the issues for 2012.
  3. At least two articles by Dr. George Webb, historian of science, were presented.  One of these, devoted to the Scopes Trial, appeared in JTAS 86:3–4 (Sep–Dec 2011) , to kick off the centennial.  The other, devoted to the joint meeting of TAS and AAAS in Nashville during the mid-1920s, appeared in one of the later issues for 2012.
  4. Several articles dealing with the role of geologists in the early history of TAS were collected and edited by Dr. Michael Gibson.