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The Quest for Finding AASA’s Rank Among the Elders

At first, the assignment seemed straightforward. In anticipation of AASA’s 150th anniversary, the editor of School Administrator wanted to find out where the organization ranks on the longevity scale compared to other professional associations and trade groups around the country.

At a century and a half in existence, we figured AASA had to be one of the oldest surviving organizations tied to a working field or interest area. There couldn’t be many organizations that are as old as AASA — or could there? And, more importantly, how difficult would it be to find out?

An initial post on a listserv for association publishers and editors provided the age of a few other older associations and pointed me toward my next source.

Two individuals in the association world claimed the oldest existing organization is the American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin himself. So we weren’t first. Next, I was told, was the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1780) and then the New York Stock Exchange (1792).

I contacted several other organizations that had celebrated major anniversaries to find out if they knew their own rankings — no luck. Clearly we were not the first to struggle with determining this seemingly basic fact.

I tried association after association, market specialist after market specialist, but continued to strike out. I was fleetingly encouraged when an editor at one long-operating organization said she’d send my request to her professional contacts around the country, but it turned out she was planning to use the same listserv where I began my search.

Finally, I stumbled across the source: Gale Directory Library’s Encyclopedia of Associations. Alas, access is member-only. So I headed to the public library.

My county library system had an electronic copy of the directory, but the results were in alphabetical order (a meaningless list that puts AASA close to the top!) instead of chronologically by founding date. After much labor, we learned the oldest society group is the Christian Life Community of the United States of America, founded in 1563. And the three associations that had been touted among the oldest three actually ranked 5th, 9th and 12th, respectively.

And AASA? Based on its founding in 1865, we determined that AASA is tied with nine other organizations as the 55th oldest professional association or trade group in the nation.

After all of that work, it’s time to celebrate!

Marian Kisch is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. E-mail: mariankisch@verizon.net

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