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American Society for Cell Biology records - Historical Note

The American Society for Cell Biology was organized in 1960 when a group of cell biologists, headed by Keith R. Porter, met on January 9th and on May 28th to explore the desirability of founding a new society and beginning the organization process. This move had been suggested by two organized groups, the Tissue Culture Association and the Cell Biology Study Section of the Public Health Service, and by a number of individual cell biologists. On March 13, 1961 a provisional Executive Committee was appointed with Keith Porter as Chairman; the new American Society for Cell Biology was incorporated in the State of New York on July 31, 1961. The first meeting of the Society was held November 2-4, 1961 at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Illinois and Don W. Fawcett was elected the first president. In the early years, The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) was guided and operated by volunteers who served as officers, as members of Council, or on various committees. The executive committee was made up of four officers: President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, and thirteen Council members. Unlike the President and President-Elect who served for one year only, the Secretary and the Treasurer served for several years running. From 1961-1978 only three members were elected Secretary: Montrose J. Moses (1961-1967), George D. Pappas (1967-1973), and Nancy L. R. Bucher (1973-1978). The Secretary’s office was the hub of the organization, sustaining its continuity by guarding its archives, maintaining membership and dues billing records, and, more importantly, coordinating the Society’s activities.

The Society expanded rapidly both in membership and in the number of committees that carried out the Society’s activities. In July 1962, President Dan Fawcett appointed a Publications Committee to look into the advantages and disadvantages of founding a new journal or sponsoring an existing one. At the Annual Meeting on November 4, 1962, the Council unanimously voted to recommend cosponsorship of the Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) in conjunction with the Rockefeller Institute. A proposal to the editors of JCB and the president of Rockefeller Institute was approved, and by April 1963 the membership had approved the proposal by an overwhelming vote. The members of ASCB had a particular interest in the issue of education in the biological sciences, and by 1966 the Educational Policy Committee was a standing committee. This committee was to perform a significant part of the work of the Society, sponsoring workshops and providing funding for students and teachers by way of grants from organizations such as the National Science foundation and others. In addition, a small group of members, realizing the importance of contacting legislators and other government officials about funding, especially NIH funding for the discipline of Cell Biology, began to monitor legislation. By 1971, recognizing that the relationships between government and the universities and the scientific community were changing, this unofficial group became a new committee, the Public Policy Committee. Its task would be not to monitor only legislation and the development of public policy regarding the biological sciences, but also to take an active role in helping to shape that policy.

ASCB hosted the First International Congress for Cell Biology in conjunction with its Seventeenth Annual Meeting at Boston, in 1976. It was an such an enormous undertaking for the young society that it was clear that the Society would have to change its management style if future challenges were to be met. In the fall of 1977, Nancy Bucher, Secretary of the Society at the time of the Congress, sent a letter to President-Elect Keith Porter suggesting the establishment of a permanent business office. She felt that the Society’s established mode of operating was no longer practical due to the greatly increased size of the membership, the consequent requirements for office space, and the demands on the Secretary’s time. She recommended that while the Secretary would continue to make decisions regarding policy, routine business should be handled by an executive officer in a central office. This central office would also assist the Treasurer and perform much of the routine work that burdened the Program Chairperson and eventually take over the Placement Service. At the Annual Meeting in San Diego, the Council agreed that a national office should be established. At the same time that Nancy Bucher and Keith Porter asked Emma Shelton to run for the office of Secretary and to take over the duties of establishing and managing a permanent office.

A lease for office space in Bethesda, Maryland was signed on October 1, 1978 and Marion Cyr was hired as the new administrative assistant. The first order of business was to transfer to the Bethesda office the files of the Secretary as well as the voluminous files that had accumulated and been passed from one Treasurer to another since the Society’s creation. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution and By-Laws Committee met at the new office to prepare revisions to the constitution that would permit the establishment of the National Office and the hiring of an Executive Officer. On May 1, 1979, a contract was signed making Emma Shelton the first Executive Officer for the new National Office.

With the opening of the National Office, other changes took place that while less dramatic were nonetheless significant in indicating that the young society had come of age. In an effort to make the Society more responsive to the needs of the membership and to make the new office a kind of clearinghouse for information, the new Executive Officer began the publication of a regular Newsletter. The first ASCB Newsletter appeared in March 1979, and continues to the present. In addition, Keith Porter instituted several changes. First, he asked the National Office to purchase a gavel to be used as a symbol of the Office of President, and, then, at the Annual Meeting in Toronto in 1979, instituted a formal procedure for passing responsibility from one president to the next. He also felt the Society needed a logo to represent itself and in the fall of 1979 showed some pictures of cells to Mark Swisher who subsequently drew the design that was later accepted as the Society’s logo. In 1980 the E.B. Wilson Award was established through the work of Keith Porter who arranged for the design of the medal. The E.B. Wilson Medal has been awarded each year to an outstanding cell biologist for scientific achievement ever since. This was not the only award to be established in the years following the opening of the central office. In 1982 Lewis G. Tilney became the first awardee of the new Keith Porter Endowment Fund. This fund, named in honor of Keith R. Porter, supports the lecture given every year by an eminent cell biologist at the Annual Meeting.

ASCB had long been concerned with the issue of inclusiveness and the role and presence of minorities and women in the Society, and by the early 1980’s, an ad hoc minorities group was formed. This group held a breakfast and discussion meeting each year during Annual Meeting. Society presidents supported these efforts with small discretionary grants to support minority travel. Shortly thereafter, a NIH/Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) grant was received that would support the funding of minority travel and participation in the Society’s Annual Meeting. This grant was administered through the Society office and was to have a duration of ten years but has been renewed by the NIH/MARC program under the present administration. These efforts led to the establishment of the original minority group and thereafter to the Minorities Affairs Committee. The first chairman of the Minorities Affairs Committee, Dr. George M. Langford, was elected in 1985. Similarly the Minorities Affaires Committee, the Women in Cell Biology Committee began as an informal group and operated for a number of years as an ad hoc committee, publishing its own newsletter beginning in 1974. It ultimately achieved full committee status in 1993.

In 1986 the Executive Committee began a discussion about the possibility of sponsoring a second journal whose focus would be cell regulation. It was felt that this was a growing area and that a journal dedicated to cell regulation would be of benefit. At the Council Meeting on April 17, 1987 a motion was passed to authorize a committee to take steps to investigate the financial and scientific aspects of starting the new journal and to approve a tentative editorial board. In November 1987 the Council approved, in principle, the publication of the new journal. By the end of 1988 an Editor- in - Chief had been hired and the first issue of Cell Regulation appeared in November of 1989.

On December 20, 1982 Richard Young, Executive Officer of the Society, initiated a move to collect and organize the records of the Society. The Society was now twenty years old and he had found that there was a very poor record of the Society’s history. He hoped to remedy the situation by retrieving any records still in the hands of former officers. This was the beginning of a long process toward the creation of an archive. The first formal steps were taken at the 1986 business meeting when the membership passed a motion to create an archive for the Society. At the Council meeting in the spring of 1987, Robert Trelstad was appointed to chair a committee to carry out this task. At the Council Meeting in November 1992 an Archive Project Proposal was put forward. The intent was to create a formal archive, and since it was noted that the amount of work necessary to develop and maintain it might be too much for the National Office and Council, it was agreed that a depository organization should be sought. At the December 1994 Council Meeting the council approved the donation of the ASCB archives to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where it now resides.

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American Society for Cell Biology

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