Milton M. Gordon ’39

Milton M. Gordon ’39 died on June 4, 2019, in Tonasket, Washington.

(The following was provided by the Forever Missed)

Milton Myron Gordon, born on October 3, 1918, and passed away on June 4, 2019. A renowned scholar, eternal soulmate.


(The following was provided by the

Born October 3, 1918, in Gardiner, ME; son of Max and Rose Goldberg; married Martha Miles, August 31, 1946 (divorced, 1964); married Marjorie Dick Laufman, September 12, 1964 (divorced, 1966); married Gesa Gehricke Fiedler (a concert violinist), January 14, 1967 (died, 2002). Ethnicity: “Jewish-White.” Education: Bowdoin College, A.B. (magna cum laude), 1939; Columbia University, M.A., 1940, Ph.D., 1950.

Career: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, instructor, 1946-50; Drew University, Madison, NJ, assistant professor, 1950-53; Haverford College, Haverford, PA, assistant professor, 1953-57; Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, visiting associate professor, 1957-58, 1959-60; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst, professor of sociology, beginning 1961, currently professor emeritus. Consultant to City Solicitor’s Office of Philadelphia, Greenfield Center for Human Relations, University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University, 1961-62.

Member: Eastern Sociological Society (president, 1978-79), Phi Beta Kappa.

Awards, Honors: Grants from the Russell Sage Foundation, 1958-59, and Social Science Research Council, 1960-61; Guggenheim fellow, 1960-61; Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations, Cleveland Foundation, 1964, and National Mass Media Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1965, both for Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins; Distinguished Bowdoin Educator Award, 1992; Distinguished Career Award, International Migration Section, American Sociological Association, 2002.

Writings: Social Class in American Sociology, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1958.

Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1964.

Human Nature, Class, and Ethnicity, Oxford University Press, 1978.

(Editor) America as a Multicultural Society, American Academy of Political and Social Science (Philadelphia, PA), 1981.

The Scope of Sociology, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1988.

General editor of “Ethnic Groups in American Life” series, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1965-86. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine and Daedulus.

Sidelights: Milton Myron Gordon was born in Gardiner, Maine, the son of immigrant Jewish parents from Russia. The town had a small number of Jewish families, and Gordon grew up playing with the children of Yankee shopkeepers and farmers and Irish and French-Canadian factory workers. His father began work in Maine as a laborer, cutting ice from the river in winter, then went on to become a respected businessman. Gordon’s parents divorced when he was thirteen, and he moved with his mother to Portland, Maine, where they became integrated into a larger Jewish community. It was there that Gordon first experienced division by social class. Jewish high school fraternities and sororities fell into two groups: middle-class and working-class. Gordon attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where there was an atmosphere of student discrimination against Jews, wrote Gordon in an article for Society. During the four years he was enrolled there, only two Jewish students were invited to join a fraternity. Gordon received a fine education at Bowdoin and was mentored by Elbridge Sibley, a sociologist from Columbia University. Gordon applied to Columbia for graduate study and was accepted. He arrived in New York City in the fall of 1939. In the article in Society, Gordon recalled that in New York City he found, “both inside and outside Columbia, the exhilarating outlines of the social world I was later to call the ‘intellectual subsociety and intellectual subculture.’ Here, friendships could be formed, and romantic entanglements entered, freely and easily across the boundaries of ethnicity or social class origin. … It was an expanding and liberating milieu for a young Jewish boy fresh from the American provinces.”

Gordon took courses with MacIver and Lynd and cultural anthropologists Ralph Linton and Ruth Benedict. He learned research logic from Paul Lazarsfeld and theory from Robert Merton. His instructors included Theodore Abel, Charles Page, and Willard Waller. Gordon’s studies reinforced his own view of the importance of social and cultural institutions in forming human behavior. Gordon noted in Society that American racism against blacks, Asians, Catholics, and Jews “now joined by the virulent specter of Nazi anti-Semitism, made it apparent that all the resources of a cultural interpretation of behavior must be used to battle the pernicious and destructive doctrine that the many races and ethnic groups of mankind were biologically unequal in intellectual and emotional capacities.” Racial supremacy was attacked by many scholars of the time, an “effort [that] was intellectually justified and morally right, and constitutes one of the noblest chapters in the history of the social sciences.”

Gordon’s pacifist views developed while he attended Bowdoin. His senior thesis and master’s essay at Columbia discuss analyses of religious pacifism in America. During World War II Gordon was a conscientious objector and spent four years in government forestry camps run by the Quakers. Following the war he began his teaching career at the University of Pennsylvania. His first book, Social Class in American Sociology, was a theoretical and empirical review of the social class literature. Gordon’s experiences led him to viewing racial and ethnic group relations within a sociological framework.

Gordon incorporated his ideas in Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins, which Choice reviewers Joe R. Feagin and Aaron C. Porter called “the first theoretical analysis to explore thoroughly the notion of fusion for racial and ethnic groups.” Gordon begins with interviews of the heads of twenty-five agencies working to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in intercultural, interracial, and interreligious relations. He writes about the roles of race, religion, and national origin and the chronological relationships among the seven sub-processes of assimilation. He puts into perspective the concepts of Anglo-conformity, the melting pot, and cultural pluralism, then identifies three levels that include the national society, the subsociety, and the group, each with its own cultures. American Journal of Sociology reviewer Dean J. Champion wrote that Gordon “isolates four factors or social categories which serve to create subsocieties within the national society of America. An individual responds that he is not simply a white Protestant, but that he is also a lower-middle-class white Protestant living in a small town in the South. This notion leads to the intersection of vertical and horizontal stratification lines and to the formation of an ‘ethclass,’ a subsociety emerging out of intersection.” Ina Corrine Brown wrote in the Journal of Negro Education that Gordon’s approach “is quite different from the usual ones. Rather than concentrating on overt discriminatory acts, or on why people feel as they do, he concerns himself with the nature of group life within a large, industrial, urban, and heterogeneous population.”

Human Nature, Class, and Ethnicity collects previously published articles with the addition of the new opening essay, “Human Nature and Sociology.” Library Journal reviewer Phyllis R. Poses wrote that because of Gordon’s treatment of his subjects in the essays written from the 1940s to the 1960s, “they seem like ghosts unaware of post-industrial society and of the traumas of the 1960s.” A Choice reviewer noted that Gordon begins with “his psychological tenets and then jumps to sociological concepts without demonstrating the interconnections between the two.” Critic William Junius Wilson commented in the American Journal of Sociology that in the new essay, Gordon “shows convincingly that despite the overwhelming emphasis on cultural and social factors in sociological studies, there has been in the past few years a reassessment of the importance of human nature by representative sociologists. As one of the central contributors to this reassessment, he advances ‘a theory of human nature’ that conceptually distinguishes hereditary factors from social influences and at the same time emphasizes ‘their mutual and constant interaction.’”

Social Forces reviewer Pierre L. Van den Berghe called Gordon’s The Scope of Sociology “a collection of musings by an elder of the tribe.” Gordon begins with a twelve-page essay, “The Making of a Sociologist,” which recollects his youth spent in Gardiner and Portland. This is followed by ruminations on the nature of human nature, the state of race and ethnic relations, and the role of capitalism in the United States and communism in the Soviet Union. Van den Berghe said that the section on human nature “is, alas, a rehash—some of it nearly verbatim,” of Human Nature, Class, and Ethnicity. “Let me say that his musings on recent U.S. race relations are very wise indeed,” continued the critic. “Gordon distinguishes between liberal and corporate pluralism (and thus relabels the two traditions of pluralism that go back some thirty years in the race and ethnic literature). He comes from the liberal tradition of individual rights and official laissez-faire on ethnic issues, and he (wisely in my view) continues to advocate race-and ethnic-blind policies.”

Alvin P. Short reviewed Gordon’s book in the Social Science Quarterly, and concluded: “It is probably fair to say that the author conceives of behavior patterns as being a result of the interaction of the basic components of human nature and the social and cultural environment. Thus, aggression and cooperation are really derived behavioral patterns, and they make take several forms.” Contemporary Sociology reviewer Harold J. Abramson added that The Scope of Sociology “benefits largely from the continuities and insights of a scholars’s life in the thinking and doing of sociology.” Abramson called the book “a summing-up of a sensitive and liberal career in higher education, in search of the ‘good society.’ It is a very American book; Gordon’s interests in ethnicity and assimilation, social mobility and marginality, and equality and pluralism all attest to this.”

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