Arthur Morgan vs. Arthur Morgan

Arthur Morgan testifies before a committee of the United States Congress in 1938.

Names have a lot of emotions connected to them. We get attached to them and they become as much a part of our identity as our interests or personalities. People like to google their names to see how high they appear in the rankings or how many doppelgängers are out there impersonating them. When I do this, I find myself sympathizing with my fellow Nicholas Maldonado’s. I want them to be doing well, showing the world what we can accomplish as if our names have anything to do with our success.

A Tale of Two Arthur Morgans

Recently, the name Arthur Morgan has been appearing in the news a lot. I wish I could say it was our Arthur Morgan, the progressive education visionary, but unfortunately it’s not. This new Arthur Morgan is imaginary. He is the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption 2, a video game set in the old west, and he is very popular. Almost daily, a new article pops up discussing his on screen adventures of crime, and as the game title implies, redemption. This Arthur Morgan is described as gruff, uncharismatic, and violent. Although apparently, he can also be kind and sympathetic.  Much of the game is spent deciding whether Arthur Morgan is a hero or a villain.

Scene from Red Dead Redemption 2

Image credit: Rockstar Games

When I read these articles, I cannot help but feel a little protective. As this morally ambiguous Arthur Morgan begins to dominate the internet, I feel myself wanting to make sure our Arthur Morgan, the real life Arthur Morgan, isn’t forgotten. After all he achieved a great many accomplishments–real ones as opposed to the imaginary feats of his digital counterpart. He also did not seem to struggle with the same internal conflict of whether his greed would overpower his more altruistic nature.

Will the Real Arthur Morgan Please Stand Up?

Our Arthur Morgan was born in 1878 in Cincinnati, Ohio but moved to Minnesota where he spent most of his youth.  After high school, he went to Colorado where he learned hydraulic engineering. Eventually, even though he had only briefly attended college, Morgan founded his own firm and became an associate member of the the American Society of Civil Engineers. His fame hit when he designed an unconventional solution to damming up three Ohio rivers after a horrible flood destroyed Dayton in 1913.  This success led to Morgan becoming the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Thanks to his many accomplishments, Morgan was eventually awarded at least five honorary degrees, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado, where he attended earlier.

When our founder, Elizabeth Morgan, named Arthur Morgan School after her father-in-law, it was not just his engineering or honorary achievements that she was celebrating. In addition to being an engineer, Arthur Morgan was also very active in the progressive education movement. He founded the Moraine Park School and became the first president of the Progressive Education Association. He was later asked to help save Antioch College, where he started its cooperative education initiative. This program combined real work with academics by bringing in architects, engineers, chemists, advertising executives, and government bureaucrats to serve as part of the school’s faculty. Students were also sent to work with actual professionals in the field to gain real work experience. Morgan’s greater dream was for students to start small businesses, which several (including his son, Ernest) did in Yellow Springs.

Real Life Means Real Work

Arthur Morgan is also known as a community organizer.  In 1937, he was instrumental in founding Celo Community, where AMS is located. He also created two organizations (Community Service Inc. and Fellowship of Intentional Communities) dedicated to the promotion and preservation of community based living. Morgan believed deeply in small towns. He argued that that they “provided places for people to experience respect, cooperation, and personal relationships.”

Later in life, Arthur Morgan became a Quaker and an activist. He helped out with the Quaker war relief efforts in Mexico and Finland. He also aided in setting up a system of rural universities in India and fought against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when they wanted to flood Seneca lands. Before dying in 1975, he wrote over 20 books, several of them about simple living and environmental advocacy.

middle schoolers working in the gardenSharing Arthur Morgan’s Vision

Elizabeth shared many of her father-in-law’s beliefs and used them as cornerstones when creating AMS. Our weekly work projects and academic internships still combine real work experience with science and social studies. Our small population inspires positive and strong relationships between students and staff. Students have always gotten a say in how the school is run through the weekly All School Meeting and feel ownership over the school’s success and future.

Through simple living and a sense of stewardship over the land, the school embodies many of the same Quaker beliefs to which Arthur Morgan dedicated his life. Our students often go on service trips where they offer aid to people in need. We strive to treat each other with respect and work through our problems by non-violent and cooperative means.

What’s in a Name?

As you can see the real life Arthur Morgan was a far cry from the gun toting outlaw of Red Dead Redemption 2, so it makes sense that we don’t want people to confuse them. Although the video game version of Arthur Morgan might find redemption in the end (just before he sadly dies of tuberculosis), we prefer the name Arthur Morgan to be forever linked with the progressive educator and community activist who we deeply admire. He is a protagonist worth celebrating.

-by Nicholas Maldonado