Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is the world’s largest organization of individuals interested in anthropology. Although there were several other American anthropological societies in existence at the turn of the 20th century, this new, national organization was formed “to promote the science of anthropology, to stimulate and coordinate the efforts of American anthropologists, to foster local and other societies devoted to anthropology, to serve as a bond among American anthropologists and anthropologic[al] organizations present and prospective, and to publish and encourage the publication of matter pertaining to anthropology” (AAA Articles of Incorporation). At its incorporation, the Association also assumed responsibility for the American Anthropologist, which was originally begun in 1888 by the Anthropological Society of Washington (ASW). By 1905, the journal also served the American Ethnological Society, in addition to the AAA and ASW.
From an initial membership of 175, the AAA grew slowly during the first half of the 20th century. Annual meetings were held primarily in the Northeast and accommodated all attendees in a single room, the day-long affair concluding with a black tie dinner gala. Since 1950, its membership has increased dramatically, now averaging in excess of 10,000. Annual meetings draw more than 5,000 individuals, who attend over 300 sessions organized into a 5-day program.
The AAA has been a democratic organization since its beginning. Although Franz Boas had initially fought to restrict membership to an exclusive group of 40 “professional anthropologists,” the AAA’s first president. W. J. McGee, argued for a more inclusive membership embracing all those who expressed an interest in the discipline. McGee’s vision still guides the Association today. Business affairs, likewise comprehensive with 24 Councillors selected from the membership, and Executive Committee of 9 in 1902, are now conducted by a 38-member Section Assembly representing each of the Association’s constituent Sections, and a 17-member Executive Board. This increase in representation reflects the growing diversity of the discipline, which is viewed by many as a source of strength for the Association and for American anthropology as a whole. In Richard B. Woodbury’s words, “. . .the AAA has remained the central society for the discipline, addressing with considerable success its increasingly varied interests and speaking for anthropology to other fields, the federal and state governments, and the public” (Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, 1994).