The Southwestern Social Science Association, the oldest regional social science association in the United States, was founded as the Southwestern Political Science Association by members of the University of Texas Department of Government in December 1919. The stimuli for this new type of academic association included the time and expense required for southwestern social scientists to attend the American Political Science Association meetings (which had rarely been held within 1,000 miles of the geographical center of the Southwest) and the observation that local and sectional interests were not represented in the national journals. The first annual meeting of the association was held at the YMCA and the Driskill Hotel in Austin on April 16–17, 1920. At that time final arrangements were made to begin publication of the association's journal, the Southwestern Political Science Quarterly. From its founding the organization stressed its interdisciplinary nature; "political science" was broadly defined to include economics and sociology. Neither the membership nor the journal actually reflected this initial interdisciplinary orientation, however, and when the association's bank balance reached a precariously low fifteen cents in September 1921 the organization initiated cooperation with other disciplines. It changed its name to Southwestern Political and Social Science Association in 1923. Historians then joined the ranks of political scientists, and the journal's name was changed to Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly. Shortly thereafter, the association's scope was increased to include economics and sociology, and in 1931 the name of the organization was changed to the Southwestern Social Science Association. At the same time, the journal became the Southwestern Social Science Quarterly.
The organization's membership increased over the years and now includes academics, including students, and others interested in political science, sociology, economics, history, geography, social work, international studies, and women's studies. The majority of members are from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and New Mexico, but in recent years the number from other states has increased. Residence in the Southwest is not a requirement for joining the SSSA, and membership is open to any person interested in the association's goals of encouraging research, publication, and the sharing of information. These goals are accomplished primarily through two activities: annual meetings at which members present papers, discuss theory and research, and transact association business; and the publication of the journal, which was renamed Social Science Quarterly in 1968. The annual meetings, held in various cities throughout the Southwest, usually attract more than 1,200 social scientists from Southwestern states as well as participants from other parts of the nation. Speakers of international stature have become a regular part of the program. The journal's status, especially since its name was changed, has evolved from regional to international in terms of its circulation, its contents, and the residence of its authors. Its purpose is similar to that of its sponsoring organization-to develop communication across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Beginning with approximately 150 teachers and public leaders interested in political science, membership in the association expanded steadily except for a temporary decline during World War II. In 1950 there were 655 members representing nine disciplines; by 1971 those figures increased to more than 2,200 members representing a dozen disciplines. Membership in 1988 was more than 2,400. Although a distinct entity in itself, the Southwestern Social Science Association consists of a number of disciplinary regional social science associations, each of which holds annual meetings, elects officers, and conducts business in concert with the larger organization. The organization's decision-making body is its executive committee, which consists of a president, president-elect, vice president, and other officers elected by its general membership, as well as nine or more representatives elected by the members of the disciplinary associations affiliated with the association.