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Harvard. Trade Unionism and Allied Problems, Final Exam. Ripley, 1914-15


“Trade Unionism and Allied Problems” was a course open to both undergraduate and graduate students and taught by William Z. Ripley at Harvard in 1914-15. Like his colleague Thomas Nixon Carver, Ripley taught courses covering an enormous range of content from labor issues through railroads and corporations to applied problems of monopoly. The course announcement, enrollment figures, and the final examination questions come from three different sources, all of which are available on-line. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting corresponding material from the twenty economics courses offered during the 1914-15 year for which the final examination questions had been printed and subsequently published.

Of no small interest is his early work in sociology, in particular his 1899 book: Races of Europe. For a brief discussion of Ripley’s balancing act involving the factors of race and environment, see Christopher Donohue’s “The Weirdest Guest–William Z. Ripley: Economist, Financial Historian, and Racial Theorist“. 

Research Tip: The niche blog in the history of science and science and technology studies Ether Wave Propaganda–History and Historiography of Science by Will Thomas and Christopher Donohue. Alas, last posting September 6, 2016.



Course Announcement

Economics 6a1. Trade Unionism and Allied Problems. Half-course (first half-year). Tu., Th., Sat., at 10. Professor Ripley, assisted by —.

This course will deal mainly with the economic and social relations of employer and employed. Among the topics included will be: the history of unionism; the policies of trade unions respecting wages, machinery, output, etc.; collective bargaining; strikes; employers’ liability and workmen’s compensation; efficiency management; unemployment, etc., in the relation to unionism, will be considered.

Each student will make at least one report upon a labor union or an important strike, from the original documents. Two lectures a week, with one recitation, will be the usual practice. [p. 65]

Source: Division of History, Government, and Economics 1914-15. Official Register of Harvard University, Vol. XI, No. 1, Part 14 (May 19, 1914).


Course Enrollment

[Economics] 6a 1hf. Professor Ripley, assisted by Mr. Rufener.—Trade-Unionism and Allied Problems.

Total 76: 45 Seniors, 21 Juniors, 4 Sophomores, 6 Others.

Source: Report of the President of Harvard College, 1914-15, p. 59.


Final Examination


Answer in order; but cover only as many as the time limit permits.

  1. Speaking of English conditions, the Webbs on p. 707 say:

“Hence old-fashioned family concerns with sleepy management and obsolete plant, find the Trade Union regulations a positive protection against competition.” What do they mean? Show how it works out.

  1. Describe and discuss the recent decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in the Danbury Hatters case, especially in its bearing upon incorporation.
  2. Under any of the plans for eliminating labor contests which expressly prohibit striking, what offset is given to the employees for this limitation upon their freedom of action?
  3. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. assures its operatives a fixed percentage of gross receipts as a wage fund. What is the object? Criticize the plan.
  4. What advantages may be expected to flow to a union from the adoption of a positive system of high dues and liberal benefits?
  5. The Eastern Engineer’s Arbitration Award of 1912 says:

“Therefore, considering the uncertainty of many of the factors involved, the arbitrators feel that they should not deny an increase of compensation to the engineers merely on the ground that the roads are unable to pay. They feel that the engineers should be granted a fair compensation. … In making their award they therefore eliminate the claim of the railroads that they are unable to pay an increased compensation.” Discuss the principle advanced.

  1. Is the closed-shop policy essential to successful trade unionism? Illustrate your argument.
  2. Theoretically, the Standard Wage is merely the minimum wage for the trade. How does it work out in practise?
  3. How do the efficiency engineers deal with restriction of output? Give imaginary examples, if you can?
  4. Where has insurance against unemployment been tried; and with what success?


Source: Harvard University Examinations. Papers Set for Final Examinations in History, History of Science, Government, Economics, Philosophy, Psychology, Social Ethics, Education, Fine Arts, Music in Harvard College. June 1915, pp. 49-50.

Image Source:  William Z. Ripley in Harvard Class Album, 1915.


Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier