This summary is a brief overview of statistical activities in the Washington, D.C. area since 1896. It summarizes information from more detailed histories prepared over time.
The first American Statistical Association (ASA) meeting in Washington took place December 31, 1896. The Directors of ASA were certainly perceptive when they stated that a development "...which will lead to good results, it is believed, has been taken in authorizing the members living in or near Washington to hold meetings for scientific discussion." That first meeting had one negative note. ASA President Francis A. Walker, who delivered informal remarks about training statisticians, became ill and passed away January 5, 1897. ASA records indicate that at least six additional meetings were held in Washington during the first few months of 1897. One meeting was to draft a resolution that the President of the United States appoint a Board of Statistics.
Few references can be found to presentations from 1897 to 1925. However, there was interest building for a formal organization. A meeting was held January 19, 1926, at which a Washington Statistical Society Constitution was drafted. That Constitution described the WSS as "a branch of the American Statistical Association" but WSS did not apply to become a Chapter.
The 1926 enthusiasm waned over time. According to annual ASA reports, there were no meetings in 1931 and 1933 and only one meeting held in each of the years 1929, 1930, and 1934. A revival of interest took place in 1935 and WSS officially became a Chapter of ASA. The Constitution of 1935 specified that the ASA District Secretary shall be the Society Secretary, which institutionalized the convention already in place. The 1930's were less complicated. Every ASA member in the Washington area was simply considered a WSS member (359 in 1937). Dues were officially $1.00 per year but no serious collection efforts were made. Instead, the Secretary collected 15 cents from each meeting attendee (25 cents at luncheon meetings).
By 1941, WSS was insolvent and had to collect the $1.00 dues. With the increase in statisticians in Washington because of the war effort, WSS claimed its 1942 membership as 1,000 persons but only 200 paid. One notable idea of the 1940's was beginning the "Annual Dinner" tradition. Through the 1950's, the Board of Directors functioned largely as a program committee with an evening meeting scheduled each month for 7 or 8 months. One early history of WSS concluded that the most notable accomplishment of WSS might be "its development of program items which evolve into sessions of the ASA's Annual Meetings."
The 1960's were years of rapid changes and development. The Methodology Section was established, followed by subject matter program committees, which eventually grew to 10 on going committees. This freed officers to consider new programs and services. Recognition of outstanding graduate students at local universities started in 1961 and a monthly employment column in 1967. Another service was a committee to help the Maryland Chapter organize and spin off from WSS.
The 1966 Constitution recognized the need for continuity and formally established President-Elect and Past-President positions. In 1968 was an important "bald head" Board of Directors discussion. The concern was that older members tended to attend the more social meetings while more technical meetings drew the younger members. This led to a membership survey to evaluate members' preferences for types of sessions, locations, and times of day.
WSS cosponsored a 3-day symposium on Statistics and the Environment in 1974, presented a once-a-week 6-week variance estimation course in 1978, and hosted visiting Latin American statisticians. Other notable events were establishment of a "local associate membership" option in 1976 and the Julius Shiskin Memorial Award in 1979.
In the early 1980's, WSS hosted the first visitors from the National Statistical Society of China. A Short Course Committee was founded in 1983 and that Committee started an annual series of very professional Symposia on Quality Assurance in 1988. A landmark activity was the 10 special monthly presentations during 1988 and 1989 in conjunction with the ASA-150 celebration. WSS started judging local Science Fair competitions in 1986.
The 1990's showed an ever growing quantitative literacy emphasis, including expansion to special workshops for Girl Scouts. WSS became a leader in the information age with electronic mail distribution of the WSS calendar and newsletter. WSS has received financial support from outside organizations. In 1990, Westat, Inc. gave WSS a grant to start an annual Morris H. Hansen Lecture. In 1992, the National Association of Business Economists provided a renewed emphasis and new funding for the Shiskin Award. In 1995, WSS received a commitment of $1000 per year from Gallup to provide prizes to local Science Fair winners.
A Data Collection Methods Program Committee was started in 1991 and the Physical Sciences and Engineering Committee was merged with the Quality Assurance Program Committee in 1996 to strengthen those programs. WSS also re-examined its role and the role of statistics in society. In 1999, the WSS Board prepared a letter to the Editors of the Washington Post, weighing in on the scientific issues regarding the 2000 population census. A special event for the 1990's was a commemoration session in 1996 to celebrate the first statistical meeting. One topic was a review of the training for statisticians in the past century, following up on President Walker's 1896 remarks.
Program meetings have formed the nucleus of WSS professional development across the decades. Learning and insight occurred and continue to occur at a wide variety of locations in the greater Washington, DC, area: the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the the Government Accountability Office, the headquarters of the US Postal Service, and the Martin Luther King, Jr., public library in downtown Washington. The most common location over the years has been the conference room facilities of the Bureau of Labor statistics, a convenient and central location for members to expand their horizons during work days in the nation's capital.
During the early 2000's, the society leveraged the power of computers and the Internet to broaden and speed communications of interest to its members. It remains a focal point for the meeting of the best statistical minds on issues of data collection, analysis, and interpretation.