Leland C. DeVinney was a sociologist who worked for the Rockefeller Foundation for more than two decades. His time with the Foundation bridged two distinct periods in its history, as it moved from an academic structure focused on the advancement of knowledge, to an interdisciplinary approach devoted to the application of knowledge to specific problems. DeVinney's career reflected this change, as he moved from a Social Sciences program officer in the 1950s to the head of the Foundation's new Equal Opportunity initiative in 1963.
DeVinney was born on May 14, 1906, in Gobleville, Michigan. He received his B.A. degree from Albion College (1931), his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin (1933), and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago (1941). He held a variety of jobs while in graduate school. From 1931-1932, he was Manager of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Assistant to the President of Fisk University. The next two summers he worked for Depression-era relief programs, first as Assistant Director of Relief in Polk County, Wisconsin, and then as Assistant Director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration's Chicago Regional Office. After earning his M.A. degree, DeVinney became a member of the social sciences faculty at the University of Chicago and taught sociology courses while pursuing his doctorate. Upon completion of his Ph.D., DeVinney was hired by the University of Wisconsin as an Associate Professor of Sociology.
DeVinney's academic career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the U.S. Army, working his way up to become military chief of the Research Branch of the War Department's Information and Education Division. After the war, sociologist and Research Branch head Samuel Stouffer hired DeVinney to help publish the results of their wartime survey of American GIs. DeVinney coauthored Volume I of the resulting publication, Studies in Social Psychology in World War II, popularly known as The American Soldier (1949).
In 1948, the Rockefeller Foundation hired DeVinney as Assistant Director of Social Sciences, with a focus on demographic work. In his early years with the Social Sciences Division, grantmaking--and indeed the Foundation itself--took a largely academic approach, focused on supporting research at institutions including the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and the Brookings Institution. When the Humanities and Social Sciences were joined into one division in 1962, DeVinney became Deputy Director and later Associate Director of the Humanities and Social Sciences. With the Foundation's reorganization in 1963 into interdisciplinary, "goal oriented programs," he was placed at the helm of the new Equal Opportunity Program. Under his direction, the program focused on training and developing minority leaders, strengthening Southern educational institutions for African Americans, and preparing African American college applicants. He continued this work until his retirement in June 1971.