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Learned Societies And Other Organizational Events

A series of organizational events ran parallel to the many scholarly and scientific publications. Together they helped merge gerontology into the scientific mainstream and contributed to the professionalization of the enterprise. No doubt it was fortuitous that Metchnikoff had become affiliated with the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1888, for his associates there contributed to his thinking just as he contributed to theirs. The seed was fertile and one of his students, V. Korenchevsky, went on to establish the International Club for Research on Ageing in England, succeeded in 1939 by the British Society for Research on Ageing. The club served as a learned society providing scholarly forums to present and exchange ideas. When Korenchevsky came to the United States in 1939 to create a North American branch, his efforts were virtually anticlimactic. Organizational efforts to promote analysis of aging had appeared on the national agenda as early as 1908 as part of President Theodore Roosevelt's conservation agenda as formulated by the Committee of 100. Members of that group later established the Life Extension Institute in 1914 to promote inquiry into the causes of illness and death. The New York Geriatrics Society was founded in 1915 and other comparable state-based organizations proliferated in short order.

Aging sessions in one guise or another appeared as part of the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association by the turn of the century and other learned societies followed suit. In 1917, the National Conference of Social Work scheduled a plenary session and invited Nascher and a number of speakers to participate in a scholarly exchange on pathological models of aging and to suggest appropriate efforts for social workers.

Attention to the implications of aging grew in the period immediately after World War I. A popular magazine, Voix du Retraite, appeared in Paris in 1919 and the Swiss Foundation for the Aging began publishing its Pro Senectute in 1923. In 1928, a Japanese organization for the aged, Yokufukai, launched initially in 1925 to help older victims of a major earthquake, began disseminating the Yokufukai Geriatric Journal, succeeded in 1930 by Acta Gerontologica Japonica. In Eastern Europe, the magazine Problems of Ageing (printed in five languages) appeared in 1935 under the auspice of the International Institute for the Study of Old Age and the Romanian government. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, I. Fisher and P. Yengalvtchev launched a series of empirical investigations and publications on the role of physical condition, mental status, and environmental factors in promoting longevity. Their efforts led to a major conference in 1938 in Kiev that stands as a milestone for bringing together researchers from Eastern Europe. International interest was accelerating and the number of contributors and publications spread around the globe.

In the same period a number of philanthropic foundations with interests in public welfare and scholarly advancement sponsored various conferences and workshops that led to some of the publications noted above. Among them the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Josiah Macy Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation stand out. None of the efforts were more luminous that the Woods Hole conference that led to Cowdry's Problems of Aging. The inter-disciplinary message Cowdry and his coauthors promulgated did not gain sweeping acceptance but by 1940, Edward Stieglitz, a newly appointed clinician with the Public Health Service, suggested that the proper study of aging should incorporate no less than geriatrics, the biology of senescence, and sociological perspectives on aging populations. Nathan Shock took over from Stieglitz and continued the same mission for the next thirty years. The same year that Stieglitz began promoting a truly interdisciplinary focus, the National Institutes of Health, founded in 1930, also incorporated a Unit on Gerontology with an edict to enhance knowledge of aging processes.

Although the American Geriatrics Society was founded in midst of World War II (1942), the war years slowed many further developments. However, within a year of war's end, what is now called the Gerontological Society of America was established, with the initial issue of the Journal of Gerontology appearing in 1946. Under the auspices of the International Association of Gerontology, which was founded in 1950, international scientific congresses are held to bring together researchers from around the world in an open exchange of ideas.

Despite the publication in 1945 of two important books—Leo Simmons's The Role of the Aged in Primitive Societies and Oscar Kaplan's Mental Disorders in Later Life—Otto Pollack declared in Social Adjustment in Old Age (1948) that insights into aging from the social and behavioral sciences lagged behind those of medicine and biology. Soon a breakthrough contribution began to change that picture. Together with her colleagues from the University of Chicago, Ruth Cavan surveyed three thousand older persons and published the results in Personal Adjustment in Old Age (1949). It was only the first of the many contributions made by the Committee of Human Development at the University of Chicago. Perhaps not as well remembered as the famous Kansas City Studies of Adult Aging, or many of the early, seminal contributions of Bernice Neugarten, Ethel Shanas, Robert J. Havighurst, Robert Burgess, Elaine Cumming, William Henry, and others, it nonetheless paved the way for the shape of social gerontology. By the time Elaine Cumming and William Henry published their disengagement interpretation of the results of the Kansas City Studies in their Growing Old (1961), gerontology had come of age and advances were occurring along many fronts.

From that point on, the relatively narrow flow of information spread out across the landscape. Programs and certificate training sprang up in California, Michigan, North Carolina and around the country. By the 1960s the Gerontological Society transformed a newsletter into its second journal, The Gerontologist, and the first of the White House Conferences on Aging was held. Out of that conference came the establishment of an Office on Aging (under the leadership of Donald P. Kent), later the Administration on Aging, and the momentum that led to both the passage of Medicare and Medicaid (1965) and support via the Older Americans Act for the development of education and training programs in gerontology in the late 1960s and 1970s. The last of the building blocks came in 1975 with the inauguration of the National Institute on Aging to oversee basic research in a wide array of disciplines and to train future researchers. Significant publications continued to emerge, including Clarke Tibbitts's Handbook of Social Gerontology (1959), the three-volume Aging and Society series under the leadership of Matilda White Riley, and the five editions of the Handbook of the Biology of Aging, Psychology of Aging, and Aging and the Social Sciences under the general editorship of James E. Birren.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Gerontology - Gerontological Perspectives On Aging And Old Age, Twentieth-century Advances In The Gerontological Perspective, Publications: Hallmarks And Benchmarks