The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is a U.S.-based independent nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing research in the social sciences and related disciplines. Established in Manhattan in 1923, it today maintains a headquarters in Brooklyn Heights with a staff of approximately 70, and small regional offices in other parts of the world on an as-needed basis.
To support its work, the SSRC turned not to the U.S. government, whose support seemed more appropriate for the natural sciences, but to private foundations. For the first fifty years, well over three-quarters of the SSRC's funding was provided by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and two Rockefeller philanthropies, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The SSRC was part of a wider Progressive Era movement to develop organizations of expertise to think creatively about how to rid the nation of the social and political ills brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
Other independent, nongovernmental, policy-minded institutions founded in that era included the American Law Institute (founded in 1923), the Brookings Institution (1927), and the Council on Foreign Relations (1921). The Council's main distinguishing feature was its commitment to the advancement of research in the social sciences in the United States.
Along with Merriam, two individuals were especially vital to the SSRC's early success. One was Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874-1948), one of the founders of the New School for Social Research and a leading force behind the emergence of the National Bureau of Economic Research in the 1920s. The other was Beardsley Ruml, who had trained in psychometrics at the University of Chicago. Ruml was active in the early phases of Rockefeller philanthropies. He poured Rockefeller resources into the social sciences in general and the SSRC in particular
Franklin D. Roosevelt served as a member of the Council's Advisory Committee on Business Research (1928-1931). After he became president, collaborations between administration officials, the Rockefeller Foundation, Council staff, and Council networks led to the committee work that accompanied the formulation and implementation of Social Security.
During World War II, the Council served as a bridge between the Roosevelt administration and the social sciences, working behind the scenes to ensure that qualified social scientists were placed with appropriate agencies. It joined forces with its humanities counterpart, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and a couple of other partners to form the Ethnogeographic Board, with the mission of providing information about unfamiliar societies with which the war was suddenly bringing Americans into contact. The Board developed a roster of people with specialized area knowledge and conducted a survey of nascent area studies programs in American universities.