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By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers, New Century Edition

Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell

e-book, paperback and hardcover
This book will help you:

Discover the incredible impact volunteers have had on American society in a wide array of fields –expect the unexpected!

Give speeches that illustrate the volunteer tradition of every segment of our population, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or ethnicity.

Provide the volunteers you lead with understanding and pride in how their efforts fit into the larger picture of citizen involvement.

Energize, Inc., 2005, 386 pages
e-book edition: ISBN 0-940576-42-2
paperback edition: ISBN 0-940576-41-4
hardcover edition: ISBN 0-940576-43-0

Price: US$16.00

Price: US$24.95

Price: US$34.95


The long history of misunderstanding the role of, or just omitting the impact of volunteers through history, is the reason why Katie and Susan have updated, revised and reissued By the People. Now in its third edition,this remains the only book available to present the full scope and depth of volunteer activity throughout three centuries of American history.

Volunteering is so pervasive in the United States that it can be observed daily in almost every aspect of life—from giving blood to handing out political leaflets. The problem is that volunteering, because it is so pervasive, often goes unrecognized. The historical chapters of this book present an overview of the involvement of volunteers in every area of American life and trace the effect of this involvement on American institutions, professions, and social events.

Yet presenting a history of volunteers is not enough. We needed to define terms like volunteer, which has many connotations, and note how the past gives direction for the future. We feel that the ramifications of our historical data are important—not just the history itself. In fact, our perspective on the past gave us a way to address some concerns we have about the present, including:

  • The ways in which volunteering is often misunderstood and therefore volunteers are incorrectly stereotyped as meddlers, do-gooders, radicals, or untrained and unpaid labor.
  • The frequent assumption that volunteering is only done by select segments of the population, such as seniors or women.
  • The tendency to credit volunteer work only in the social welfare area and not to see the many volunteer activities in other aspects of American life, such as political and cultural.
  • The assertion that volunteer involvement is a substitute for adequate funding.

By The People puts these issues in historical perspective and suggests implications for the future. There is even an entire chapter specifically on the evolution of the profession of volunteer management.

Table of Contents

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Readers' Reviews

We're always interested in receiving readers' reviews.

Until I read this book I did not appreciate the impact volunteers had on US history in general...it really brought the history of volunteerism into context for me. Post Offices, Fire Departments, Public Health, Nursing are all institutions or professions founded originally by volunteers. Going forward, it makes me pause to think that how we motivate and engage volunteers will truly impact the social fabric of our country.
—Kate Forbes, National Chairman of Volunteers, American Red Cross

This ambitious book enlivens our understanding of American history from Jamestown to the present day.  It shares the stories of ordinary Americans who performed extraordinary acts of volunteer service to their communities and country.  Ellis and Campbell have given a gift to the Nation – by reaffirming our belief that every citizen can play a role in shaping the American Experiment and by inspiring future generations to volunteer to serve their country.
John M. Bridgeland, former Assistant to the President, Director of USA Freedom Corps and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council

I am so thrilled at this new edition of By the People!  I built my course, 'The Social Evolution of Contemporary Volunteerism,' on the concepts and materials in the previous edition. Over 600 students during the last five years have enjoyed and benefited from the meticulous and rich history of volunteerism found in this book. I am looking forward to being able to assign this new edition as the major textbook in my class which is part of a University-based Certificate in Volunteer and Community Resource Management.
—Phyllis Newman, PhD, Lecturer, Center for Public Service, School of Public Affairs and Community Service, University of North Texas

When you've completed the book, remember to submit a review!

Brief Excerpt

We are usually taught the history of the United States as a succession of events, enacted by key individuals who emerged as leaders. Though it is always understood that such individuals represented thousands of other citizens, the focus and recognition have been on the president and the general, the mayor and the minister. This book concerns itself with the multitude of citizens who fall between the lines of history books but who stood on the front lines when history was being made. It recounts how Americans affirmed their rights and responsibilities as citizens by becoming involved in shaping their own future. (page 1)

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