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James F. Morton

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James Ferdinand Morton, Jr. (October 18, 1870 – October 7, 1941) was an anarchist writer and political activist of the 1900s through the 1920s especially on the topics of the single tax system, racism, and advocacy for women. After about 1920 he was more known as a Bahá'í, a notable museum curator, an esperantist and a close friend of H.P. Lovecraft.

BiographyEdit

Early yearsEdit

Morton was born in Littleton, Massachusetts, lived in Andover, New Hampshire.[1] His family reached back to the pilgrims landing in 1620, his grandfather was Rev. Samuel Francis Smith.[2] A newspaper article from 1906 refers alittle to his youth - that he worked as a "newsboy, bootblack, an organ blower, and an employe(sic) in a jelly factory".[3] In 1892 he earned Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts degree from Harvard University,[2][4] simultaneously, in Classical Philology,[1] earning a "Gorham Thomas" scholarship,[1] graduated cum laude and was a member of the honors society Phi Beta Kappa.[2] He was a classmate of W.E.B. Du Bois[5] and carried on some correspondence with him.[6] He gained skills in Greek, Latin and French.[1] The Harvard Secretary's Report of 1896 noted by then he was in the temperate Independent Order of Good Templars, animal rights oriented New England Anti-Vivisection Society and had campaigned under the People's Party.[7]

Even at this early period he was actively involved in the amateur journalism movement, appearing in newspaper coverage of the developing practice in 1891,[8] and elected President of the National Amateur Press Association (NAPA) in 1896.[9] In his earlier days in New England he explored a number of alternatives to mainstream culture.[10]

Anarchism and the Tour to the West and backEdit

He converted to anarchism, especially as individualist anarchism in the United States, anarchism and issues related to love and sex and freethought and went on a cross-country speaking tour 1899-1900 to the West supporting these ideas.[11] Several of these talks appeared in newspapers.[12] By 1901 he was active on the West Coast.[13] When living in the West Morton wrote for or edited various anarchist journals[5][14] such as Free Society,[15] Discontent, The Demonstrator, Truth Seeker, and Emma Goldman's Mother Earth[16] and lived at the Home, Washington anarchist commune which had been raided though Morton was not arrested,[17] and was still present when the news of the assassination attempt against US President William McKinley arrived.[18] Morton's writings clarified that he favored a "non-retaliatory" anarchism.[14] In 1904 he made his way back to the East coast[19] and a talk of his on anarchist/free-thought and morality was carried in several newspapers.[20]

InitiativesEdit

As early as 1903 Morton is visibly against racism in his writing for the anarchist Distcontent,[14] campaigned actively for civil rights for blacks, published The Curse of Race Prejudice[21] and challenged productions like Thomas Dixon's The Clansman.[3] in 1906, which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's The Crisis listed among its suggested reading materials in many editions over the years,[22] serving on various committees of the NAACP in the 1910s,[23] and continued to speak on the issue across several years.[24] In 1922 he contributed to a conference on the history of racism.[25]

Perhaps no other subject consumed Morton's energy and focus in the earlier half of his life than the subject of a single-tax as originated by Henry George[26] - it was one the topics he spoke across several years about[27] and earnestly when there was a push for it in 1916-17 totaling 68 lectures, over 2000 in attendance, in 54 cities,[28] many of which made the newspapers[29] as well as advocating for taxing churches.[30]

A third topic was of lasting concern to Morton - the facets of advocacy for women - suffrage,[31] feminism,[32] conventions on limitations on sexuality and contraception.[33]

In addition to particular topics that had his voice across the decades, and practicing law for some years in New York and Massachusetts,[2] he wrote or gave talks on a wide range of topics:

Literature and friendshipsEdit

In addition to various individual topics he was also invested in several over a long term. From about 1915 he was a prominent member of the Blue Pencil Club of Brooklyn, named after the traditional Blue pencil editor's corrections, and supported appreciation of literature in a number of talks.[45] His close friendship with the author H. P. Lovecraft[10] is today perhaps the feature of his biography which arouses the most interest. Morton promoted Lovecraft to be president of National Amateur Press Association in 1922.[46] [47]

Association with LovecraftEdit

Morton was a key member of the Kalem Club, the close circle of friends around Lovecraft in New York City in the mid 1920s.[10] During the early part of that period he lived in Harlem, New York City, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Paterson MuseumEdit

Morton was an active student of mineralogy and a leading member of the Thomas Paine Natural History Association.[2] In the mid 1920s he was offered and took the post of head museum curator at the new museum at Paterson, New Jersey - then a regional locus of anarchism - where he would build a mineralogy collection which was admired by nationally and internationally. This job enabled him to marry the writer Pearl K. Merritt in 1934 though the couple had no children.[5] Morton became a leader in the American Association of Museums, and a leading member of the New York Mineralogical Club. Locally he enjoyed walking with the radical Paterson Rambling Club.

In the 1934 he was interested in his family history and wrote congratulating a local historian on research important to overcoming some limits in his own research.[48] An avid walker,[49] he died in 1941, due to being struck in the back while walking to a meeting by a moving car.[4][2]

ReligionEdit

Beginning in 1907 Morton also published a series of articles under "Fragments of a Mental Autobiography" in a journal named Libra[50] which outlines his religious background beginning with Baptist family heritage, goes through Unitarian relatives, and Theosophy exploration,[51] (he was president of the Boston Theosophical Society in 1895)[7] and placing Jesus and the Buddha among those on the highest level of his admiration even if he found fault with all scripture and organized religion.[51] In this period Morton was an avid "evangelist" atheist[10] and often spoke out against religion[52] but he had already encountered the Bahá'í Faith which:

At first, I regarded it with amused interest, as one of many little cults; but gradually I found myself drawn into closer and closer relation with it. There was a wideness in its attitude which I had not found elsewhere. It held place for what was best in Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, Freethought and all the rest, warring with none of these, but finding each of them definitely serviceable to the larger spiritual plan of the universe. It is the great reconciler and harmonizer. I have discovered in it an abiding-place which I had sought in vain for many restless years. It increases, rather than decreases, my eagerness to continue the investigation of truth without bias, and to labor energetically in all branches of human service. I have no fault to find with the differing conclusions of other truth-lovers, and am ready to work with them all as occasion offers."[51] (near 1910)[9]
He became a convert to the religion in later life.[10][53] Morton is visibly in Bahá'í circles from 1915 on the program of presenters at Green Acre,[54] a Bahá'í center of lectures and conferences from about 1912, and got into some debates with a critic of the religion circa 1916.[55] He also served as a alternate delegate from New York to a national convention of the religion in 1918.[56] He received two letters (aka "Tablets") from `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in 1919 which were later published in the Bahá'í journal Star of the West.[57] Morton increasingly gave public talks related to the religion from the late 1910s through the 20s and into the 30s[58] and during the same period addressed the topic of Esperanto sometimes as a Bahá'í specifically.[59] He was vice-president of the Esperanto League for North America, and was the lead teacher of that language at the Ferrer Center (a long-running anarchist school) in New York City.[5]

Similarities, parallels and connectionsEdit

It is worth noting perhaps that other Bahá'ís were interested in the single tax movement originated around the ideas of Henry George, and other ideas also in common with the young Morton.[60] Among these were Paul Kingston Dealy and Marie Howland. Both had joined the religion some years earlier around 1897-8. Dealy and Howland had joined the religion in different cities - Chicago, the first national community of Baha'is in the US in the case of Dealy, and Howland in Enterpririse Kansas, the second such in the States. Dealy had also previously run for office under the People's Party circa 1895 but in Chicago. Howland and her husband had also been interested in the ideas of sexual freedom against the norms of the day and the cultural situation of women though Howland's husband soon died. Both Dealy (and his family) and Howland, independently, also moved to commune of sorts although this one was different, at Fairhope, Alabama, circa 1898-9. There Howland established the first library and worked on the first newspaper, another interest of Morton's, of the colony. Another Bahá'í couple - Honoré Jaxon and Aimée Montfort show similar interests as well. Jaxon had been an anarchist a decade before and been involved in another commune of sorts at Topolobampo Mexico, and then joined the religion about 1897 in Chicago shortly before Aimée. They had married and pursued worker's rights involvements though their long term interested turned to Canada.[61][62] It is not known if Morton, Dealy, Howland, Jaxon or Montfort ever knew of each other. Additionally Thornton Chase, called the first Bahá'í in the West, was a student of Morton's grandfather, Rev. Samuel Francis Smith, in his youth.[63]

WritingsEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Harvard University (1884) General Catalogue Issue University, pp. 214, 260, 280, 474, 480, 483, 487, 490.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5  (March 1942). Memorial of James F. Morton unspecified pub., p. 200–202.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Template:Cite news
  4. 4.0 4.1 Paterson NJ Morning Call of Oct 8, 1941 which was reprinted in  (October 1941). James F. Morton unspecified pub..
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Katz, Esther (1999). Morton, Jr., James Ferdinand (1870-1941). The Margaret Sanger Papers Electronic Edition: Margaret Sanger and The Woman Rebel, 1914-1916. Model Editions Partnership. Retrieved on Nov 3, 2014.
  6. * Morton, James F., Jr. (May 26, 1908). Letter from James F. Morton, Jr. to W. E. B. Du Bois, May 26, 1908.. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. Retrieved on Nov 7, 2014.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Harvard College (1780- ). Class of 1892 (1896) Secretary's Report unspecified pub..
  8. Template:Cite news
  9. 9.0 9.1 William C. Ahlhauser (1919) Ex-presidents of the National Amateur Press Association: sketches W. P. Cook, p. 55–6.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Template:Cite encyclopedia
  11. Candace Falk (1 April 2008). Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years Made for America, 1890-1901 University of Illinois Press, p. 393.
  12. * Template:Cite news
  13. * Template:Cite news
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Ernesto A. Longa (2 November 2009). Anarchist Periodicals in English Published in the United States (1833-1955): An Annotated Guide Scarecrow Press, pp. 6, 18, 20, 40–52, 83–86, 94, 153, 182, 186.
  15. Morton is noted in many editions of Free Society - see James F. Morton, Jr.. Radical, Libertarian, Individualist and Anarchist Periodicals: An Index (4 May 2013). Retrieved on Nov 7, 2014.
  16. James F. Morton, Jr.. The Libertarian Labyrinth (10 May 2014). Retrieved on Nov 7, 2014.
  17. Template:Cite news
  18.  (March–April 2013). The Anarchists must go unspecified pub..
  19. *Template:Cite news
  20. * Template:Cite news
  21.  (1906) The curse of race prejudice self published.
  22. *  (March 1911). Books National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  23. *  (December 1910). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; General Committee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  24. * Template:Cite news
  25. Template:Cite news
  26. Template:Cite news
  27. * Template:Cite news
  28.  (July–August 1918). Report of James F. Morton, Jr.'s Lecture Work unspecified pub..
  29. * Template:Cite news
  30. * Template:Cite news
  31. * Template:Cite news
  32. Template:Cite news
  33. * Template:Cite news
  34. Template:Cite news
  35. Template:Cite news
  36. Template:Cite news
  37. * Template:Cite news
  38. Template:Cite news
  39. Template:Cite news
  40. Template:Cite news
  41. Template:Cite news
  42. Template:Cite news
  43. *  [1916]. (1 November 2007). "Prevention of conception as a duty". Birth Control, Or, the Limitation of Offspring Wildside Press LLC, p. 195–204.
  44. Template:Cite news
  45. * Template:Cite news
  46.  (July 2005). (book review) H. P. Lovecraft, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner, New York: Hippocampus Press, 2005, trade paperback, 298pp. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. Historians of Amateur Journalism, p. 11–14. ISBN 978-0-9748789-5-9
  47.  (July 2005). (book review) H. P. Lovecraft, Letters from New York, Portland and San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2005, hardcover, xx+332pp., ISBN 1-892389-37-1. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. Historians of Amateur Journalism, p. 11–14.
  48. Template:Cite news
  49. * Template:Cite news
  50.  (May 3, 2014). Letters to James F. Morton (Kindle Edition ed.). Hippocampus Press.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2  (May 3, 2014). Letters to James F. Morton (Kindle Edition ed.). Hippocampus Press.
  52. * Template:Cite news
  53.  (1 December 1996). A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft Wildside Press LLC.
  54. Template:Cite news
  55. The debates followed the publication of  (August 1915). The Persian Revival to Jesus, and his American Disciples unspecified pub., pp. 460–483. - see  (March 1931). The Rise and Fall of the Parliament of Religions at Greenacre unspecified pub., pp. 129–166.
  56.  (May 17, 1918). Monday Afternoon Session Baha'i News service, p. 50–53.
  57. *  (January 19, 1920). Recent Tablets from Abdul-Baha to American Bahais; James Morton Baha'i News service. *  (February 7, 1921). Tablet to Bahais in American received in 1919 and 1920; James Morton, Jr Baha'i News service.
  58. * Template:Cite news
  59. * Letters to the Editor from 1911 and 1922 quoted in Ulrich Becker (2010) Esperanto in The New York Times (1887 - 1922) Mondial, pp. 151–153, 248–252.
  60.  (1985) The Baha'i Faith in America - Wilmette, Il.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, pp. 8, 86–88, 91–93, 106–108, 188.
  61. Donald B. Smith (2007) Honoré Jaxon: Prairie Visionary Coteau Books, pp. 66–76, 102–108.
  62. Will C. van den Hoonaard (30 October 2010). The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948 Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, p. 18–35.
  63.  (2002) Thornton Chase: First American Bahá'í Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust.


Further readingEdit

  •  (March 1942). Memorial of James F. Morton unspecified pub., p. 200–202.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, Letters to James F. Morton, Hippocampus Press, 2011. (This book also has memoirs of Morton by those who knew him).
  • Template:Cite encyclopedia
  • S.T. Joshi, Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927, Hippocampus Press, 2006.

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