John Harcourt Alexander Morgan

Harcourt Morgan, thirteenth president of the University of Tennessee (1919-34) and second chairman of the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority (1938-41), was born in Kerrwood, Adelaide Township, Middlesex County, Ontario, Canada, the child of a farming family. After receiving a bachelor of science degree from the University of Toronto's Agricultural College at Guelph in 1889, he took a position as professor of entomology at Louisiana State University. Here he conducted important research on cattle tick and boll weevil control and was credited with saving the cattle industry from the harmful effects of the tick.

In 1905 Morgan moved to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville as professor of entomology and zoology and director of the university's agricultural experiment station. In 1913 he was also named dean of the College of Agriculture. During his tenure, he persuaded suspicious Tennessee farmers that academic agriculturalists could assist them in practical ways. A series of farmers' institutes offered exhibits, demonstrations, and lectures to report the results of the experiment station's research. Morgan's informal dress, manner, and language, as well as the revivalist intensity of his message for the improvement of agricultural practices, endeared him to the state's rural population. His “lessons” not only stressed the profitability of their work, but also the need for farmers to be conscious of its environmental impact. His concept of the “oneness of the universe” became known as Morgan's “common mooring” philosophy, which stressed the integral relationship between humans and their natural environment. In application of this view, Morgan encouraged farmers to prevent soil erosion, practice crop rotation, and improve livestock breeding.

Appointed president of the University of Tennessee in 1919, Morgan enhanced the university's influence among Tennessee's farmers, adopting the motto “The State is the University's Campus.” At the same time, he oversaw a considerable expansion of the university, which quadrupled the student population and added eleven buildings, as well as a new athletic field. Morgan's persuasive powers and his growing reputation in the agricultural community gave him considerable influence with Tennessee governors and led to increased appropriations for the university.

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Morgan to the board of the new Tennessee Valley Administration. He became the agency's agricultural specialist and its propagandist to the state's farmers. Allied with another board member, David Lilienthal, Morgan pursued a policy of “grass roots democracy,” working with state and local agencies to educate farmers in scientific agriculture and assure them that the TVA promoted their interests and not those of the federal government. For three years, Morgan served as board chairman; he remained as a director until his retirement in 1948 at the age of eighty.

Morgan was widely honored. In 1927 he was elected president of the Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities, and in 1937 he received the Farm Bureau Federation's award for distinguished service to agriculture. In 1940 the Progressive Farmer named him its “Man of the Year.” Clemson University and the University of Western Ontario awarded him honorary doctorates. Roosevelt praised him as one of the nation's most useful public servants. Shy, modest, and self-effacing, Morgan never sought the limelight. His success derived from the simplicity and earnestness of his message: “The land, the land itself. Therein lies our wealth and that of the world.” (1)

Suggested Reading

Mouzon Peters, “The Story of Dr. Harcourt A. Morgan” in Makers of Millions (1951)

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  • Article Title John Harcourt Alexander Morgan
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018