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William Graham Sumner

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William Graham Sumner was born in Patterson, New Jersey on October 30th, 1940. He grew up in Hartford, Connecticut with his sturdy, working-class, English immigrant father and his English wife. As a youth he relished in critical thinking. He inherited his father’s strict financial views and by young adulthood had saved enough money to enroll in Yale University. There he was educated in the classics and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1863. While at Yale, he was also a member of the Skull & Bones, a secret society of prominent outstanding young men which in the past years has also been home to our beloved George W. Bush.

After graduation, Sumner traveled to Europe to delve further into theological studies at Oxford University. There he learned methods of deduction and investigation as well as biblical criticism until 1866 when he returned home and back to Yale to study mathematics, Greek and philosophy. Once again he left Yale in 1869 to accept a position in Morristown, New Jersey at the Church of the Redeemer. It did not take Sumner long to see that his faith and theology did not coexist without conflict and he had chose the wrong path for his career. In 1871, before returning to Yale to become a professor of political and social sciences, he married Jeannie Elliot with whom he had three sons. With his return to Yale, he became involved in the “Young Yale” movement which opposed classic classroom recitations.

During the 1870’s Sumner was introduced to Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism logic. Though he agreed with most everything Spencer had to say, he did disagree that evolution produced progress. Sumner was criticized by Yale president Noah Porter for the use of Herbert Spencer’s Study of Sociology as a classroom text. He did agree to use other texts, but this conflict brought much fame and recognition to Sumner. As a sociologist he developed the concepts of diffusion, folkways, mores, and

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