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Samuel Stouffer and the GI Survey

Sociologists and Soldiers during the Second World War

Joseph W. Ryan

Publication Year: 2013

Samuel Stouffer, a little-known sociologist from Sac City, Iowa, is likely not a name World War II historians associate with other stalwart men of the war, such as Eisenhower, Patton, or MacArthur. Yet Stouffer, in his role as head of the Army Information and Education Division’s Research Branch, spearheaded an effort to understand the citizen-soldier, his reasons for fighting, and his overall Army experience. Using empirical methods of inquiry to transform general assumptions about leadership and soldiering into a sociological understanding of a draftee Army, Stouffer perhaps did more for the everyday soldier than any general officer could have hoped to accomplish.
    Stouffer and his colleagues surveyed more than a half-million American GIs during World War II, asking questions about everything from promotions and rations to combat motivation and beliefs about the enemy. Soldiers’ answers often demonstrated that their opinions differed greatly from what their senior leaders thought soldier opinions were, or should be. Stouffer and his team of sociologists published monthly reports entitled “What the Soldier Thinks,” and after the war compiled the Research Branch’s exhaustive data into an indispensible study popularly referred to as The American Soldier. General George C. Marshall was one of the first to recognize the value of Stouffer’s work, referring to The American Soldier as “the first quantitative studies of the . . . mental and emotional life of the soldier.” Marshall also recognized the considerable value of The American Soldier beyond the military. Stouffer’s wartime work influenced multiple facets of policy, including demobilization and the GI Bill. Post-war, Stouffer’s techniques in survey research set the state of the art in the civilian world as well.
    Both a biography of Samuel Stouffer and a study of the Research Branch, Samuel Stouffer and the GI Survey illuminates the role that sociology played in understanding the American draftee Army of the Second World War. Joseph W. Ryan tracks Stouffer’s career as he guided the Army leadership toward a more accurate knowledge of their citizen soldiers, while simultaneously establishing the parameters of modern survey research. David R. Segal’s introduction places Stouffer among the elite sociologists of his day and discusses his lasting impact on the field. Stouffer and his team changed how Americans think about war and how citizen-soldiers were treated during wartime. Samuel Stouffer and the GI Survey brings a contemporary perspective to these significant contributions.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Frontispiece, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The American GI in World War II has been widely celebrated in American culture. He has been the subject of innumerable Hollywood films and widely lauded by politicians. In 1998, Tom Brokaw coined the term the “Greatest Generation” in speaking about the valor and sacrifice of those who served in this war, and the phrase soon entered the popular lexicon. Brokaw, a baby boomer, was not the ...

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pp. xi-xii

Primacy of place in thanks belongs to Prof. Roger J. Spiller. One of my high school students defined a mentor as “the one who watches your brain,” which is precisely what Roger has done for many years, with the elegance and skill that define the words gentleman and scholar. Prof. Theodore A. Wilson also had enough faith in me to take me on as a graduate student at the University of Kansas and to...

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Introduction: Samuel A. Stouffer and Military Sociology

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pp. xiii-xxxii

Samuel A. Stouffer tremendously influenced sociology and related disciplines through his methodological and conceptual contributions, and those who studied under him and worked with him furthered his inspiration as well. A survey of those who worked with Stouffer on The American Soldier, conducted a third of a century after World War II, revealed that most participants in this effort...

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1. Meet Sam Stouffer

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pp. 1-16

The Liberty Limited arrived in Washington, DC, on August 4, 1941—a day when everyone knew what a Pullman train was, and when women were about to learn how to draw stocking lines with eyebrow pencils. Alighting from the train was a diminutive man on his way to the War Department. He had no official status, no military rank, and although at forty-one he had reached a certain level of prominence...

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2. Stouffer in the Interwar Years

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pp. 17-28

One shies at fate, historical contingency, and the clichés attendant with wisdom acquired after the fact. Stouffer, however, was a man almost perfectly, serendipitously prepared to head the Research Branch and to be the lead author of The American Soldier....

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3. Impulses and Stimuli for the Research Branch

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pp. 29-44

Stouffer’s notes about his initial visit to Washington, DC, in the late summer of 1941 have survived. Written in his crabbed hand, they reveal much about where the Research Branch began its work of discovering and managing the attitudes of American soldiers in World War II. “I must read a good deal about the experience in the last war,” Stouffer told himself, “Got two books on the Personnel ...

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4. The Research Branch Rising

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pp. 45-64

Thirty-three months after Pearl Harbor and twelve months before Hiroshima, the Research Branch produced a standard operating procedure (SOP). The document, dated August 19, 1944, attempted to formalize its efforts, in General Gavin’s words, to make “a monumental contribution to the science of making citizens of a free country win its...

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5. The Research Branch Refined

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pp. 65-90

In the fall of 1944, when it might be expected that a successful research organization connected to a large bureaucracy would have rested a bit on its laurels and settled into a routine, Stouffer was still looking for ways to refine and improve the Research Branch. He was looking ahead, not behind, and hoped his thoughts would help the Research Branch in “charting our future plans.” Although he...

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6. Structure and Findings of The American Soldier

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pp. 91-116

In the months following its publication, The American Soldier received both rapturous praise and scathing criticism. Breathless tones of admiration, “Here is a book! Not since Thomas and Znaniecki’s Polish Peasant has there been a socio-psychological work of such scope, imaginativeness, technical rigor, and important results,”1 were answered with outbursts of excoriation, ...

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7. Reception and Criticism of The American Soldier

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pp. 117-128

Princeton University Press prepared for the release of The American Soldier as most publishers do—press releases, synopses, and descriptions of the scope and content of the work. This preparation was enough to gain the attention of the three constituencies most likely to have an interest in the work: soldiers, historians, and sociologists—Stouffer’s audiences. These three groups tended to focus...

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8. Stouffer, the Research Branch, and The American Soldier Postbellum

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pp. 129-154

“In the event of remobilization of research functions,” reads a hastily typed memo of 1955 in the files of the National Archives, “valuable counsel, based on pase [sic] experience with attitude assessment among military personnel, should be sought from the following.” The list of names recorded was short and distinguished, but could have been longer. It included Stouffer, who had gone ...

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pp. 155-162

What, then, do the lives of Samuel A. Stouffer and The American Soldier signify?—for books as well as men have lives, and often not the lives they intended. The previous chapters have suggested that the evolution of attitude research in the military, the mid-twentieth century apotheosis of which was The American Soldier, represented a fundamental shift in the way soldiers and the control of soldiers ...

Appendix: Et Al.: The Coauthors of The American Soldier

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pp. 163-174


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pp. 175-238


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pp. 239-266


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pp. 267-279

Production Notes

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p. 280-280

E-ISBN-13: 9781621900252
E-ISBN-10: 1621900258
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339965
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339969

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 23 photos
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: First edition.