Dewey Library for Social Sciences 
and Management

Davis Rich Dewey, 1858-1942

Davis Rich Dewey was Professor of Economics at M.I.T. and one of several people who helped shape the profession of economics as it is practiced today. Best known for his writings on United states economic history, his professional career spans fifty years (1886-1940), the formative period of the modern economics profession.

In 1883 Davis R. Dewey entered the graduate department of economics at Johns Hopkins University, secured a fellowship, and spent summers working as a correspondent for Bradstreet's Financial Review . He graduated from Johns Hopkins with the doctorate in 1886 having studied history, economics and political economy. His Ph.D. thesis, entitled "A History of American Economic Literature..." was a survey of the practice of the early U.S. economics profession.

Upon his graduation, Dewey received an appointment as instructor in history and political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From the first he was integrally involved in research, publishing his first articles, "Municipal Revenue from Street Railways" and "A Syllabus on Political History since 1815..." in 1887.

At M.I.T. Dewey served as an Instructor (1886-1888), then Assistant Professor of Economics and Statistics (1888-1889), Associate Professor (1889-1892) and finally Professor and Department Chairman (1893-1933). He taught a course in engineering administration from 1913- 1931, when a separate department of engineering administration was created, largely due to his efforts. He served as the Chairman of the M.I.T. Faculty from 1911-1913.

Dewey was influential in the internal affairs of two major professional organizations, the American Economic Association and the American Statistical Association. While still a graduate student, he had participated in the founding meeting of the American Economic Association and in 1909 he became its president. When that Association's journal The American Economic Review was started in 1911, he served as its first editor, a post he held until 1940. The medal on the Dewey Library homepage was awarded to Davis R. Dewey upon the occasion of his retirement as editor of American Economic Review in 1940. Also in his first year of service at M.I.T., he became a member and was elected secretary of the American Statistical Association, an office he held until 1906. As secretary, and as a member of the Publications Committee, Dewey helped to edit the publications of that organization as well.

Davis R. Dewey was interested in the quality of education, as demonstrated by the following quotation,

"The Student will too often leave systematic 
knowledge of the economic world, nor any well-defined theory 
of its workings.  There must therefore be a far greater 
insistence upon...methods which will improve the missing experience."

Davis R. Dewey was an associate of M.I.T. President Francis Amasa Walker whose Discussions in Economics and Statistics he edited for publication in 1899, shortly after Walker's death. He was also associated with the editor Albert Bushnell Hart. Davis R. Dewey wrote his acclaimed Financial History of the United States for Hart's American Citizen Series in 1902, and a volume entitled National Problems for Hart's American Nation Series in 1907. In 1904 Financial History of the United States won the John Marshall Prize offered by Johns Hopkins. Dewey was a contributor to Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy, the New International Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopedia Britannica, American Year Book and the Commonwealth History of Massachusetts.

A representative of the modern field of economics, Davis R. Dewey was indifferent to theorizing which had little to do with empirical fact. He was above all a practitioner, insisting that applied knowledge we the true realm of the academic economist. Davis R. Dewey also maintained a lively interest in the politics of academe and followed several academic freedom cases of his day.

He died on December 13, 1942. The Dewey Library was named in his memory.

Written by Keith Morgan, Dewey Library Economics Bibliographer, 1994