'Divine right' or democracy? The Royal Society 'revolt' of 1935

Jeff Hughes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In October 1934, several Fellows of the Royal Society submitted a petition critical of the oligarchic nature of the Society's Council and the power wielded by a small elite in the Society's activities. The 'Royal Society Reform Group' also voiced concern over the Society's neglect of the increasingly pressing public issue of the 'social responsibility of science', and fundamentally questioned the role of the Royal Society as a representative body for science. Against a background of national economic crisis and political upheaval, the reformers sought to ensure that the Royal Society should act as an authoritative public voice for scientists rather than for establishment science. In so doing they raised profound political issues concerning the relationships between the Society, working scientists, other scientific institutions and the wider polity. The Reform Group's campaign culminated in the first contested Council election in living memory in November 1935, when more than half of the Fellowship attended in person to vote. In this paper I explore the activities and changing public role of the Royal Society in the inter-war years, the reformers' campaign, the Royal Society's response and the outcomes of this 'Revolt in the Royal Society'. © 2010 The Royal Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)S101-S117
    JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2010


    • Ernest Rutherford
    • Frederick Gowland Hopkins
    • Frederick soddy
    • Royal Society Reform
    • Social responsibility of science movement
    • William Henry Bragg


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