The rush to organize: Explaining associational formation in the United States, 1860s-1920s

Jocelyn Elise Crowley, Theda Skocpol

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Americans have long been a people given to organizing and joining voluntary membership associations. Associational growth started early in the nation's history, yet accelerated from the 1860s through the early 1900s. Many researchers have argued that modernizing forces propelled associational development, but this seemingly obvious explanation has been challenged by scholars who stress the impact of the Civil War, government institutions, political processes, and preexisting social networks. Using a unique data set that tracks foundings of state-level units in major voluntary membership federations between the 1860s and 1920s, we test alternative hypotheses with the aid of event history methods. We find little support for modernization arguments, but document clear links to Union mobilization reinforced by northern victory in the Civil War. Electoral competitiveness and certain preexisting social networks also encouraged associations to form. Our findings suggest fresh leads for further research on civic engagement in American democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-829
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican journal of political science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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