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  Arthur E. Morgan (1878-1975)
 

Books written: Dams and Other Disasters: A Century of the Army Corps of Engineers in Civil Works


 
Arthur Morgan was born near Cincinnati, Ohio, but his family soon moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he grew up. His father was an engineer, and his own interests leaned in that direction. Very early in his life he seems to have had a concern for social improvement for when he was just ten years old he was publishing great quotations for human uplift on a regular basis in one of the St. Cloud newspapers. In 1895, at the age of seventeen, he experienced a vivid vision of an ideal community while walking home through the woods. The Utopian dream of an ideal society was thereafter to direct his steps for the rest of his life.
 
After graduating from high school he left home, at the age of nineteen and spent the next three years doing many kinds of outdoor work, mostly in Colorado, finding that there was a real dearth of understanding of hydraulic engineering. Then he returned home, reading and studying problems relating to hydraulics, and began to practice engineering with his father, learning his profession in the old-fashioned way, from the ground up, by apprenticeship. He married and had three children, Ernest, Griscom and Frances, each of whom would later have a distinguished career centered on some aspect of human service.
 
At the age of 32, he founded his own engineering company, and three years later, after a disastrous flood had practically wiped out the city of Dayton, Ohio, he was called to take full charge of the Miami River Flood Control Project, involving the building of several huge dams. This work he did so well as to be set on the road to worldwide engineering fame.
In 1919 Arthur Morgan was appointed to the Board of Antioch College, a dying institution in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a moribund village some eighteen miles from Dayton. He saw Antioch and Yellow Springs as a kind of double opportunity to test out his higher educational ideas and his concepts for community development. He was made President, and there began a thrilling experiment in innovative higher education; an emphasis was upon becoming a well rounded, whole man or woman dedicated to the welfare of humanity.
 
In fifteen years Arthur Morgan built up Antioch College to where it was ranked among the top three colleges of the nation in a study by the Carnegie Corporation.
 
In 1933, Arthur Morgan was called by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to initiate and head the vast development project known as the Tennessee Valley Authority, at that time the greatest effort at regional development of natural resources and human beings ever attempted in the history of the world. 
 
It was during this same period of intense preoccupation with the TVA and its victories and disappointments that he finished a lifelong work on a biography of the great Utopian of the nineteenth century, Edward Bellamy, and discovered connections between Utopian writings and actual ideal societies. This led to his landmark volume entitled, Nowhere Was Somewhere.
 
Upon his return to Yellow Springs in 1939, Arthur Morgan turned his thought and energy to the problem of revitalizing America's small communities, the "Seedbed of Society" and the garden in which human character is grown. It was a return to an old love, for he had already built model villages in Ohio and Tennessee and sparked a successful "intentional" community in North Carolina. He had been the moving force transforming the village of Yellow Springs from a moribund little hamlet to an exciting and vibrant ideal community in which people wanted to live. He succeeded beyond his own modest hopes, and Yellow Springs today is a monument to his vision and idealism.

 

Abridged from an address delivered at the Community Church of New York (Unitarian Universalist) in 1975. By Donald Szantho Harrington, Minister Emeritus of the Community Church of New York

 

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