Research Corporation for Science Advancement in High Society
The late 1930s were a halcyon time for Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). Having survived the Great Depression, the foundation was headquartered in the newly constructed Chrysler Building, overlooking Manhattan. RCSA was a leader in science in the United States and around the world. The newly established Williams-Waterman Fund for the Combat of Dietary Diseases, funded by donation of the patent for the synthesis of Vitamin B1, would eventually establish programs in New Zealand, Nationalist China, Cuba, India, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, Uganda and in Haiti. Research-Cottrell Inc., the business end of RCSA, was highly successful in the production and marketing of electrostatic precipitators, lending expertise to Tennessee Valley Authority construction, among other projects. RCSA was increasing its involvement in identifying and supporting the work of a number of young scientists, among them Robert Goddard and rockets; Ernest O. Lawrence and the cyclotron; Robert Van de Graaff and the generator named for him;Isidore Rabi and his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance and Harold Urey's work with isotopes.
During this time, Dave Hennen Morris played an important role at RCSA. He served on its Board of Directors from 1922 until his death in 1944; beginning in 1931, he also served as treasurer.
Morris was born into a wealthy New Orleans family with vast real estate holdings in Louisiana and Texas. His grandfather, Francis Morris, had made millions in the lottery and bred thoroughbreds. Dave's father established Morris Park, a famous racetrack, in an area now known as Van Nest Park in Bronx, New York; today its main thoroughfare is Morris Park Avenue. Dave graduated from Harvard, briefly studied medicine at New York Homeopathic Medical College, and then switched to law at Columbia University. He was an influential attorney in New York City, director of the Legal Aid Society and the American Arbitration Association as well as the American and Knickerbocker Ice Companies. For a brief time, he was vice-president of the Southwestern Railway Company. He was rich and well connected.
Morris met Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, a great-granddaughter of capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt, while cruising to Europe aboard the steamship Majestic during the summer of 1894. A year later, when Dave and Alice decided to marry, her mother was displeased with the match. She considered the Morris family's background in racing vulgar and refused to attend the wedding. The headline of an article in the June 21, 1895 New York Times announced: "Mrs. Shepard not there/She opposed the marriage of her daughter to a horse man/None of the Vanderbilts present."
But the couple persevered and their union proved hugely successful. Between 1900 and 1911, they had six children. In 1909, Dave and Alice hired architect Thornton Chard to build their home in a block of lots then under development behind the Frick mansion in Manhattan. The house was described as "a marvel of modern architecture and engineering and no expense was spared to secure the greatest comfort on every one of its eight floors and in every feature from the two automatic elevators to the latest wrinkle in kitchen utensils." [Today their home is the entrance to the Knoedler & Company art gallery at 19 East 70th Street in Manhattan.] The Morrises were involved in many political, charitable and civic causes, among them the Aero Club of America, the Algonquin Club of Boston and New York, the Union, Metropolitan and Harvard Clubs, the Automobile Club of America and the Young Women's Christian Association. An article in the July 15, 1914 New York Times, datelined Bar Harbor, Maine, noted "Mrs. Dave Hennen Morris entertained 300 at luncheon in her Summer home today. The gathering had for its object the discussion of the affairs of the Young Women's Christian Association in which Mrs. Morris is much interested." In his family's tradition, Dave owned and bred race horses.
One of the Morrises' major causes was the establishment of an international language, a concept long supported by many in the scientific community. Frederick Gardner Cottrell, the founder of Research Corporation, had studied at the University of Leipzig with Nobel Laureate Wilhelm Ostwald, who conveyed his interest in an international language to Cottrell. In turn, Cottrell, then chair of the Committee on International Auxiliary Language of the International Research Council, interested the Morrises in the cause. When they founded the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA) in 1924, the organization's goal was "to promote widespread study, discussion, and publicity of all questions involved in the establishment of an auxiliary language, together with research and experiment that may hasten such establishment in an intelligent manner and on stable foundations." One of the founding members of the group was Dr. Arthur Hamerschlag, then-president of Research Corporation. In its early years, IALA was supported with annual funding from Research Corporation, grants from the Carnegie Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and frequent, generous gifts from the Morrises. Alice was involved in research and promotion activities and Dave was treasurer of IALA from its establishment until his death.
Dave Hennen Morris was a close friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a staunch supporter of Roosevelt's presidency. He is listed among the so-called "early bird" contributors who supported Roosevelt's campaign financially even before the convention in which he was nominated. Many of these contributors ultimately received thanks from Roosevelt in the form of public offices and honors. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Dave Hennen Morris U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and Envoy to Luxemburg, positions he held until 1937. During that time, Dave and Alice resided in Belgium during the main part of the year and at the family's estate in Bar Harbor during the summers. While in Belgium, Alice continued making contacts with European scholars in support of Interlingua. During this time, Dave's interaction with RCSA was carried on largely via correspondence.
Howard Poillon was president of Research Corporation from 1927 until 1946. RCSA's Archives contain frequent, lively correspondence between Poillon and Morris in which they discussed, variously, RCSA business ("I note that you have spent $95,725.62 for investigating new projects and that you believe if any one of the projects makes good you may get most of this money back. Is this really correct, or are you trying to soothe yourself and the Directors?"), IALA ("Mrs. Morris is very grateful to you for the $2,000 appropriation for IALA but I warn you she regards it in the nature of a white ante and expects you to end up with a blue chip before the year is over."), the temperature in Bar Harbor, politics, the ice business, grant applications ("Please tell me more about your multiclone process.") and their respective lumbago. Also included are letters in which Morris asked John D. Rockefeller Jr. to serve on RCSA's Board and requested Edsel Ford's support of Lawrence's cyclotron project (both correspondents declined).
When Morris died in 1944, Henry Sloan Coffin officiated at the services; Poillon joined philanthopist John D. Rockefeller Jr., psychologist and ex-president of Yale James R. Angell, and music producer John Henry Hammond as a pallbearer. Time magazine published Morris' obituary describing him as: "philanthropist, onetime U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, longtime friend and early political backer of Franklin Roosevelt.... He made a hit with the music-loving Belgians when he arrived in Brussels with a violin case under his arm, soon won the friendship of violin-playing Queen Elizabeth. After four years of diplomacy, pince-nezed Ambassador Morris returned to his medical and educational philanthropies."