The Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) was a national non-party group dedicated to the organization of current and former collegians for the socialist cause and the spreading of socialist ideas on campus.
There were at least two isolated cases of socialist organization on campus prior to the establishment of the ISS in September 1905. From about 1901 there was a college socialist club organized at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In its first year the club had 11 student members and one professor and was limited to confirmed socialists. The membership restriction was loosened in 1904, however, and the club grew, coming to hold weekly discussions on the exploitation of child labor, workplace safety, and other matters of general concern.
The second collegiate socialist club was organized at the University of California at Berkeley. Called the "Social Progress Club," the group sprung into existence following a lecture by Jack London early in 1905.
[fn. Max Horn, The Intercollegiate Socialist Society, 1905-1921: Origins of the Modern Student Movement. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979), pp. 18-19.]
The ISS proper was a product of the brain of Upton Sinclair. In December 1904, Sinclair drafted a call for the formation of a group which he called "the Intercollegiate Socialist Society," which he circulated among leading socialist intellectuals for endorsement. The document was ulmimatedly signed by nine others in addition to Sinclair, including Leonard Abbott, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Graham Phelps Stokes, and William English Walling, among others. This call was published in various socialist publications in the spring of 1905 and a topic of discussion throughout that summer.
[fn. Max Horn, The Intercollegiate Socialist Society, 1905-1921, pp. 5-6.] 1. Organizational Meeting --- New York, NY --- September 12, 1905.
The ISS was formally launced at a meeting held in the afternoon of Sept. 12, 1905 at Peck's Restaurant in downtown New York. More than 50 men and women were in attendance to give birth to the new organization, including such luminaries as Leonard Abbott, Mary Beard, Crystal Eastman, W.J. Ghent, and Gaylord Wilshire, in addition to a young Junior from Weslyan University named Harry Laidler. Upton Sinclair called the meeting to order. The gathering decided to accept the name "Intercollegiate Socialist Society" and to open membership to college students, teachers, or graduates. Students were to be organized into college chapters on each campus and the central organization was to be funded by these local groups remitting a percentage of the dues collected to the national society. Officers were to consist of a President, two Vice Presidents, a Secretary, and a Treasurer -- each elected annually by vote of the whole society. Governance was to be handled by these five officers and six additional members of an Executive Committee. Term of office was to begin in April of each year.
The first slate of officers elected at the Sept. 1905 organizational meeting included the following:
President: Jack London; First Vice President: Upton Sinclair; Second Vice President: Graham Phelps Stokes; Secretary: M.R. Holbrook; Treasurer: Rev. Owen Lovejoy; Executive Committee: Rev. George Willis Cooke, Morris Hillquit, Robert Hunter, Harry Laidler, Katherine M.Meserole, George H. Strobell. Of this group of socialist worthies, only Harry Laidler was actually a current college student.
[fn. Max Horn, The Intercollegiate Socialist Society, 1905-1921, pp. 1, 9-10.]
Organization proceeded slowly, with the group banned from many campuses by conservative administrators, who generally held veto power over the formation of student organizations in this period. Chapters were often small and their names frequently did not emphasize their connection to the national society or even with the socialist cause, as was the case, for example, with the Wesleyan Social Study Club headed by Harry Laidler, one of the first organizaed and affiliated with the ISS. A second chapter was formed at Columbia University in New York City, with a student named Walter Lippmann playing the leading role. Over the course of the first three years, affiliated socialist clubs were organized at Harvard, Princeton, Barnard, New York University Law School, and the Uniiversity of Pennsylvania. In addition to meeting to discuss problems of the day, these groups distributed socialist propaganda and arranged lectures on their respective campuses in an attempt to extend support for the socialist cause.
In May 1907, Jack London resigned as President of the ISS and Graham Phelps Stokes assumed the post.
In the fall of 1907, the ISS Executive Committee decided to hire an organizer on a temporary basis, and a young socialist named Fred H. Merrick went to work in January 1908. From 1907 through 1910, the ISS maintained its office at the Rand School of Social Science in New York City.
[fn. Max Horn, The Intercollegiate Socialist Society, 1905-1921, passim.]
2. First Convention --- New York? --- "Early 1910."
The First Convention of the ISS was attended by 35 delegates, representing 7 colleges.
Late in 1910, the ISS obtained its own headquarters separate from the Rand School, a move marking its organizational independence.
3. Second Convention --- New York? --- Dec. XX 1910.
The Second Convention of the ISS
10. 9th Convention --- New York --- Dec. 27-29, 1917.
The 9th Convention of the ISS was attended by delegates from around the country, representatives of the groups chapters on some 40 college campuses. Executive Session was held Dec. 27, followed by a dinner at which speakers discussed the question "What Should Be the Next Development in National Policy?" Speakers included Norman Angell, Frank Boh, Louis Boudin, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, with Frederic C. Howe acting as chairman.
The second day consisted of a discussion of chapter problems and was held at City College. An evening reception was held for the delegates, with discussion of "The Future of the Socalist Movement in this Country" held at the Civic Club, located on West 12th Street. Speakers included Algernon Lee and Scott Nearing. John Spargo was also slated to attend.
The final day of the convention was given to a prize competition with a question box on Socialism. "Tea and talk will take up the afternoon at the Civic Club," the Evening Call noted. An evening meeting at the "People's House" of the Rand School was the concluding event, with Morris Hillquit and henry Bruere speaking on "The Future of the City."
[fn. "ISS to Hold 9th Convention," The Evening Call [New York], Dec. 11, 1917, pg. 5.