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

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


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.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S101-S117
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2010