History and Philosophy
Elizabeth and Ernest Morgan founded the Arthur
Morgan School in 1962 to provide a learning environment tailored for
children in their early teen-aged years.
The educators who influenced Elizabeth Morgan in the formation of her own philosophy of education were: 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. These were all leaders in progressive education who thought practical education was extremely important 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. Elizabeth Morgan added her own Quaker values of simple living, consensus decision-making, and non-violent problem solving.
Ernest Morgan, elder son of Arthur Morgan, attended a remarkable series of schools: the Moraine Park School in Dayton, Ohio; Hanford Henderson’s Marienfeld in North Carolina; the Johnson’s Organic School in Fairhope, Alabama and Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He developed a career as a printer, publisher and 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 3 1/2 years with honors. She had been taught music by her parents and after high school attended the Aurora Conservatory of Music intending to have a music career. Owing to 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 then taught for a brief time in a public school but did not like the atmosphere, one that she felt 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.
A cousin of Lucy Morgan, Caroline Foulke Urie, worked with Maria Montessori in Italy. She was expelled by Mussolini and moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio to be near Antioch and the Morgan family. She was a very close friend of Elizabeth Morgan’s. Maria Montessori was another educator who believed in educating the whole child. She saw adolescence as the “sensitive period” for social relationships, the age at which the child must make a place for himself with his peers and at which he begins to consider the social realities of the wider community. 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, self-governing and to a considerable extent self-supporting. Raising their own food and perhaps running a store, they would learn about work first-hand. She called these children “erdkinder,” or “land children.”
Ernest Morgan’s brother, Griscom Morgan, worked and studied for a few months in the 1930’s at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. This was a school founded by Myles Horton in 1932 committed to achieving economic, political and racial justice in the South. It was a training center for people in the South to learn how to take control of their lives and to solve their own problems, for example, labor problems and civil rights. Myles Horton had gone to Denmark in 1931 to learn about Grundtvig and folk schools and came back inspired to start a folk school in the South. Griscom learned about the educator Grundtvig and his philosophy of education at Highlander and 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 to use them to make people become aware of 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, and 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 Quakers. They felt that their way of silent worship, work for social justice, resistance to the military and violence, their view of 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 in 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 Barruses, and continue the camp. It was at this time that Elizabeth decided to take the first steps to establish a school. Members of Celo Community gave her lots of encouragement and they were willing to provide land without cost (records indicate that the cost is $1 per year). The school would also be able to become part of the Celo Health Education Corporation, the non-profit corporation that also governed the Celo Health Center. It is located in a beautiful setting, the Black Mountains of western North Carolina. After some time, the school became its own financial entity with a volunteer Board and non-profit status.
Family work camps were held in the summer to work on the few buildings that were on the property. There wasn’t much there; a long, low barn for chickens, a basement room, and a brooder house. These were turned into 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 history, 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’s death, he then traveled as a sales representative for the bookplate company in the Southeastern United States in order to continue to support the school.
Elizabeth was able to realize her dream – and the dream of Arthur and Lucy Morgan – to start a school in which work, study, play, and decision-making are actively shared.
Elizabeth died in 1971 and the school continues with the strong educational philosophy on which she founded it. Ernest died in 2001 in Christine’s House, on the campus of AMS.