Charles Horton Cooley. Biografia

Charles Horton Cooley was born on the edge of the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, where he was to spend almost all his life. The Cooley family had its roots in New England. They were direct descendants of one Benjamin Cooley, who settled near Springfield, Massachusetts before 1640. Cooley's father, Thomas McIntyre Cooley, came to Michigan from western New York. Having been born into a large family of farmers living in straitened circumstances, Thomas Cooley felt that his only chance for acquiring an education and moving up the social scale was to move west. He settled in Michigan and first embarked on a career as an editor and real estate operator and then as a lawyer. An intensely ambitious, imperious, and energetic man, he managed to rise from obscure beginnings into a prestigious and honored position among Michigan's legal and social elite. He achieved recognition for the high caliber of his legal thinking and was appointed a member of a faculty of three at the newly organized University of Michigan Law School in 1859. In the year of Charles' birth, 1864, the father was elected to the Supreme Court of Michigan. He remained a Supreme Court Justice and professor of law for many years and in addition became well known nationally for a number of legal treatises, and as the first chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Charles, the fourth of the judge's six children, was born at a time when the family had already acquired considerable standing and lived in comfortable circumstances in Ann Arbor. Somewhat overawed by and alienated from his hard-driving and success-oriented father, young Cooley early developed the withdrawn, passive, and retiring character that was to mark his life-style throughout. For fifteen years he suffered from a variety of ailments, some of them apparently psychosomatic. Shy and a semi-invalid suffering from a speech impediment, he had few playmates and tended to daydreaming and solitary reading. Highly sensitive, he compensated for his insecurity by imagining himself in the role of a great orator and leader of men The success-strivings that the father enacted in real life, the son dared to repeat only in his imagination. His fondness for strenuous rides on horseback and for carving and carpentering may perhaps be explained in terms of a typical Adlerian attempt to compensate for bodily weakness and social ineptness.
Cooley's college life lasted seven years, having been interrupted by illness, a journey through Europe, and brief periods of work as a draftsman and as a statistician. He graduated in engineering, a subject he did not particularly like, though he also took several courses in history and one each in philosophy and economics. During the college years and after, Cooley continued to read omnivorously. These independent readings, rather than formal courses of instruction, finally led him to decide on his life career.
Having read a good deal of Darwin, Spencer, and the German organicist sociologist Albert Schaeffle, Cooley decided to return to the University of Michigan in 1890 for graduate work in political economy and sociology. He wrote a dissertation entitled "The Theory of Transportation," a pioneering study in human ecology, and was granted a Ph.D. in 1894. Since there was no formal instruction in sociology at Michigan, he was examined on questions that had been forwarded from Columbia by Franklin Giddings.
Cooley's unusually long period of apprenticeship and preparation may be accounted for in part by ill health but also by the fact that he was the son of well-to-do parents, who could afford to let their son take his time in deciding upon a career. Moreover, Cooley suffered from the fact that he stood under the shadow of a famous father. He once wrote to his mother: "I should like as an experiment to get off somewhere where Father was never heard of and see whether anybody would care about me for my own sake." It would seem that Cooley was long torn by an emotional dependence on a father from whom he was basically alienated, while being conscious of the fact that he was under an obligation to embark on a career that would do honor to his family.
Cooley's early work, a paper on the "Social Significance of Street Railways," which he read at a meeting of the American Economic Association in 1890, as well as his aforementioned dissertation, both grew from two years of work in Washington, first for the Interstate Commerce Commission and later for the Bureau of the Census. These were written in the tough-minded and "realistic" tradition of which his father presumably approved. His mature work, which is characterized throughout by a tender-minded, introspective approach more congenial to his fundamental nature, began to take shape only after he started to teach at the University of Michigan and had achieved in- dependence from his father.
Throughout his teaching career at Michigan, which began in 1892, Cooley was concerned with many social problems and issues of the day, but clearly preoccupation with the self--his own self--remained paramount to him. Having managed to assert his independence, Cooley was resolved to turn his shy- ness and his inability to compete with his father's driving ambition into an asset by devoting himself to work that derived in large part from self-examination and the observation of the behavior of those close to him, more particularly his own children.
Cooley's marriage in 1890 to Elsie Jones, the daughter of a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, enabled him to concentrate fully on scholarly work and the contemplative life he prized above all. A highly cultivated woman, Mrs. Cooley differed from her husband in that she was outgoing, energetic, and hence capable of ordering their common lives in such a manner that mundane cares were not to weigh very heavily on her husband. The couple had three children, a boy and two girls, and lived quietly; and fairly withdrawn in a house quite close to the campus. The children served Cooley as a kind of domestic laboratory for his study of the genesis and growth of the self. Hence, even when he was not engaged in the observation of his own self but wished to observe others, he did not need to leave the domestic circle.