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History of the NSS
NSS Board of Governors Manual:
The National Speleological Society (NSS) is a non-profit organization affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was founded for the purpose of advancing the study, conservation, exploration, and knowledge of caves. In addition, the Society collects and publishes information relating to speleology in this country and in all parts of the world. Membership in the Society encourages protection and conservation of caves and provides contact with thousands of serious explorers and scientists in the United States and foreign countries.
The NSS is administered by a Board of Governors consisting of twelve directors and five officers who meet about three times annually to consider matters of policy. Four directors are elected annually for three-year terms. Each year the directors elect the President, Executive Vice-President, Administrative Vice-President, Operations Vice-President, and Secretary-Treasurer. These officers are responsible for the management of the Society under the policies adopted by the Board.
There are more than 250 local chapters of the NSS throughout the country. These local groups, usually known as "grottos,'' conduct regular meetings and serve as a means of organizing speleologists within a geographical area. Members are urged, but not required, to join a local grotto in order to take part in joint explorations and publication work and to enjoy the programs and fellowship of other members.
The purpose of the Society is to promote interest in, and to advance in any and all ways, the study and science of speleology, the protection of caves and their natural contents, and to promote fellowship among those interested therein.
Although some have estimated that 50,000 caves or more exist in the United States, no organized effort was made to study them until 1941 when the National Speleological Society was organized. Its members explore, map, and publish reports about caves.
February 26, 1939, was an important date in the prenatal history of the NSS. On that day, a feature story by Jo Chamberlin appeared in the Sunday Washington Star telling about Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns, and about Floyd Collins, Jim White, and Charles E. Mohr. This article caught the attention of William J. Stephenson and his wife Merle of Washington, D.C., who for some years had been exploring caves in northern Virginia with Stevenson's colleague at the U.S. Patent Office, Elmer W. Harmon, and several other friends. This activity began when Stephenson, who was the leader of a hiking group connected with his church, decided one day to take a trip to a cave. After that, cave exploring became the principal activity of the group.
Stephenson's eye was caught by a key sentence in Chamberlin's article: "In England there is a national organization devoted to caving.'' Stephenson immediately recognized the many advantages such an organization could have for the United States, and he set himself the task of establishing one. On May 6, 1939, the Speleological Society of the District of Columbia was a reality.
During the next year the group proved to be very successful. Numerous field trips were taken, and by June of 1940, when the first Bulletin was issued, a significant proportion of the members already lived outside of the Washington area. The appearance of Volume 1 of the Bulletin, under the editorship of Don Bloch, in combination with the fortuitous location of the Speleological Society in the nation's capital, caused others interested in caves around the country to begin to look to the young Washington organization as the fountainhead of American speleology.
In the fall of 1940, the officers of the Speleological Society of the District of Columbia drafted a constitution for a proposed National Speleological Society. The constitution followed the plan of the older one and stated that: "charter members of this Society shall be all members of the Speleological Society of the District of Columbia as of January 1, 1941, and all members of any other Society, whose main purpose is the study of speleology or exploration of caves, which gives notice in writing to the Board of Governors of the Speleological Society of the District of Columbia prior to January 1, 1941, that its membership desires to be included in this organization.'' This draft was sent to several other caving groups that had become active in different parts of the country. On December 1, 1940, a group of 24 people under the leadership of Clay Perry met in Pettibone Falls Cave, Massachusetts, and ratified the proposed constitution. This action was reported to Washington, so that on January 1, 1941, the founding of the National Speleological Society was complete. The Society soon had two chapters: The New England Grotto and the District of Columbia Grotto.
The National Speleological Society is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations to the Society may therefore be deducted from an individual's Federal Income Tax. The Society's Federal I.D. number is 54-6026867.
The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that individual chapters or grottos are not covered by the Society's exemption. They must obtain their own exemption if they desire that status.