— Arthur Morgan
Arthur Morgan School was founded by Elizabeth and Ernest Morgan in 1962 to provide a learning environment tailored for children in their early teenage years.
Ernest Morgan, elder son of Arthur Morgan, attended a remarkable series of schools: the Moraine Park School in Dayton, Ohio; the Marienfeld Open-Air School in North Carolina; the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama and Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He developed a career as a printer, publisher and later the founder and president of Antioch Bookplate Company.
Elizabeth Morey Morgan had an even more unusual educational background. As a young child with uncertain health, she did not attend school at all. Her parents were perceptive and well educated. They tutored her without compulsion or rewards. She entered high school as soon as she was old enough and completed high school in three and a half years with honors. She had been taught music by her parents and after high school attended the Aurora Conservatory of Music with the intention of having a career in music. After a death in the family she had to leave school. She took a business course and became a secretary until she had saved enough money to enter Antioch College. It was there that she met Ernest Morgan and they were married.
As soon as her children were old enough, she returned to college and qualified as a music teacher. She taught for a brief time in a public school but did not like the atmosphere. She felt it stifled initiative, responsibility, and imagination. This experience revived the idea–cherished by Arthur and Lucy Morgan, and often discussed by all of them–of starting a small school in a rural setting.
Many educators influenced Elizabeth Morgan in the formation of her philosophy of education, including Johann Pestalozzi, N.S.F. Grundtvig, Mahatma Gandhi, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Arthur Morgan. The philosophy and methods of these great educators emphasize the development of the whole person through a combination of study, work, and social interaction in a community. As leaders in progressive education they each valued practical education as an extremely important experience in order for men and women to be enlightened. In addition, they stress inner motivation and the responsibility of the individual as a part of the whole. To these ideas, Elizabeth Morgan added her own Quaker values of simple living, consensus decision-making, and non-violent problem solving.
A cousin of Lucy Morgan, Caroline Foulke Urie, worked with Maria Montessori in Italy. Urie was expelled by Mussolini and moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio to be near Antioch and the Morgan family. As a close friend of Elizabeth Morgan, she shared with Elizabeth what she had learned from Montessori. Maria Montessori believed in educating the whole child. She saw adolescence as the “sensitive period” for social relationships, the age at which the child begins to appreciate the scope of human history and explore a place for herself within it. She thought the children of this age group should be at a boarding school in a rural setting, where the children and their teachers would live in a self-contained community that was self-governing and to a considerable extent self-supporting. Raising their own food and perhaps running a store, labor would contribute to self-confidence through an awareness of one’s own talents and usefulness. She called these children erdkinder, or “land children.”
Ernest Morgan’s brother, Griscom Morgan, spent a few months in the 1930s working and studying at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. This school was founded by Myles Horton in 1932 after spending time in Denmark in 1931 learning about folk schools and Grundtvig. The school was committed to achieving racial, social and environmental justice, and was established as a training center for labor and racial justice organizers in the South. Griscom learned about the educator Grundtvig and his philosophy of education at Highlander which he shared this with the Morgan family. Grundtvig believed that education must be related to everyday life. It must happen through dialogue with each other, “the living word.” It must be residential so teachers and students can live together, sharing responsibilities for maintenance, food preparation, and learning to live together in community. This philosophy agreed with one Elizabeth was developing at that time herself, one that educated the whole person, “education for life.”
Both Elizabeth and Ernest Morgan were very active in many causes. Elizabeth collected workers’ songs from all over the world and used them to educate people about suppression and exploitation. She had been active in the struggle against the Ku Klux Klan persecutions and racist assaults in Georgia. She arranged protest marches and helped the strikers in their attempt at getting better pay and fair treatment. In most cases, she used music and song as a means to arouse people’s solidarity and to inform them of both traditions and visions. Early in their marriage both Elizabeth and Ernest had joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers. They felt that the Quaker way of silent worship, work for social justice, resistance to the military and violence, and equality for all people, especially women, were very consistent with their views. Today, AMS incorporates many Quaker traditions into its daily life.
Their youngest son Lee attended Camp Celo in Celo Community, North Carolina. In 1958, when the camp was about to be laid down by its owners, Elizabeth and Ernest decided to join another family, the Barrus’s, to continue the camp. It was at this time that Elizabeth decided to take the first steps to establish a school. The school would be able to become part of the Celo Health Education Corporation, the non-profit corporation that also governed the Celo Health Center. (In the 1990s, the school became its own financial entity with a volunteer Board and non-profit status.) Members of Celo Community gave her lots of encouragement and they were willing to provide land for a negligible cost.
Family work camps were held in the summer to improve the few buildings that were on the property. A long, low barn for chickens, basement room, and brooder house were turned into a kitchen, dining room, classrooms, workshop, and laundry. This experience revealed to Elizabeth and Ernest Morgan the enthusiasm junior high students had for doing real work.
Bob and Dot Barrus took over Camp Celo when Ernest and Elizabeth started the school. Bob, an experienced teacher, also joined the staff of Arthur Morgan School as the first academic teacher. In recent years, Bob Barrus has been invited to talk to the students at the beginning of the school year, telling stories about what life was like in the 1960’s at AMS.
Ernest Morgan continued to work for the Antioch Bookplate Company and for many years he contributed his earnings to support the school. In 1970, in order to be with Elizabeth, he turned over the company to his son, Lee. After Elizabeth died in 1971, he traveled through the Southeast as a sales representative for the bookplate company in order to continue to support the school. Ernest died in 2001 in Christine’s House, on the campus of AMS.