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Broom, Leonard (1911–2009)

by Robert G. Cushing, Karl Broom and Dorothy Broom

Leonard Broom, 98, died on 19 November in Santa Barbara, California. Born on 8 November 1911 in Boston, Massachusetts, Broom was a distinguished Professor of Sociology in a career spanning nearly 70 years in several departments of sociology on two continents.

Broom received his BS (Phi Beta Kappa, 1933) and AM (1934) from Boston University. He obtained his PhD in Sociology from Duke University in 1937. Full-time positions in academia were rare for new PhDs during the depression years. Broom had temporary appointments at Clemson University (1937–38) and Kent State University (1938–41) before he obtained a tenure track appointment at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1941. He was the second sociologist appointed to UCLA’s newly established department of sociology and anthropology. He remained at UCLA until 1959, during the department’s development years, and was departmental chair from 1952–57. While at UCLA, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 1950 for research study in Jamaica, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1958 for a research study in Australia, and was editor of the American Sociological Review from 1955 to 1957. From 1959 to 1971, he was Ashbel Smith Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas (Austin) and Chair of that department 1959–66. While at Texas he was awarded a Visiting Fellowship to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford (1962–63).

From 1971 to 1976, he was Professor of Sociology in the Institute of Advanced Studies at The Australian National University, Emeritus Professor from 1977, and Honorary Fellow from 1977 to 1979. He was affiliated with the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where he was a research associate from 1977 onwards. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1980 and was academically active throughout his retirement years at UCSB, with visiting appointments at Churchill College of the University of Cambridge (1975 and 1977), the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium (1983), and at Ludwig Maximilians Universitaet, Munchen Germany (1991). He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and was awarded a DSc (Hons) by Boston University.

Beginning with his PhD dissertation on ‘The Acculturation of the Eastern Cherokee’, Broom had a lifelong research interest in social differentiation and stratification and in the impact of government policies on minority peoples, always with a view of bringing empirical evidence into any assessment of outcomes. His early academic research at UCLA, which focused on the effects of US internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, was published in many articles and culminated in two books: Removal and Return: The Socio-economic Effects of the War on Japanese Americans (with Ruth Riemer, UC Press, 1949) and The Managed Casualty: The Japanese-American Family in World War II (with John I. Kitsuse, UC Press, 1951). His research, and the impact of the internment policy on the lives of his Japanese-American students, made him an early critic of that policy and brought the unwelcome attention of the State of California’s Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in 1945. It also earned him an invitation to participate in the development of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. The Transformation of the Negro American (with Norval Glenn, Harper and Row, 1967) focused on continuing discrimination and the fitful socio-economic changes experienced by Black Americans in the Civil Rights Era. A Blanket a Year (with Frank L. Jones, Australian National University Press, 1973) considered the effects of government policy on Australian Aborigines, the metaphor in the title referring to an Aboriginal commentary on all they received for their land. Much of Broom’s later work focused on social mobility and the inheritance of inequality (and of wealth) among diverse populations in both the United States and Australia. Throughout his career, Broom tried to shape critical debate on such issues with empirical evidence, rather than preferred interpretations and the easy polemics in vogue at the time.

One of Broom’s most lasting contributions may be his effect on the discipline of sociology. He was instrumental in shaping the development of a strong department while Chair at UCLA and later while Chair at the University of Texas. At Texas, he founded the Population Research Center, which remains one of the strengths of that department. In Australia in the mid-1960s, he was a critical adviser and influential voice in the creation of a department of sociology at The Australian National University and in the foundation of the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand, as well as the foundation the association’s journal, which remains the major conduit for peer-reviewed academic work in Australia. Broom also co-authored one of the first sociology textbooks (in 1955 with Philip Selznick), which remained the predominant introductory text of the time. In numerous editions published over 40 years, it introduced two generations of students to sociology in the United States and overseas, and was translated into a number of foreign languages over a period of 40 years (including German, Japanese, Dutch, Hebrew and Russian).

Moreover, Broom and his wife Gretchan, his steady editorial companion throughout his career, have quietly made generous gifts to educational institutions including The Australian National University, Carleton College, Duke University and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Leonard Broom is survived by his wife of 69 years, Gretchan Cooke Broom, son Karl and daughter Dorothy, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Robert G. Cushing, Karl Broom and Dorothy Broom, 'Broom, Leonard (1911–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/broom-leonard-32487/text40311, accessed 30 January 2023.

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