History of ABC: The First Year

"In December of 1935," Andy Anderson said, "[we] decided that it was time for business writing teachers to have their own association" (Weeks, 1985, p. 15).

They had tried other organizations. In 1917, The Better Letters Association had been founded for teachers as well as business people. In the second year, however, the focus changed to "strictly business," and in the third year the organization folded and merged with the Direct Mail Advertising Association (the precursor of today's Direct Marketing Association).

For a few years, the National Association of Teachers of Advertising seemed helpful. But, Andy reported, "it soon went over into marketing, changed its name to National Association of Teachers of Marketing, and later to the American Marketing Association in which even the advertising teachers got badly squeezed" (Anderson, 1960; 1985, p. 11).

The only other available organization, The Modern Language Association (MLA), focused on literature, not writing. (About the time of ABC's 25th anniversary, the Conference on College Composition and Communication would be created by faculty who felt that MLA did not represent their interests.) In the first membership solicitation letter, Andy wrote, "For many years, we have had a tenuous connection with such associations as the M.L.A., the D.M.A.A., and the N.A.M.T., and have existed only on the fringe of activities" (Anderson, 1936; 1985, p. 27)

The decision to start a new organization was made after asking business writing teachers if they wanted to form a new organization. Fran Weeks describes the "lengthy letters" which accompanied some of the survey responses:

The correspondence was not encouraging. One of the questions was, "Should we form our own association?" Seventeen respondents said "Yes," thirty-one said "No," and seven said it was a good idea but the time was not right.

Some of the objections were:

  • "We're in a depression. Professors can't affor[d] $2.00 to join another association." . . .
  • "You can't find enough teachers to join." (Andy had said that if he could persuade twenty or thirty to join, he would go ahead.)
  • "If you pull us out of the NAMT, you will throw us into the arms of the English Teachers." (Some body did not know that Andy was a member of the Illinois English department [Weeks, 1985, p. 16].)

Though the "Yes" votes were distinctly in the minority, six organizers decided "it was time." The organizing committee comprised C. R. "Andy" Anderson, University of Illinois (chair); Edward J. Kilduff, New York University; Nathaniel "Nat" Waring Barnes, Columbia University; Alta Gwinn Saunders, University of Illinois; Robert Ray Aurner, University of Wisconsin; and Louis W. "Mac" McKelvey, Northwestern University.

They printed up letterheads for the "Association of College Teachers of Business Writing" and on May 29, 1936, mailed out the first membership solicitation letter. On June 2, the first dues payment of $2.00 came in from Mac McKelvey of Northwestern. A total of 36 members responded to the first mailing; a second letter brought an additional 30 by the end of December.

The 1936-37 membership roster lists 72 members: one from Canada and 71 from the United States. The names on the list include those of 36 men and 27 women—and 9 names whose initials do not enable me to identify gender. One member lists a business affiliation.

The names on this first membership roster and the list of people who have served as President of the Association bear testimony to Andy's statement, "Practically every leader in the field of Business Writing is a long-time member of ABWA. Very few textbooks are authored by non-members" (Anderson, 1951; 1985, p. 46).