William Fielding Ogburn 1886 – 1959

Of Professor Ogburn it was said
Fielding W Ogburn

‘Ogburn was not only one of the outstanding sociologists of his generation, but also one of sociology’s all time greats. For he made a major contribution to the transition of sociology from a field of social speculation to a science based upon empirical research.’

William Fielding Ogburn was Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago from 1927 – 1951 and was particularly known for his application of statistical methods to the problems of social sciences and for his idea of ‘culture lag’ in society’s adjustment to technological and other changes.
His most important contribution to the public service was probably his service, following negotiations with President Hoover at The White House, as Director of Research of President Herbert Hoover’s Research Committee on U.S. Social Trends (1930-1933) which amongst other things greatly influenced censuses of the USA

He was born Butler, Georgia, June 29, 1886, the son of Charlton Greenwood Ogburn, a planter and merchant. He married Rubyn Reynolds in 1910; they had two sons, Howard Reynolds, who died in 1949 and William Fielding. Professor Ogburn died in Tallahassee, Florida in 1959.

During his lifetime he spent much time in investigating researching the genealogy of the name of Ogburn in the USA and in the UK and created a valuable research archive.

Some of his key appointments were as follows:

Instructor in economics, politics and history at Princeton in 1911
Professor of sociology and economics in 1912 at Reed College (Portland, Oreg.) where he taught until 1917.
Professor of sociology at the University of Washington,(1917-1918)
Examiner and head of the cost-of-living department of the National War Labor Board (1918-1919) and special agent of the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Professor of sociology at Columbia University where he remained 1919 – 1927
Professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. He remained there from 1927 until his retirement in 1951.

After retirement he became:

Visiting professor of sociology at Florida State University (1953-1959)
Professor of American History and Institutions at the Indian School of International Studies at the University of Delhi (1956-57)
Visiting Professor at Nuffield College, Oxford (1952-1953),
He also lectured at the university of Calcutta (1952)

He also travelled extensively through Asia, the south west Pacific, Europe, and Latin America, visiting England and France as early as 1906.

Amongst other appointments which WF Ogburn held, he was:

Editor of the Journal of American Statistical Association 1920 -1926
President of the American Sociological Society in 1929
President of the American Statistical Association 1931
Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Cencus of the American Statistical Association.
Vice-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 1932
Chairman of the Social Science Research Council 1937 -1939
President of the Society for the History of Technology 1959
consultant to a range of government agencies.

Professor Ogburn was the author of a large number of important books and scientific publications. His noteworthy publications included:

‘American Marriage and Family Relationships’ (with Groves) 1928,
‘Social Characteristics of Cities’ 1937,
‘The Social Effects of Aviation’ 1946,
‘Technology and the Changing Family’ (with Nimkoff) 1953.

He was also in demand as a labor mediator.

Genealogical research

During his life WF Ogburn, who was a direct descendant of Symon Ogbourne who came to America in the mid 17th century, spent much time and effort in researching family history of the Ogburns in the United States, and in a search for the origins of his ancestors in the United Kingdom, where he commissioned extensive examinations of archives and church registers of births and marriages.

Amongst the most valuable and extensive searches which he commissioned was undertaken by a researcher Ethel Stokes in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, London in 1928 which revealed numerous references between 1228 and 1483 to the name of Okebourne (as the present day names of Ogbourne / Ogburn were then known) in official records, see attached.

Many of the 15th and 16th century English wills which can be viewed elsewhere in this website were gleaned from his research papers, which also record correspondence in the early 1930s with the College of Arms. ‘Portcullis’ (an officer of the College) advised that ‘no Armorial Bearings were granted to Sir William Ogborne, Sheriff of London’ but states that Sir William was knighted on 31st January 1726-7, and in 1932 ‘Windsor Herald’ advised that an examination of ‘the whole of the records of the College shows that no arms have ever been recorded to any family of the name. [of Ogburn or similar]’

During the period in the early 1950s when Profesor Ogburn was visiting professor at Nuffield College, Oxford he took the opportunity to renew his efforts to find a link in the UK, particularly trying to find the origins of Symon Ogbourne, and commissioned extensive searches in parish records in Wiltshire and neighbouring counties. One of the ironies of this search is that the records of at least 36 Wiltshire parishes were examined for records of Ogbournes, the most fruitful of which revealed two relevant entries.

Somehow Professor Ogburn missed enquiring into the records of Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, (approximately 30 miles from Oxford) which would have revealed some 120 births and 50 marriages, and the existence of Ogbournes living there at that time, including the writer as a child. Had he obtained information from Wootton Bassett he would no doubt have found the information of significant interest, but it would not have revealed the origins of the Symon that he sought. It is interesting to muse that had the researches had taken a slightly different course one or more of the Ogbourne families then living in Wootton Bassett might have received a visit from the distinguished American professor, though at that time they had no knowledge of their ancestors, though always wondered what connection there might be with the nearby villages of Ogbourne.

Professor Ogburn also visited the villages of Ogbourne, including one such visit which his wife wrote about in her book ‘As I Was Told’ (see Origins in the UK section)

Whilst drawing a blank on Symon, Professor Ogburn’s records show details of births and marriages in the 17th century in Hillingdon and Uxbridge in Middlesex, which include references to Samuels and Johns (for details see Origins in the UK section). This family appear to be the possible origin of the other major lines of Ogbournes/Ogburns in the USA, though it is uncertain what information Professor Ogburn had of that line at that time, and therefore the significance may have been overlooked.

It is also evident that the net was also cast towards Scotland, displaying the thoroughness of his researches for which he became famous in the field of sociology. However in a letter dated 6th April 1928 Mr J.McLeod of the Scottish Record Society in Edinburgh advised that ‘the name of Ogburn does not appear Scotch’ and that in the Society’s records ‘the name does not once occur’. The letter however includes a recommendation to contact Miss Ethel Stokes, (see above) who was clearly able to be of more assistance.

This work in turn inspired his son Fielding Ogburn, who with his wife Patricia published two volumes of detailed information about Ogburns in the USA. Early in 1995 Fielding Ogburn kindly made available copies of his father’s United Kingdom research papers to John Ogbourne in the UK. The information in those records, and the links with historical events which became evident from many of the ancient references led John Ogbourne to create a newsletter called ‘The Ogbourne Chronicles’, the first edition of which was published in July 1995. The interest shown by Ogbournes & Ogburns in England and the USA in this publication in turn lead to the creation of the ‘Ogbourne Chronicles’ website.

2 thoughts on “William Fielding Ogburn 1886 – 1959”

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Focusing on the history of the name of Ogbourne, Ogborn, Ogburn and other variants, including the early form of Ocheburne & Okebourne