Robert S. Lynd

From 1927 to 1931, Robert Staughton Lynd (1892-1970) was assistant to the chairman and later permanent secretary of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), perhaps America's premier institution for research and statistics, during a time that saw enormous growth in the prestige and influence of the social sciences. (INTRO NOTE Social Sciences)

An 11-page proposal, Fund-Raising Letter from Robert S. Lynd to the Executive Director of the Maurice and Laura Falk Foundation, dated December 4, 1930, outlines eleven areas in which the SSRC wished to survey changes that had affected society in the 1920s. The first area listed in this sketch of a grand research edifice was the "Economics of Consumption . . . a wellnigh virgin field" of study. Not long after, in 1934, a two-volume study, America's Capacity to Produce and America's Capacity to Consume (not included in this collection), was funded by the Maurice and Laura Falk Foundation, but it was undertaken by the Brookings Institution, not the SSRC.

Also selected from the Lynd Papers as being particularly relevant to the concerns of the Coolidge-Consumerism collection is the SSRC internal planning document Consumption and Leisure as Topics of Research for the Social Science Research Council. Though not by Lynd himself, it reads like the table of contents for the monumental two-volume survey Recent Social Trends In the United States (1933), a study in which Lynd himself authored the chapter on consumption, "The People as Consumers", included in the Coolidge-Consumerism collection.

With his wife, Helen Merrell Lynd, Robert S. Lynd had also coauthored the classic "snapshot" of small-city life in Middle America during the Coolidge years, the widely reprinted 1929 work Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture (not included in this collection), set in Muncie, Indiana. In 1937, it was followed by Middletown in Transition, A Study in Cultural Conflicts (not included in this collection).

The Lynd Papers at the Library of Congress contain research materials (not included in this collection) that Lynd used in writing the Middletown study, among them, typed, mimeographed survey questionnaires, some of them running to 14 pages or more, filled in for the most part by hand, for twenty households that participated in the first project. The questionnaire covers such subjects as work, family life, the family budget, vacations, and leisure time, and includes information on installment payments, automobile and gasoline use, record players, radios, and movie attendance in Muncie, Indiana for the period 1919-1924.



Selections from the Manuscript Division