The Fels Connection: Earle Reynolds and Horace Champney

by Dave Barber

image courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College.

image courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College.

Central to the story of the 1967 voyage of the Phoenix, is its designer, owner and skipper Earle Reynolds. Between 1943 and 1951 Reynolds was Associate Professor of Anthropology at Antioch College and Chairman of the Physical Growth Department at the Fels Research Institute for the Study of Human Development (the site of WYSO from 1992 until 2012). He also wrote plays which were performed in Yellow Springs.

Reynolds was hired by the Atomic Energy Commission to take part in research on the effects atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 had on the growth and development of children. The work changed his life. He built the Phoenix and sailed with his family around the world speaking out about the dangers of atomic weapons and testing. After Quakers were arrested for sailing a boat into the nuclear test zone near Bikini Island in the Pacific Ocean, Reynolds and his family decided to take up their mission. He was arrested and prosecuted—the conviction was later overturned—for sailing into the restricted zone. Reynolds claimed later that the notoriety created by his dedication to peace and anti­nuclear causes led to loss of standing in the academic community and the end of his teaching position at Antioch.

Reynolds and Yellow Springs pacifist Horace Champney both worked for Fels Research years prior to the voyage of the Phoenix. According to biographical material which is part of the Horace Champney papers at Swarthmore College, he joined the Fels Research Institute staff in 1936 as a psychologist and worked there for several years specializing in the field of child development. In a 1982 interview with Sherry Novick at WYSO (which also included Quaker pacifist and Wilmington College professor Larry Gara) , Champney told of working with Quaker students who were grappling with the issue of conscientious objection to the draft at Antioch during the war. Champney had declared himself a conscientious objector before the end of the war and he was dismissed at Fels.

“The Fels job was pretty sensitive because it involved visiting families all over the county to observe how they raised their children.” Champney told Novick. “To have someone who was looked upon publicly as a traitor representing the Institute could hurt them. I think there was reason on those grounds.”

Quaker crew member Betty Boardman published a book about the voyage in 1985 under the title The Phoenix Trip: Notes On a Quaker Mission to Haiphong. It concludes with an appendix written by Champney, a diary of the first leg of the voyage, which originated in Hiroshima and sailed to Hong Kong before continuing to Hanoi with a ton of medical supplies. In addition to the voyage itself, Boardman’s book tells how Reynolds, Champney and other Quaker crew members came together as part of the Phoenix Project in 1966.

The Fels Research Institute became part of Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine in 1977. More information is here….. https://medicine.wright.edu/lifespan-health-research-center/fels-longitudinal-study/history

More information on Horace Champney is part of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection: https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/DG151­175/dg166HChampney.html

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