Joseph J. Spengler

Professor Joseph J. Spengler, a founding professor of Duke University, was pivotal in building the Graduate Program in Economics. In 1934 he joined the faculty where he rapidly rose to international preeminence. He retired as James B. Duke Professor of Economics in 1972. Past President of the American Economic Association, Southern Economic Association, Population Association of America, History of Economics Society, and the Atlantic Economics Society, he was also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Statistical Association.

Over his career, Joe taught at Ohio State University and the Universities of Arizona, Chicago, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Kyoto, and Malaya. His areas of research were population and resource problems, and economic and social theory and its history. He served as south-eastern regional OPA price executive and on the staff of the United Nations. He served on the National Research Council Division of Behavioral Sciences and on National Academy of Sciences committees.

Joe was the author of Comparative Fecundity of Native and Foreign-Born Women of New England; France Faces Depopulation; French Predecessors of Malthus; Indian Economic Thought: A Preface to Its History; Population Economics; Population Change, Modernization, and Welfare; Population and America's Future; Facing Zero Population Growth; a postlude edition of France Faces Depopulation; and Origins of Economic Thought and Justice. He was coauthor of numerous studies, editor or coeditor of six books, and author of many scientific papers. In 1944 he and his wife received the Pabst Award for an essay entitled "Maintenance of Post-War Full Employment"; in 1951 he received the John F. Lewis Award of the American Philosophical Society for an essay on the development of densely populated areas; and in 1981 he received the Distinguished Fellow Award from the History of Economics Society.

He received his A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio State University, which awarded him the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. In 1968, he received the Doctor of Science from Alma College, and in 1978 the Doctor of Law from Tulane University.

At Duke, Joe was a legend. His stature as a scholar was equaled only by his reputation as a man of wit, which often took the form of practical jokes for which he was justly famous. Those who bore the brunt of such attention were held in high esteem, as were those diligent readers of his dense and voluminous footnotes where an occasional bogus citation (e.g., to Montague H. Crakenthorp) might appear.

His love of baseball, and his related insatiable appetite for victory in the face of vigorous competition, were also well known. Indeed, his astute acumen in organizing (with an occasional ringer) and inspiring the successful economic faculty softball team resulted in regular savaging defeats of the arch- rival University of North Carolina counterpart.

The Duke administration, which received regular letters from Joe that provided strongly pointed "reminders" about the importance of all those values and programs that make for a great university, assumed its fair share of the creative Spengler verve. It is reported that Joe's letters, sometimes of incendiary quality, have been individually wrapped in a heat- resistant encasing, and stored in a fireproof file...just as a precaution.
Professor Allen C. Kelley, in an article published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, placed Joseph Spengler's composite as a scholar, colleague, graduate student mentor, and "fixture" in the Duke/Durham community with his wife, Dorothy, in perspective. "My fondest memories of Joe were my many conversations in his home on Cranford Road, sitting in front of the huge picture window that overlooked his beloved wife Dorothy's splendorous three-acre garden of camellias and southern horticulture. On more than one occasion our evening talks were so intense that we failed to realize that the waning sunset had robbed the room of all light. In retrospect, those happenings might be considered symbolic of the man. The brilliance of Joe's visionary insights, and the vigor and wit with which he engaged in good conversation, were more than sufficient to transform the inconvenience of physical darkness into true and lasting light."
Joseph J. Spengler, in intellect, compassion, concern for graduate students, and mentor par excellence, epitomized the early Duke Graduate Program in Economics, a legacy that continues to flourish. View Spengler's curriculum vitae.

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