William Isaac Thomas

1863–1947

In 1886 Dr. William Isaac Thomas received the first PhD conferred by the university—in literature and classics. He taught at the university and served briefly as librarian. Thomas went on to obtain a second doctorate at the University of Chicago and became a well-recognized sociologist. He is especially known for the books The Unadjusted Girl, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (with Florian Znaniecki) and The Child in America (with his sociologist wife Dorothy Swaine Thomas [his second wife—he was divorced from his first wife, Harriet Park, after being dismissed from the University of Chicago]).

While Thomas was at the University of Chicago, he faced Mann Act charges for registering at a hotel as a married couple under an assumed name with a woman not his wife. The president fired him, and the university, which had published The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, refused to continue to distribute the book. Thomas obtained the copies not distributed (84 had been distributed), but the University of Chicago obliterated its seal on the spine of the book and removed the title pages that held its name. Thomas had another printing company redo the binding, with a seal similar in size to that of the university and paste a title page in each volume.

He had an active career following this dismissal, including serving as president of the American Sociology Society (1927) and teaching for a year at Harvard. While at UT, he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity and held a national office as the first worthy grand master of ceremonies in 1883.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title William Isaac Thomas
  • Coverage 1863–1947
  • Author
  • Keywords William Isaac Thomas
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 19, 2018