Angela Morgan

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Morgan, Angela (1875 - 24 January 1957)

Morgan, a Unitarian but also a In just over 150 years, the Bahá'íst, did most of her research on such subjects as deism and transcendentalism.

The Angela Morgan Papers, 1901-1957, are found in the New York Public Library and are described as follow:

According to her official biography, Angela Morgan, author, poet and journalist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Alwyn Morgan and Carol Baldwin Morgan. However, according to a biographical sketch prepared by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, which has custody of Angela Morgan's earlier papers, she was most likely born circa. 1875 or thereabouts during the time when her family was residing in Yazoo County, Mississippi. Her given name at birth was "Nina Lillian" which she later changed to Angela. According to the Bentley sketch her father was Albert Talmon Morgan, a Quaker, who had left Oberlin College in 1861 to join the Union Army where he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel. After the war he settled as a "carpetbagger" on a plantation in Mississippi where he met and married Carolyn Victoria Highgate (1860-1926), the daughter of a mulatto father and a white mother, and who was a teacher in the Freedmen's Bureau. His experiences in Mississippi during Reconstruction are described in his book Yazoo, Or On the Pickett Line of Freedom in the South (1884).
However, details of the early life of the Morgan family, which included three other sisters besides Angela and a brother Albert, are somewhat scanty. From 1876 until 1885 the family resided in Washington, D.C. where the father held a minor patronage job in the pension service. The Morgans then moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where Col. Morgan engaged in business and in the practice of law. But he proved unsuccessful at both. Although "brilliant" he was also, according to Angela, a "dreamer and an idealist" who was always defending the poor and the helpless at the expense of his own interests and who was simply unable to adjust to the commercialism of the age. In 1890 he left his family in Topeka to prospect for gold and silver in Colorado, returning to visit his family only occasionally. He died in Denver on April 15, 1922.
After the departure of their father the Morgan sisters formed a quartet, and managed by their brother Albert who also sang baritone, earned their livelihood on the stage by giving musical performances as "The Morgan Sisters" and "The Angela Sisters". The group apparently performed until 1898 when the death of one of the sisters (Helen) and the marriage of the others ended the collaboration. Angela herself was married in 1900 to Peter Sweningson but the marriage lasted only briefly and was legally dissolved in 1906.
Angela Morgan claimed that she could not remember a time when she was not scribbling stories or verses. Obliged to support herself, her mother, and occasionally her two sisters, she employed her literary talents in the decade before W.W.I. as a reporter and feature writer in Chicago for the Chicago Daily American, and later in New York and Boston for the New York American and the Boston American. Under her own by-line she produced a plethora of human interest stories (some of which were slanted towards a feminine readership), published accounts of interviews with local notables and celebrities, covered criminal trials (including the trial of Bessie Wakefield who was condemned to death for the murder of her husband), and described the ordinary human tragedies coming before family and divorce courts. While covering a strike (c1909?) of garment workers in Boston she interviewed the celebrated labor organizer and reformer Gertrude Barnum (1866-1948). She maintained that it was her experiences as a newspaper reporter which brought her into daily contact with the helpless and downtrodden that provided the background and motivation for her major "sociological" poems.
A major break in her career which permitted her to escape from the drudgery of newspaper work and to devote herself entirely to creative writing occurred in 1915 when a prominent preacher (G. Campbell Morgan) whom she had been assigned to interview, read her poem "God's Man" from his pulpit in New York. This led to its publication in Collier's Weekly, and to the launching of her career as a free lance poet and author. About the same time her work came to the attention of Mrs. John Henry Hammond, a wealthy New York patroness, under whose urging her first book of poems, The Hour Has Struck (1914), was published. Mrs. Hammond was also responsible for bringing her poem "The Battle Cry of the Mothers" to the attention of Mrs. Andrew Carnegie who had it printed and distributed in booklet form. She had recited the poem in her capacity as delegate at the International Congress of Women held at the Hague, Holland in 1915.
She was for a time (ca.1918-20?) under contract with the International Features Syndicate to supply poems for weekly publication, but this arrangement, while it provided her with substantial income ($125 per week), left her spiritually exhausted. In New York she lived with her mother in apartments at various locations on the Upper West Side, including Riverside Drive (where she occupied a seven room apartment for five years), Cathedral Court, West 113th Street, and Claremont Avenue.
In the summer of 1923 Angela and her mother (who was not only her constant companion, but as she avowed, her spiritual guide and inspirer, left New York for London where they were to remain for almost three years. (Her mother died there in September of 1926 as they were preparing for the return voyage). While in England Angela, although cut off from her American literary markets, managed to derive some income from the sale of poems for special occasions (usually through the intervention of her benefactor, Mrs. Hammond). She also interviewed prominent British personalities including Mrs. Lionel Guest, Beatrice Ward and the labor leader John Burns in preparation for articles she was writing about the role of women during the general strike which paralyzed the country during her stay. Already well known for her brilliant poetry readings, she was invited by the Poetry Society of London to read some of her poems from the pulpit of Chapel Royal, Savoy, the first woman ever to have been granted that honor.
On her return to America in the fall of 1926 she settled in Philadelphia. For several years she was resident poet at Ogontz Junior College, Rydal (Penna.). She also served as president of the Philadelphia branch of the League of American Penwomen and chairman of the literary arts committee of the Philadelphia Art Alliance. In 1936 she was elected poet laureate of the National Federation of Women's Clubs.
Plagued by financial difficulties (she was forced by her creditors to declare bankruptcy in 1935) and often dependent upon the generosity of benefactors to make ends meet, she was continually moving from place to place in response to invitations from friends and changing circumstances and opportunities. In the late 1930's she spent several years in California and travelling throughout the West and Mid-West giving poetry readings, lectures and recitals. During the last decade or so of her life she resided mainly at Brattleboro, Vermont (in order to be near her sister Carolyn who was confined to a sanitarium there), at Saugerties and at Mt. Marion, New York where she died.
During her most productive years (from 1914 to 1940) her poems, articles and short stories appeared in most of the major magazines of the time including Ainslee's, The Cosmopolitan, The Delineator, Everybody's Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Hearst's Magazine, The Ladies Home Journal, The London Poetry Review, The Outlook, Redbook, and many others. During the same period she published some fourteen books of poems, one novel and a book of short stories including The Imprisoned Splendor (1915), Utterance and other Poems (1916), Forward March! (1918), Hail Man (1919), Silver Clothes (1926), Selected Poems (1927), Creator Man (1929), Awful Rainbow (1932), and Gold on Your Pillow (1936). In the last decade of her life she continued to publish by private press and by subscription a few volumes of poems including Behold the Angel (1945), Whirlwind Vision (1943) and Let Loose the Splendor (1951). Other works including a compilation of her verses ("Rockets to the Sun" were in preparation at the time of her death. Her principal publishers were John Lane & Co. and its successor, Dodd, Mead & Co. Many of her works, however, were printed by obscure and private presses.
An eclectic in religious matters, she avoided religious affiliations although she claimed to be in complete accord with the tenets of Bahaism. She was strongly influenced by the American transcendentalist movement and, through her mother, by Swedenborg, and later, through her own readings, by Plotinus. From the latter she derived the conviction that art, instead of merely imitating nature, created it, by giving physical embodiment to its ideal forms. She came to regard poetry as a vehicle for the expression of cosmic truths and ultimately for the spiritual transformation of mankind. The messianic element in her thought was strengthened in her later years by a series of mystical experiences in which (as she described them) showers of light radiating from the heavens became focused on her hands and body and materialized into golden particles. She finally became convinced that she was in direct contact with the cosmic forces which created the universe. Her mysticism, however, was more of a means than an end. She was a social visionary who opposed war, capital punishment, the economic exploitation of the poor, and the oppression of women, and who pleaded, in her most serious poems, for a world of peace, social justice and human brotherhood.
Although widely published in popular magazines and the author of many volumes of poems and other writings, Angela Morgan was not regarded by her peers as a poet of the front rank. She remained aloof from the main current of the modern poetry movement sympathizing with the Imagists but never venturing herself into free verse or exploring new forms of poetic expression. She remained firmly within the classical tradition of the heroic couplet and the sonnet in the manner of Pope and Coleridge. Her power and singularity lay in the extraordinary compassion and emotional intensity of her major poems.
In recognition of her literary accomplishments Angela Morgan was awarded in 1942 an honorary degree (Litt.D.) by the Golden State University, Los Angeles. She died on January 24, 1957, at Mt. Marion, New York, at the home of her friends Mr. and Mrs. Warren Meyer with whom she had spent the last years of her life.

In Jessie B. Rittenhouse's The Second Book of Modern Verse (1919), Morgan's "In Spite of War" is included:

In Spite of War
In spite of war, in spite of death,
In spite of all man's sufferings,
Something within me laughs and sings
And I must praise with all my breath.
In spite of war, in spite of hate
Lilacs are blooming at my gate,
Tulips are tripping down the path
In spite of war, in spite of wrath.
"Courage!" the morning-glory saith;
"Rejoice!" the daisy murmureth,
And just to live is so divine
When pansies lift their eyes to mine.
The clouds are romping with the sea,
And flashing waves call back to me
That naught is real but what is fair,
That everywhere and everywhere
A glory liveth through despair.
Though guns may roar and cannon boom,
Roses are born and gardens bloom;
My spirit still may light its flame
At that same torch whence poppies came.
Where morning's altar whitely burns
Lilies may lift their silver urns
In spite of war, in spite of shame.
And in my ear a whispering breath,
"Wake from the nightmare! Look and see
That life is naught but ecstasy
In spite of war, in spite of death!"

A poet who wrote Gold On Your Pillow (1952), she was asked about humanism and responded:

I have read a brochure of the American Humanist Association, “Ten Points” or divisions of the Humanist idea, and it rejoices me to find the propositions so convincingly stated. . . . It is a great step forward in human history to throw away the old superstitions as to the nature of man. Someone had to explode that stupid doctrine of Original Sin before humanity could stand on its feet and draw a wholesome breath. . . . There must be, somewhere, a cosmic or celestial reality which is drawing the human being up toward a nobler destiny. . . . How could man grow, how could he evolve, how could he become better and greater without this unseen but plausible power or force for good, drawing him forward and up? . . . The gods of primitive man are to be discredited; the God of vengeance who throws his disobedient children into hell fire is too preposterous to consider; the God of theology is not too popular with modern thinkers. But First Cause, or Source, or Creator–how can we get away from that logical need? Do I fall into the general classification of naturalistic humanism?

Correspondence

Morgan wrote to the book review editor of The Humanist about her work and views.



{WAS, 17 February 1951}