San Diego Independent Scholars originated in 1982 when Joy Frieman, leaving behind a faculty position at George Washington University, moved to Southern California. Desiring a forum where those engaged in serious research could interact with fellow scholars outside academia, and aware of two organizations which had achieved such a community, the Princeton Research Forum and San Francisco’s Institute for Historical Study, Frieman met Mary Stroll, who shared her aim to build such an organization. The two enlisted a few other interested individuals, and after many discussions, settled on a basic structure and a monthly meeting schedule and began issuing a monthly newsletter.

Qualifications, they decided, should include serious interest in research in any discipline, but no degree requirement. After their initial meeting place became unavailable, a conference room on the University of California at San Diego campus was secured, thus beginning a lasting relationship with UCSD. The outcome of a long discussion process with the UCSD library system resulted in the equivalent of graduate library privileges (minus interlibrary loan) granted to SDIS members who are willing to partially pay for them; SDIS pays half the fee.

Brown bag lunches on the patio of a local bookstore were weekly occasions where the founders discussed not only their own work but also how to transform the group of independent scholars into a viable organization. To gain greater visibility, the ambitious group sponsored a conference on the national independent scholar movement in early 1983. Realizing that tax‐exempt status was a necessary goal for their growing organization, the local scholars accomplished incorporation by the state of California and classification by the IRS as a non‐profit group in early 1984, after writing a constitution, drawing up by‐laws and filing for this advantageous status. SDIS began its official existence offering two types of membership; one could become a scholar member with full privileges or an associate member, interested but not necessarily a scholar, with partial privileges. However, after much discussion, a By‐Laws change in the mid ‘90s resulted in only one class of membership with identical privileges for all.

The early brown bag lunches continued, no longer as planning sessions but as monthly opportunities for members to become better acquainted and to meet prospective scholar members, until the hospitable bookstore owner relocated and the patio was no longer available.

As attendance at monthly meetings increased, with numerous non‐members present, the original rationale for the organization remained, leading to the formation of the first sub‐group, Works in Progress. Interested members met periodically in a small group to discuss their works in progress, with one scholar presenting research in less than final form (a written work or oral presentation or even an idea) to other members for their reactions and suggestion. Study Groups (Science, Colloquy Café, Culture, Film) and restaurant discussions evolved over a period of years.

The organization has been fortunate in the generosity of several donors, resulting in the Helen Hawkins Fund and the Jane Ford Fund, both commemorating influential early members. The former is a grant fund, used for annual awards to further members’ research. The latter is used to donate books (newly published by members) to the UCSD library system and to the San Diego Public Library system.

The emphasis on its original aim has shifted during the thirty‐plus years of the organization’s existence. Two characteristics, however, have remained: change, and constant discussion. SDIS welcomes those who treasure a life of the mind! 

Excerpt from the September 2017 Newsletter:


Our organization’s most devoted scholar for the 35 years of its existence, Mary Stroll, died this summer. A founding member, she spoke at the May 2016 meeting about her work as the 2015 Helen Hawkins Grant recipient. The following, written by Mary’s close friend, fellow founder and SDIS’s first President, is not only a tribute to her but a brief history of how San Diego Independent Scholars began:

By Joy Frieman

Mary Stroll was gripped by two consuming passions: one looked backward in time and focused on the influence of a few medieval popes; the other propelled her forward in time, by means of newspaper and television, so that she would be informed of the very latest-breaking political event. 

I met Mary years ago. A mutual friend who recognized that despite our very different backgrounds, our current preoccupations were very similar, brought us together. Both of us were married with children, trying to complete doctoral theses. We became close friends almost immediately. 

Keenly aware of the especial loneliness experienced by independent scholars, we were soon envisaging a support group that would enable such scholars to exchange ideas among comrades. And we compiled a list of people who seemed to be in this category. At an organizational meeting we adopted a name, San Diego Independent Scholars. We elected officers and established a calendar for meetings, as well as membership criteria. SDIS members were expected to engage in some aspect of academic scholarship and they were to present, from time to time, the results of their current research. 

There were two additional early hurdles to overcome: to secure non- profit status for the group, and to locate a place to hold our meetings. Since we had no experience in applying for non-profit status, we were fortunate enough to find someone who had already undergone the process with another group and could provide the necessary support. As for a meeting place, a UCSD faculty member, sympathetic to our cause, located a room for us on campus. 

When I stepped down, Mary followed me as President, guiding the group in her customary conscientious mode. And she remained a faithful member, ever grateful for the financial support she received from SDIS to enable her research.