John Morris Gillette was born August 9, 1866, near Maryville, Missouri. He was the son of William and Jane (Radford) Gillette. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Park College in Parkville, Missouri, in 1892. In 1895, he graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary, in addition to receiving a Master of Arts degree from Princeton University. Gillette continued his education with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1898. He earned a second doctorate, this one in sociology, from the University of Chicago in 1901.
Gillette became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1895, and served in Dodge City, Kansas, until 1896. From 1898 to 1901, he was president of Chadron (Nebraska) State Normal School. On September 4, 1901, he married Margaret Carolyn Morgan in Chadron. He served as Principal of the Academy for Young Women in Jacksonville, Illinois, 1901-1903, before moving to Valley City, North Dakota, to accept a position at Valley City Normal School. He was a professor in history and sociology at Valley City, 1903-1907.
Gillette became an assistant professor in sociology and an instructor in history at the University of North Dakota in 1907. The following year, he founded and was named chair of the Department of Sociology. He was also promoted to professor. By 1911, the department had grown to such a point that seventeen courses were part of the curriculum. The department was among the first on campus to offer graduate degrees; the University’s first Ph.D. was granted to George R. Davies in 1914 with a degree in history and sociology. Davies went on to teach in the Department of Sociology until 1928, when he resigned to accept a position at the University of Iowa.
A major milestone in Gillette’s career was the publication of Rural Sociology in 1913. This book was the first formal textbook in the field, won Gillette nation wide acclaim as the founder of this branch of sociology. In 1914, Gillette and the Sociology Club established the University Settlement House. Sponsored jointly by Gillette and UND President Frank McVey, the house cared for over eighty needy families.
In later years, Gillette led the Department of Sociology towards a great emphasis on statistics, while also reintroducing the study of anthropology, which had not been part of the curriculum since 1907. Gillette was also involved with an increased emphasis on the study of social work.
Following the retirement of UND President Thomas Kane in 1933, Gillette was offered the presidency by North Dakota Governor William Langer. After thinking it over for a while, Gillette turned the offer down, but was successful in persuading Langer and the Board of Administration to hire John C. West, former superintendent of Grand Forks public schools.
Gillette was active in a number of academic groups and organizations, including Phi Beta Kappa, the International Sociological Society, and the Czechoslovakian National Academy of Agriculture. He was involved with the American Sociological Society, and served as President of the organization in 1928. He served North Dakota through activity with the North Dakota State Historical Society, the North Dakota Workmen’s Compensation and Unemployment Insurance Division, and the North Dakota State Child Labor Commission. During the Great Depression, Gillette was the State Supervisor of Rural Research for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
Gillette was also a social reformer who was a member of the American Association for Labor Legislation, the National Child Labor Committee, and the North Dakota Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. Gillette was especially interested in issues surrounding jails and poor farms. His research was published in a 1913 edition of the Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota. Gillette recommended that poor farms be eliminated, while also calling for more inspections of jails, and a greater supervision of local and state charities.
Gillette retired from UND in 1948, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1949. He died September 24, 1949, in Grand Forks. The former Chemistry Building was rededicated in his honor on October 7, 1983.
University of the Northern Plains: A History of the University of North Dakota, 1883-1958. by Louis Geiger. Grand Forks: UND Press, 1958.
(History of the Department of) Sociology, Anthropology-Archaeology, Social Work. by Kenneth J. Dawes. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota, 1983.
The following books have been added to Special Collections Stacks:
Culture Agencies of a Typical Manufacturing Group: South Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1901. Call number: HN80.C5 G5
Eighty Years a Plainsman: An Autobiography. by John Morris Gillette, edited by Kenneth J. Dawes. Grand Forks: UND Alumni Association: 1989. Call number: HM22. U532 G54 A3 1988
Essentials of Human Personality (Excerpts of his Ph.D. dissertation, presented to the Chicago Theological Seminary). 1898. Call number: B824. G54 (Rare Book Collection)
The Family and Society. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1914. Call number: HQ728. G4
“North Dakota Weather and the Rural Economy.” Bulletin of the Department of Sociology, University of North Dakota: 1945. Call number: HM15. N6 no. 11
“North Dakota Farm Enlargement: Reasons and Causes.” Bulletin of the Department of Sociology, University of North Dakota: 1946. Call number: HM15. N6 no.12
The North Dakota Harvest of the Nonpartisan League. New York: The Harvest, 1919. Call number: HD1485. N4 G54x
“Poor-Relief and Jails in North Dakota.” Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota. vol. 3, no.2: 1913. Call number: HV98. N9 G5
Problems of a Changing Social Order. New York: American Book Company, 1942. Call number: HN57. G56
Rural Sociology. New York: Macmillan, 1936. Call number: HT421. G53 1936
Sociology. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1916. Call number: HM66. G56
Social Economics of North Dakota. Minneapolis: Burgess, 1942. Call number: HC107. N9 G5
Vocational Education. Cincinnati: American Book Company, 1910. Call number: LC1059. G6
The J. M. Gillette Papers, 1880-1949, have been divided into two series:
Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Research Files, Manuscripts, Publications, and Miscellaneous
Two photographs were separated and placed in the Photograph File Cabinets.