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How did the AAS get its name?

by Brant L. Sponberg and David H. DeVorkin


The members of the American Astronomical Society did not choose their present name until 1914. The 15 year lag over the name reflected a division between astronomers and astrophysicists that had existed for decades. Thus asking how the AAS got its name reveals much about the nature of the debate and of how astrophysics was regarded in its early years. Here we trace the issues that framed the debate, which led in the first instance to naming the Society the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America (A&ASA).

In the late 19th Century, classical or traditional astronomers, especially those employed at national observatories devoted to time keeping, celestial mechanics and gravitational astronomy, saw astrophysics as an upstart science that would not endure. With but few exceptions, such as the Astrophysical Observatory at Potsdam and in the 1890s the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution, astronomical institutions supported by governments were devoted to those traditional problem areas. Astrophysics in Britain remained the province of wealthy amateurs and in the United States, of private patronage. By the turn of the century, however, many professional astronomers were investigating astrophysical phenomena or utilizing astrophysical techniques, mainly spectroscopy. When their concerns for professionalization met those equally voiced by traditional astronomers at the end of the century, a myriad of possible titles for the future society were expressed which reveal a wide range of opinion over the relationship of astrophysics to astronomy.

Simon Newcomb best represented the traditional view of the relationship of astronomy to astrophysics when he addressed a dinner meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 18, 1901 and chose as his subject, "The Progress and Tendency of Astronomy." Newcomb claimed that:

...within our life time has sprung up what is generally looked upon as a new science, that of astro-physics. How new this is may be judged by the fact that the word 'astro-physics' is not found in the still incomplete Oxford Dictionary. It is supposed to be distinguished from astronomy in that it is concerned with the physics of cosmical bodies in general. The cultivators of the older astronomy have sometimes looked askance upon this youthful competitor as upon one that has not yet attained the dignity of the older science and have therefore been quite satisfied to make a distinction between the two classes, that of astronomers and that of astro-physicists. But it now seems impossible to keep the two sciences from merging together (Newcomb, 1901, 11-12).

In his address, Newcomb, master of celestial mechanics and the most influential voice in American astronomy, summarized one of two factors that, from 1897 to 1899, shaped the debate over the name of the Society. Newcomb's address also foretold how this struggle between astrophysics and astronomy would change, and how, within thirteen years of his speech, the A&ASA would vote to shorten its name to become the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

The A&ASA was formed at a time when traditional astronomers already enjoyed a strong disciplinary identity, but there was as yet no national professional organization devoted to astronomy alone. Astrophysicists, however, lacked both a strong disciplinary identity and a professional framework. Although astronomers and astrophysicists had convergent wishes to professionalize their disciplines through the formation of a society, they diverged greatly in their conception of the scope and purview of their profession just as their specialties and their leaders diverged in subject matter and age. In his "Origins of the American Astronomical Society," Richard Berendzen (Berendzen, 1974, 37; 39) provides an excellent discussion of the debate over the name of the Society. Here we extend his discussion to explore in detail the arguments on all sides of the issue that will help to illuminate the relationship of astrophysics to astronomy in the formative years of the Society.

The Conflicting Visions of Newcomb and Hale

As noted in "The Origin of the American Astronomical Society," Newcomb at the outset wished to call the body the American Astronomical Society, which was a bit problematic because earlier societies used that name. Hale, as we have seen, had a very different society in mind, one that would include far more than astronomy. Hale did not want Newcomb to head the Society, nor did he want to see Newcomb's title for the Society come into being. Hale claimed to his confidant James Keeler that most physicists and even many astronomers would not be interested in such a scientific society because "...Newcomb would be the first President, and he would be sure to run the whole thing, particularly if the headquarters were in Washington" (Hale to Keeler, 11 Sept. 1897).

Hale, on the other hand, wanted to establish a society with the title "American Astronomical and Physical Society" because, he feared, "to form an Astronomical Society which would tolerate physicists as members, but would not be of such a stature that they would feel thoroughly at home in it, would be a great mistake" (Hale to Keeler, 11 Sept. 1897). Hale felt that the meetings of the future society should rotate from observatory to observatory and even thought that astronomers and physicists should rotate the office of president of the society from one year to the next. Hale was obviously excited by the possibility of fusing the analytical tools of physics with astronomical research in the field of astrophysics and wanted that fusion to become enshrined in the title and organization of the society.

Newcomb, however, was clearly excited by other things. Returning to his dinner address to the National Academy of Sciences in 1901, we find Newcomb echoing the feelings of many of his cohorts:

In our time astronomical research follows two fairly distinct lines. On one of these lines it is concerned mainly with the motions of the heavenly bodies; on the other line with their physical constitution. The latter is the branch best fitted to excite the interest and gratify the curiosity of the public. But in all modern times, the former has been recognized as that which holds the highest place in the hierarchy of science (Newcomb, 1901, 5).

Newcomb did not even subscribe to Hale's Astrophysical Journal (Newcomb to Hale, 30 Nov. 1899). He and other traditional astronomers obviously "looked askance" at the new astrophysics, but Newcomb did not want to merely exclude astrophysics from the future society by leaving "astrophysics" out of the organization's title. In fact, traditional astronomers at the turn of the century, rather than demonstrating exclusionary tendencies towards astrophysics as they had done twenty years earlier, now wanted astrophysics and astronomy to be considered under the same title. In writing to Hale, Newcomb hoped that "the astrophysicists [would] consider their science as a continuation of the ancient and honorable science of astronomy and allow the new body to be called the American Astronomical Society" (Newcomb to Hale, 24 Dec. 1898, quoted in Berendzen, 37). Newcomb and his fellow celestial mechanicians did not think much of spectral classification, but they were hopeful that photographic techniques, and especially the new radial velocity techniques, would revitalize many traditional areas in astronomy. Thus instead of directly confronting astrophysicists, astronomers like Newcomb and later W. W. Campbell attempted to co-opt the astrophysical profession under the title of the older astronomy. Hale resisted the co-option, viewing astrophysics as distinct territory.

By the late 1890s, Hale and other astrophysicists had taken the first steps to establish astrophysics as a discipline by standardizing practice through the deliberations of the Astrophysical Journal editorial board, which included both physicists and astronomers. But they had to go further to establish their new science as a profession, and here the title of the new society was all-important. In a letter to Samuel P. Langley, the founder of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution and an obvious supporter of Hale's cause, Hale expressed his convictions about the proper relationship between astronomy and astrophysics:

I feel that the time has fully come for according astrophysics a distinct place among the sciences. To attempt to separate it altogether from astronomy would be not only illogical but unwise. But it would be equally unwise to attempt to draw a line between the investigators in this field and those who are concerned with the purely physical problems which play as important a part in the science (Hale to Langley, 28 Dec. 1898).

It all came down to this in Newcomb's mind: was astrophysics a separate science, or was it a part of astronomy? It was an argument about discipline. For astrophysicists like Hale, the argument was as well about legitimizing astrophysics as a career, so it was an argument about profession. Not only did Hale and Newcomb disagree about the naming of the Society, they approached their disagreements from different directions.

But Hale's ambitions were boundless: his initial choice of a name, the Astronomical and Physical Society of America, may have been an attempt to encompass more than just astrophysics. In 1897, although there was a fledgling Physical Review, there was no American organization solely dedicated to academic and professional physics; the American Physical Society (APS) was not founded until 1899. Hale probably knew that plans were afoot to organize American physicists, and he did not want to lose the allegiance of some prominent physicists to another discipline. What better way would there be than to absorb that discipline too! As he planned for the Second Conference for Astronomers and Astrophysicists, Hale told Newcomb that:

I think it is apparent that the absence of such men as [Henry A.] Rowland and [Albert A.] Michelson [who later became the first and second presidents of the APS] from the meetings of a society of this kind would be very unfortunate. I therefore believe that if a society is formed it should be called "The American Astronomical and Physical Society" or something to this effect. If for any reason it is not desirable to establish a society on this basis, it would seem to me best to continue the informal conferences which would receive the support of both astronomers and physicists (Hale to Newcomb, 5 May 1898, quoted in Berendzen, 37).

Given Hale's success at realizing his ambitions (by then he had established the Yerkes Observatory and founded the Astrophysical Journal) it is also quite possible that Hale might have succeeded in creating such an organization had the division between astronomy and astrophysics not existed.

Naming the Society

During the Second Conference, held at Harvard in 1898 to form the new Society, a committee was formed to draft a constitution and to deliberate over the organization and identity of the Society. The committee consisted of three astronomers, three astrophysicists and three physicists, including Hale and Newcomb. Thus all became engaged in the debate over the name of the future AAS Nothing was decided at the meeting. Keeler, one of Hale's chief allies, could not attend the meeting, so Hale reported:

It seems to be difficult to find a suitable name for the society. I am anxious to have it cover the physical side of the work, as well as the astronomical, and therefore am not in favor of "The American Astronomical Society." "The American Society for Astronomers and Astrophysicists" seemed to meet with most favor in the committee's discussions, but it is long and cumbersome, although it is probably satisfactory otherwise. I believe "The American Astronomical and Astrophysical Society" would perhaps be better (Hale to Keeler, 29 Aug. 1898, quoted in Berendzen, 37).

Keeler could "suggest no improvement' over the name "The American Astronomical and Astrophysical Society" arguing that "Any name which is sufficiently descriptive is bound to be long." Langley, however, went so far as to stress astrophysics over astronomy and suggested the name "The Astrophysical Society" (Keeler to Hale, 1 Nov. 1898 and Langley to Hale, 12 Jan. 1899, quoted in Berendzen, 37).

Preference for one name over another, however, did not always fall neatly along a line between astrophysicists and astronomers. Professional concerns about narrowing the scope of the Society and isolating astrophysicists made Hale reject Langley's title for the society. Edward C. Pickering, Director of Harvard College Observatory, trained as a physicist and the leader of the world's largest spectroscopic classification program, inclined toward Newcomb's opinion: "I like the name Amer. Astron. Society, and hope we can hold the meeting at a time when you could certainly be present" (Pickering to Newcomb, 30 Nov. 1898). Pickering, in fact, saw Hale as a threat and Newcomb as an ally in the management of the astronomical enterprise, and, to be sure, his decades-old research program was akin to the naturalist's collection box rather than to Hale's preferred laboratory bench. Pickering's differences with Hale have been explored by numerous historians, most recently by Nathan Reingold, Howard Plotkin, Robert Kohler and David DeVorkin.

Hale and Newcomb continued to spar in the center ring while the committee cheered their favorite. Hale, perhaps somewhat sarcastically, told Newcomb that:

If, as you remark, we were all working in so ancient and honorable a science as astronomy, everyone would undoubtedly be willing to adopt the simple and effective name "American Astronomical Society." But this does not appear to be the case, for it would be stretching out the definition of astronomy farther than it would go to attempt to include within it such investigations as those of Michelson and Ames on the Zeeman effect, of Runge and Paschen and Kayser and Thiele on the spectra of the elements and the laws of spectral series, of Humphreys and Mohler on the effect of pressure on wave-length, etc., etc. Yet who will deny that such subjects are of vital importance in astrophysical work, and most fruitful, many of them, in their application to the solution of the long list of problems resulting from the astronomical applications of the spectroscope? (Hale to Newcomb, 5 Jan. 1899, partially quoted in Berendzen, 37).

Hale finally met Newcomb on disciplinary grounds but his view of the discipline was far different than Newcomb's since it was based upon the centrality of physics. For Hale the profession of astrophysics had to do more than exploit physics whereas Newcomb, Pickering and most others were content to passively benefit from the labors of the physicists. The astronomical chronicler Agnes Clerke said it best at the time: in discussing the problems addressed by the astrophysicists, Clerke argued in 1903 that "The experimental decisions of terrestrial physics must be awaited, not anticipated" (Clerke, Problems in Astrophysics, 115).

The ultimate name of the society would not please everyone. Yet Hale felt that he had already achieved a clear measure of success in furthering his vision of what astrophysics should be like, as he continued in his harangue to Newcomb:

The experiment of bringing together both the astronomical and physical phases of astrophysical work, which has been carried on for the last four years in the Astrophysical Journal, may fairly be said, I think, to have met with some measure of success. If I am not mistaken, it has done something to stimulate the interest of physicists in astronomical problems and it ought to have had some effect in convincing astronomers of the importance of applying in their own investigations the principles and methods which guide the physicist in the laboratory. I am unable to see why we should not do all we can to bring into harmonious and cordial cooperation all investigators who are concerned with the problems which interest us so deeply. We are certainly far from wishing to any way circumscribe the field of those who are working with these well-founded methods of the older astronomy (Hale to Newcomb,5 Jan. 1899).

Hale was more concerned about professionalizing astrophysics as a separate discipline that would be appealing to physicists than he was for Newcomb's concern that astronomy remain autonomous within a traditional framework by absorbing the new science. Though Hale's real allegiances were with physicists, he was always ready to compromise:

On the contrary, we hold that the dignity and importance of these researches can be in no wise impaired by public recognition of the apparent fact that astrophysics, because of the physical nature of many of its problems and the special methods devised for attacking them, has fairly acquired the right to occupy a place of its own, allied on the one side with astronomy and on the other with physics. In the Astrophysical Journal, as I have said, equal prominence is given to astrophysical and physical papers. [The scope of the Journalis defined in the standing "Notice" published at the end of each number]. The arrangement
has proved to be satisfactory to the physicists, and several of those... have declared to me that while they would not wish to join an "Astronomical" Society, they would be glad to give their full support and hearty cooperation to an "Astronomical and Astrophysical Society," whose constitution would accord equal recognition to astronomy, astrophysics and allied departments of physics. This I regard as a sufficient reason for opposing the adoption of the designation "American Astronomical Society" (Hale to Newcomb, 5 Jan. 1899).

Hale, in fact, was in something of a pickle: he had to keep the physicists happy and involved to promote the synergy between disciplines he knew would be best for astrophysics, yet he also knew that disciplinary boundaries were important, and contained sensitivities all round. The best he could hope for was a coalition of parties; astronomy, astrophysics, and physics had all coexisted peacefully in his Astrophysical Journal, so he believed that the journal should provide the model for the new society. Otherwise the professional organization of the discipline of astronomy, which Newcomb believed should and perhaps needed to include astrophysics, would fail to adapt to a framework suitable to those who were able to most effectively contribute to the new science, i.e., the physicists. Thus Hale concluded his letter to Newcomb: "I cannot avoid the belief that the best interests of science in this country will be met by developing together these branches, rather than by keeping them apart" (Hale to Newcomb, 5 Jan. 1899).

The argument over the name of the new society thus reached the point in Hale's rhetoric where it was no longer a question of professional rivalries or disciplinary purview. It was now a question of how the society could best serve the science. Newcomb could not resist this latest tactic; in any event he was probably exhausted by Hale's marathon correspondence. Thus Newcomb acquiesced, which led Hale to respond, prophetically: "I wish that we could find a less lengthy name than 'Astronomical and Astrophysical Society,' but hitherto I have been unable to think of anything shorter that would cover the ground. Keeler favors this now and so do several others with whom I have talked" (Hale to Newcomb, 16 Jan. 1899).

Although some differences still existed over the name and domain of the future society, these disagreements appear to have been settled, at least between Hale and Newcomb, by late January 1899. The Executive Council formally navigated through the remaining opposing views on 18 February 1899 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where Comstock, Hale, Langley, Morley, and Newcomb met with Newcomb in the chair. Ames, Boss, Michelson, and Pickering could not attend, but sent letters expressing their opinions. After some argument over the constitution and bylaws of the society, a draft was decided on for ratification by the general membership.

In some ways, however, Hale never gave up. In a typed copy of the constitution, most likely authored by Hale, the first article states that "This association shall be called the American Astronomical and Physical Society," Hale's original choice. This must have been an inadvertent typo and it was caught by Newcomb, who penned in "Astro-" to make it right (AAS Constitution--early working copy, Newcomb Collection). Hale was also not alone in his attempts at last minute changes to the Society's name during the meeting at the Smithsonian. Comstock keenly remembered the Smithsonian meeting:

My recollection goes back to the time at which the committee appointed to prepare a scheme of organization for this society sat around a table, I think there were 8 or 10 people present, and they found the most embarrassing proposition was to formulate a name. Finally, we were requested to write out on a piece of paper what we thought ought to be the name. No two papers had the same name (stenographer's transcript, Tenth Annual Meeting of the A&ASA 21 Aug. 1909).

The name and the constitution were presented at the Third Conference of Astronomers and Astrophysicists, held at Yerkes in September, 1899. Because the acronym for the "American Astronomical and Astrophysical Society," AAAS, exactly matched that of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the members chose instead the cumbersome alternative "Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America," with its even more cumbersome acronym, the "A&AS of A"; (Berendzen, 38)

Attempts to Reform the Name

The wrangling over the name of the Society did not end with that first meeting in 1899. In 1909, William Wallace Campbell, Director of the Lick Observatory, authored an amendment to the constitution that would have changed the name back to Newcomb and Pickering's original preference, "The American Astronomical Society." Campbell explained his reasons for wanting to do so in a letter to George C. Comstock:

It has always seemed to me that the long name of the Society is unfortunate, for two or more reasons: first, because of its length and awkwardness; and, second, because Astrophysics is Astronomy. I greatly prefer a title like "The American Astronomical Society," — just as we have an American Mathematical Society. The latter is certainly broad enough to take in all branches of mathematical work, and the corresponding title should cover all who are doing good work in any phase of Astronomy. In my opinion, the sooner the name is simplified, the better. Do you think that I could wisely convert the suggestion into a formal proposal for consideration at the next meeting? (Campbell to Comstock, 5 Mar. 1908)

A Campbell protégé, Joel Stebbins, argued in a retrospective essay at the 50th anniversary of the Society that the original hybrid name gave "emphasis to the fact that many physicists had interests in common with the astronomers." But, he claimed, such an "artificial distinction between the older astronomy and the newer astrophysics was more important in the early years of the Society" than it was well after the turn of the century (Stebbins, 404). In 1947, Stebbins' memory probably collapsed the changes that took place in the 1920s and 1930s with those prior to the First World War. More likely, since Campbell's brand of astrophysics was limited to programs like his radial velocity work at Lick, astrophysics for him was merely an extension of traditional astronomical practice.

Although the sympathies of the membership that met during the Society's Tenth Meeting may well have been with Campbell, the final vote was 16 to 9 against his proposal. Campbell's resolution failed, according to Stebbins, "out of deference to a few members who felt more at home under the old name" (Stebbins, 404). Berendzen attributes the failure of the amendment to "the same reservations that Hale had voiced a decade earlier" (Berendzen, 39). Five years later, however, William J. Hussey, Director of the Detroit Observatory at the University of Michigan, reported to Campbell what really happened at the meeting:

I believe you were not present at the meeting at the Yerkes Observatory, when this matter came up for consideration. Professor [William J.] Humphreys's fine flow of eloquence was able to turn the majority to the retention of the present awkward name (Hussey to Campbell, 26 Jan. 1914).

W. J. Humphreys was just the sort of person Hale had in mind when he pushed to include some sort of physics in the title of the Society. Trained under Rowland as a physicist at Johns Hopkins University and then becoming a physical meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Bureau, Humphreys gave a short but eloquent speech that, despite determined resistance, convinced the assembled membership to maintain the Society's name. Luckily, the Tenth Meeting was one of two meetings during the first ten years of the Society for which the Society hired a stenographer to record the discussions of papers and other business. Even more fortunate, a copy of the Tenth Meeting still exists and Humphreys' speech is part of it. After Campbell's proposal was read by Pickering in Campbell's absence, Humphreys took the floor:

The one point that Prof. Campbell, whom we all respect and admire as much as any man at all on account of his great scientific attainments and his noble personal character, makes [is] on the special ground that the name is illogical. That may be, but when we stick to the logical part of it, we lose some things, and if we try to be perfectly logical in our ordinary conversation, we will find it almost impossible.... The purpose of the name is simply to give a designation of some kind or another to the society. We plan to select the name that is helpful, rather than the name that is strictly logical. The name certainly has good parentage. There is good justification of the name astrophysical, on account of the dignity of the Astrophysical Journal, the Astrophysical Observatory of Potsdam, the Astrophysical Observatory at Mt. Wilson; so I think there is every good reason to think that the name astrophysical is one of dignity. The object of the society was to promote the work in astronomy, in every legitimate and possible way, and the way to do that, we are finding more and more, is by co-operation. We go back inspired from these meetings, where every astronomer and physicist and others can get together. The astronomer will constantly and justly claim that physics is a branch of astronomy, the physicist that astronomy is a branch of physics, and the chemist that both are a branch of chemistry, etc. Now the objection that I would have personally to adopting the name is that the present name is an invitation in itself to those who may throw any light whatever on astronomy to come and join hands, as an integral part of the society itself, and not as invited guests. I can enter the society personally, because I feel that I have the same rights, being there, that every man had. And I think we would like to continue that. I think that is the feeling of many physicists. I have heard many physicists say that they would hate to see the invitation withdrawn. I do feel positively that it would have in a measure that particular effect, to change the name. I heard the same idea expressed in some form or another by two men who expressed regret that they could not be here. These two men, whose feelings we can't afford to injure in the slightest way, are Prof. Crew and Prof. Michelson. I cannot see that it will do any harm to retain the name. I trust therefore, that the matter may be carefully explained to Prof. Campbell, and that he will see his way clear to withdraw his request. We do not like to decrease the kindly feeling, the desire to take an active part, on the part of such men as Crew and Michelson (stenographer's transcript, Tenth Annual Meeting of the A.&A.S.A., 21 Aug. 1909).

Humphreys' persuasive defense of the old title of the Society, highlighting the consideration of physicists' interests, still easily defeated Campbell's proposition, especially since Campbell was not present and only Pickering and Ormond Stone gave any spoken support for Campbell's resolution (Pickering's support was only lukewarm). Comstock and Edwin B. Frost, both early Hale allies, threw their support behind Humphreys during the discussion, and it was enough to produce the 16 to 9 vote against Campbell's resolution.

Despite Campbell's first defeat at Humphreys' hands, Hussey made an anxious pitch to Campbell to revive his petition in 1914:

I have talked with many members of the Society since, and their sentiment seems to be very generally in favor of the shorter name which you propose, "American Astronomical Society." In the new volume of publications which we are just starting, on the new plan of publishing originally with Popular Astronomy, and using reprints from that journal for our own volumes, I am using with the consent of the President [Pickering] as a running head, the name American Astronomical Society. I hope before the volume is finished, that we can have the change of name authorized, so as to appear on the title page. Will you not be willing to take this up? I shall be very glad to sign the petition for one (Hussey to Campbell, 26 Jan. 1914).

In 1914, Hussey knew that with the imminent arrival of the Society's own Proceedings, its name would be set in concrete. So sure was he of the general sympathies of the Society that he set the type with the new name. Of course, he knew that Pickering, now in his seventh year as President of the Society, had always supported the simpler title though at times he proved to be less than a valiant agent of change. But Campbell was still miffed by the Council's original rebuff:

I sympathize as strongly as ever with the proposal for changing the name of The Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America. Surely a member whose astro-physical paper is eligible to use the prefix "astro" should not hesitate to read his paper before an astro-nomical society; and with logic absolutely identical we could refer to The Mathematical and Algebraic Society of America. However, I hesitate to father the proposal a second time. You and Professor Pickering have urged me to take this action, but I have heard from no others except my colleagues here. How do Comstock and Schlesinger, and our good friends at Williams Bay, feel about it? If I know that the voting for the proposal would be in a large majority, I should be willing to set the ball rolling (Campbell to Fox, 2 Feb. 1914).

Hussey and Pickering eventually convinced Campbell to get the ball rolling when a long list of Society members signed on to forward notice of the proposed amendment to the membership at large: Pickering, S.I. Bailey, Annie J. Cannon, Frank C. Jordan, Charles J. Hudson, Frank Schlesinger, Henry Crew, Philip Fox, John F. Hayford and Frederick Slocum all signed the petition. Once past the Executive Committee, the amendment passed overwhelmingly and the Society became the American Astronomical Society.

What's in a Name?

Marc Rothenberg has observed that after Campbell's successful proposal to change the Society's name in 1914, "the status of the American Astronomical Society as the central organization for the entire discipline, rather than just for the profession, was confirmed time and again" (Rothenberg, 1981, 315). One must still ask, what changed between 1909 and 1914? In particular, where was Hale in the process?

With but a few exceptions, not much had changed in astrophysics in America during the period. Many of the pioneers were now gone, most notably Newcomb, Langley and C. A. Young, and the balance of power was definitely migrating toward astrophysics. One major change was Hale's marshaling of Carnegie money to build the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory in Southern California, which he used as a baseline to create the International Union for Cooperation in Solar Research and to further his vision for how physics and astronomy must cooperate to solve the deeper problems of physical reality, from the atom to the stars. By 1914, however, Pickering's hold over the Society had galvanized while Hale's interests in the Society had been eclipsed by his efforts at organizing science nationally through the National Academy of Sciences and internationally through the International Solar Union. If he took any role in resisting or advocating a name change, it has not been recovered.

The Society's name change in 1914 might be seen as a triumph for traditional practice. Few astronomers actually called themselves astrophysicists then, and even fewer really held to Hale's philosophy of practice, including many of those at the two great observatories he had built by then. Try as he might to attract top notch theoretical and experimental physicists to Mount Wilson as permanent staff, prior to World War I Hale managed only to snag a few highly competent spectroscopists who quickly lost their cutting edge in physics when they found themselves isolated in the astronomer's realm.

It would take several decades more before astronomical practice in the United States would move decidedly in the direction of physics, and when physicists would find the problems in astrophysics ripe for exploitation by their conceptual and instrumental tools. Thus the story of how the AAS got its name is not merely one of personal preferences, personal rivalries or ambitions to gain power. Although these factors certainly played a part, the question of a name had at its core a half-century-old struggle to build a new science, and to give that science a visibility and credibility as a separate discipline. By the time astrophysics came wholly into its own, with a trickle starting in the 1920s and the rush not coming until the post-World War II years, astronomy itself had been co-opted by astrophysical practice. There was thus no need to reconsider a name change.