History of the ASA

The phrase “timing is everything” rings true for the American Statistical Association (ASA), which was formed in November 1839 in Boston—a city that was burgeoning with educational and technical professional opportunities. Back then, annual dues cost $2, and notable figures who joined the society included US President Martin Van Buren and Minister to France Lewis Cass. In a then male-dominated environment, Florence Nightingale—well known for her contributions to the medical field—also became a member and was recognized for using statistical analysis techniques in her data-collection efforts benefitting public health and welfare.

What started with just five founders soon began to attract hundreds of members who were elected, not simply granted voluntary membership. With ties to statistical work of the US government, particularly the Census Bureau, a movement was led by then-ASA President Francis A. Walker (1883–1897) to expand the association’s roots nationwide. ASA leadership chose to drop the exclusive “by invitation only” membership requirement to attract a larger, more diverse group of members and opened the doors for professionals from a variety of fields and business sectors.

The organization began publishing the Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA) in 1888, when its mission was solidified and membership was growing. And in 1908, the ASA conducted its annual meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey—stepping away from the traditional stronghold of Boston.

After World War I, statistical work in government and business boomed, and between 1920–1943, chapters developed in Detroit; Chicago; Cleveland; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Albany, New York; Austin, Texas; and at universities across the US. The very first biostatistics program was started at The Johns Hopkins University in 1918, and, in 1927, a statistics lab was established at Iowa State University.

Recognizing the power of reaching statistics professionals in a variety of disciplines and across geographic borders, the ASA adopted a resolution in 1924 declaring its support to open scientific meetings to scientists from all countries.

In turning 100 in 1939, the ASA celebrated with an all-time-high membership of 3,000. The age of information began to flourish, and to meet the thirst for knowledge, the ASA expanded its publication portfolio with The American Statistician in 1947. Following World War II, advances in science and technology led to the establishment of ASA sections that would focus on specific business interests such as engineering, economics, social sciences, and education. While the US saw civil unrest and social uprisings in the 1960s and 70s, the ASA continued to find new ways to educate members and the general public about scientific developments through newsletters, magazines, and more journals.

Fast forward to the present day, and the ASA’s membership exceeds 19,000 professionals in academia, government, research, and business. It consists of more than 70 chapters, nearly 30 sections, 17 journals, and six yearly conferences. Throughout all the growth and changes, the ASA’s goal remains the same: to promote the practice and profession of statistics.