By Sue Headlee

Remarks at Cynthia’s Memorial

October 26, 2013

Cynthia was known to her family and friends for the amazing force of character. She had a passion for social justice.  She told me once that her mother, Eleanor Kellogg Chase, was a Christian Socialist. Here are three examples of Cynthia’s quest for social equity:

1.       In the 1950s when she worked for the Marshall Plan in Paris she collected wage data from the capitals of Western Europe.  The question she researched was “did the Marshall Plan raise the standard of living of the workers?”

2.       As a development economist she wrote two books with Irma Adelman entitled: Society, Politics, and Economic Development (1967) and Economic Growth and Social Equity in Developing Countries (1973).  They believed that economic performance could not be explained without analysing political and social forces.  To explain poverty and inequality, it was necessary to study institutions that structured the distribution of income and wealth.

3.         In 1994, she was elected president of the Economic History Association. For her presidential address, she asked “What kind of capitalist institutions favor a widespread distribution of the benefits of capitalism?”

Cynthia was a passionate teacher. As her student in fall 1976, I found her enthusiastic and intellectually excited by economic theory and finding empirical evidence to test those theories.  Sometimes she would take our breath away.  In her classes, she required her students each week to create causal diagrams on issues of that week’s topic.  She was always searching for causal relations.

Cynthia was a creative intellectual.  For her and Irma’s third book Comparative Patterns of Economic Development 1850-1914 (1988), they applied their innovative quantitative technique to economic history of the world. As her research assistant, I was fascinated by the measurement of social and political institutions.  I helped her organize country data in order to rank them on such variables as “agreeableness of agricultural institutions” to agricultural development.  She believed that agricultural development promoted a wide distribution of the benefits of growth.  She had a powerful and critical intellect.

She supervised a large number of dissertations, including my own.  She demanded hard work and set high standards. As my dissertation advisor, she helped me construct my own measures of the agricultural institutions to apply to the family farm system of the Old Northwest in the 1850s where there was a widespread distribution of the gains of development. She taught me to do theoretically-informed empirical research.

She became my friend.  She loved my husband, Jeff Reiman, professor of moral philosophy at American University. She would take us out to dinner in her customized Checker car and debate moral issues with us. She was always stimulating and enjoyable. I am grateful for being guided and befriended by such a brilliant and creative person.

By Karen Pfeifer

Memorial tribute delivered to the faculty of Smith College, October 23, 2013.

Like many women of her age cohort and, indeed of mine, Cynthia Taft Morris’ career took twists and turns that juggled, on one hand, her own intellectual curiosity and desire for adventure and, on the other hand, the compromises requisite to the wife of a United States Foreign Service officer and the mother of two children. She was also a woman of indomitable courage and fortitude.

Undaunted by paraplegia inflicted by polio at the age of 14, Cynthia chose to tour Europe on crutches during summer treks in her college years. After graduating from Vassar College in 1949, she earned a tutorial-form master’s degree in labor economics at the London School of Economics, having decided that the US system of courses and exams was just too boring to endure for two more years. Then, instead of returning to the United States, she went on to work in Paris for two years for the Mutual Security Agency under the Marshall Plan. Her job entailed gathering research data for an evaluation of the Marshall Plan’s impact on the living standards of workers, for which she traveled to five countries, “hopping on and off buses, escalators and subways on her crutches.”[1]

Cynthia’s command of European languages – she was fluent in German and French, conversant in Italian, and taught herself to read Dutch and Spanish – plus her LSE degree in labor economics and her work in Paris won her a research associate job with Lloyd Reynolds upon her return to the United States in 1953. Reynolds was a pioneering labor economist who encouraged her to enter the Ph.D. program in economics at Yale and who valued her work so highly that he made her co-author of the book they produced from that research. She took her Ph.D. in economics at Yale in 1959.[2]

Meanwhile, however, Cynthia had married Donald R. Morris and moved with him to Harvard, where he attended graduate school. She wanted to teach and persuaded the head of the economics department to hire her as an adjunct, on the irreproachable logic that because “Yale did not permit women to corrupt their young men by teaching them,” Harvard should do it first.[3]

In 1960, Cynthia moved with her newly-minted foreign-service officer husband first to Geneva, where she worked for the Economic Commission of Europe, a core institution of what would become the European Union, and then on to Beirut for two years. She talked herself into a job at the American University of Beirut teaching history of economic thought. It was the experience of reading and preparing this course, and her complex experience comparing economic “development” in Lebanon with various European countries, that shaped her appreciation for the wide range of possible visions, theories and understandings in the field of economics, and her sense that there were no single universally correct answers to economic questions.[4]

Cynthia hailed from a famous Ohio Republican family, at a time when both the Republican Party and the politics of Ohio were rather different from what we know today. Her grandfather, William Howard Taft, was President of the United States and her cousin Robert Taft was a two-term state governor. As the mayor of Cincinnati, Cynthia’s father, Charles Phelps Taft, became famous for cleaning up corruption and running public works programs during the Great Depression, leading to Fortune magazine’s accolade that Cincinnati was the “best managed big city in the country.”[5]

Given this background it may come as a surprise to learn that Cynthia defined herself as a European-style social democrat, and took pride in her reputation as a “radical” student at Vassar. She attributed these inclinations to the counterbalancing influence of her mother, “a Christian socialist pacifist,”[6] which may account for her lifelong dedication to political, social and economic equality within the realistic confines of the capitalist economies she studied.

Cynthia called herself “the maverick in the middle” in the field of economics. The professional work for which she became famous was a long-term series of joint projects with Irma Adelman, funded by the rare boon of four National Science Foundation grants. The work resulted in three widely respected books over 20 years. Based on detailed and precise gathering of data for, ultimately, over 100 countries, this body of work showed the critical influence of political and social institutions on the economic transformation of societies in variegated historical settings. Most important, Adelman and Morris challenged the reigning neoclassical models that assumed the benefits of growth would automatically trickle down in a market economy, arguing instead that distribution of benefits was the contingent outcome of the particular institutions and historical setting that framed growth.[7]

Having moved with her husband again, Cynthia found a comfortable tenured niche in the economics department at The American University in Washington DC from 1964 to 1983. In the 1970s, the economics faculty at AU, like its counterpart at UMass-Amherst, evolved into a heterodox department where a wide range of economic visions and types of research was encouraged. Cynthia was the perfect “maverick in the middle” for such a setting. The graduate students came from many countries and backgrounds and included not only “a brilliant batch of white males” but also “a few talented and diverse women students tied down in Washington by family obligations.”[8] Leaving aside the “talented” adjective, I was one of those errant female students, who, like Cynthia herself, had already had a twisting career, who had moved, young child in tow, with her then-husband to Washington for his work, and who had entered the Ph.D. program with the purported head start of a master’s degree earned elsewhere (that is, the hard way).[9]

During my last year at AU, I had the privilege of working as Cynthia’s research assistant for the third book she wrote with Irma Adelman. This process taught me how to dig deep to find and organize original data and how to weave institutional research and a historical perspective in with economics more narrowly conceived. Cynthia served as my dissertation chair, reading everything I wrote quickly and with sharp but supportive criticism. She encouraged me to carry through on my plan to do research in Algeria, a country I had never been to before, to struggle through many months of language study so that I could survive in a different society, and, most important, to gather my own fresh data and to offer an original take on a critical question about agrarian reform in economic development. She was delighted when I was hired at Smith College in 1979, an institution that she saw providing a progressive education to women as her own Vassar College had done for her.

Cynthia was recruited to Smith College by President Jill Kerr Conway and Dean of Faculty Frances Volkmann in 1983 to become Charles N. Clark Professor of economics. Never shying from a harsh truth, Cynthia called this a “pure affirmative action hire” because it came at a time when there were few senior women professors in the discipline and when no woman had been tenured in the Smith economics department for over two decades.[10] She relished teaching women students in yet another heterodox department and served as inspiration and support to me and several other younger female assistant professors who were hired and came up for tenure in the 15 years before she retired in 1998.

There are many anecdotes illustrating Cynthia’s indomitable courage and fortitude, but I will finish by reciting two that also show her sense of humor and her grace under pressure. After her return to Washington in 1998 as a Distinguished Economist in Residence at American University, she routinely rolled herself to campus in her wheelchair wearing a sign that read, “Don’t push me, I’m working out.”[11]

On the occasion of her presidential address to the staid and sober Economic History Association in 1994 at a convention hotel in Cincinnati, Cynthia had to compete with a Polish-style band playing polka music, with tubas blaring and hearty foot stomping, on the other side of a thin partition. As the music got more raucous toward the end of her talk, she delivered her concluding sentences by belting them out to the tune of the song the band was playing. The economic historians leaped to their feet with a thunderous ovation and several boisterous rounds of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”[12]

[1] Morris, Michele Taft, August 2013, Obituary of Cynthia Taft Morris.

[2] Haupert, Mike, 2007, Interviews with Cynthia Taft Morris, Cliometric Society, pp. 1-2.

[3] Morris, op cit.

[4] Haupert, op cit., p. 4.

[5] Carter, Susan, 10 Aug 2013, An Account of Cynthia Taft Morris’s Presidential Address to the Economic History Association, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Cincinnati OH, September 1994.

[6] Haupert, op cit., pp. 6-7.

[7] Haupert,  op cit., pp. 4-5, 7-8.

[8] Haupert, op cit., p. 5.

[9] Another fond account of Cynthia’s life and work as a teacher, researcher and colleague by one of those few women students  is Sue Headlee’s Remembrance of Cynthia Taft Morris, August 2013,

[10] Haupert, op cit., p. 6.

[11] Morris, op cit.

[12] Carter, op cit.

By Cyrus Bina

Professor Cynthia Taft Morris was not an ordinary faculty but a godsend throughout our cheery mutiny in the AU Economics Department in the 1970s.  As I remember, the vessel of economics orthodoxy, unable to carry the specter of time, had to be reflagged in the uncharted waters of the changing epoch. At that time, the arrival of several knowledgeable heterodox economics faculty and the recruitment of some tough-minded, fastidious, and alternative-seeking graduate students did the trick. Cynthia was a dignified figure held high by many of us on the radical side—the political economy track. She was a genuine economist, far from the fake orthodoxy present across the discipline, and some of us, who came to AU to learn economics a la the classical and/or Marx’s political economy, were persuaded that when push comes to shove she is on our side. The last time I saw Cynthia was in my oral qualifying exam for a Ph.D. She was dazzling, temperate, and distinctly upfront; in the course of examination, I was a bit tense and equally quibbling. I distinctly remember, as the question of David Ricardo’s rent theory and incongruity with his value theory came up, I hastily scorned him; Cynthia, who was neither Ricardian nor neo-Ricardian, had defended Ricardo as if he was her baby. To this very date, believe it or not, I have not yet been recovered from the embarrassment, not for the Ricardo’s puzzle, but for not being mature enough to provoke this exquisite woman who elegantly sat in that wheelchair and smiled not unlike a six-feet-tall goddess in charge of Universe. And I miss her so dearly.


Cyrus Bina ‘83

Distinguished Research Professor of Economics

University of Minnesota (Morris Campus) &

Elected Fellow, Economists for Peace and Security


By Sharon Lockwood

My first meeting with Cynthia was that afternoon at 4:00, and I was staring at an empty page, terrified.

Nothing was happening.

Totally embarrassed, I called Cynthia at about 10:00 and said that I had to cancel our appointment as I had nothing to show her.

She said, “Come at 4:00 and just write anything.  I don’t care if you hand write it, I can read anyone’s handwriting.”

I realized that she knew I had nothing at 10:00 and was willing to look at whatever I produced in the next 6 hours.  This was such a relief.  Clearly she was not expecting the miracle I had wanted to show her.

Cynthia read the pages and became very excited. 

“You see this idea; it can be expanded this way. And that idea can be developed that way.”

For the next hour she had taken my few pages and shown the way to a dissertation.

She assured me that I had indeed been productively ‘incubating,’ a concept that I have used to stave off frustration in the years to come.

I left her office empowered and excited and would remain so through out the entire process.

Cynthia was magic!

–Sharon Lockwood

By Carmel U. Chiswick

Without Cynthia, I might never have become an economist.

I first met her at AID when I was just out of college.  I was a research assistant, and she was a visitor working in the office next to mine.  Cynthia was constructing a body of data that would generate several books and many articles in collaboration with Irma Adelman.  During our many lunchtime conversations I learned that economics was not only useful but also accessible to a mere mortal like me, that accurate data need not involve false precision, and that a female economist could devise a career path compatible with marriage and family.  She encouraged me to join the profession, and wrote a reference that helped me get into graduate school. 

Cynthia and I remained in touch throughout my graduate-school years.  In addition to our friendship, she mentored me professionally in various ways.  I am especially grateful for her succinct lesson on how to write a dissertation, advice that was so helpful that I made a point of sharing with a decades-long succession of grateful graduate students. 

If I had to characterize Cynthia with one word, it would be “enthusiastic.”  She greeted you eagerly, discussed ideas cheerfully, and pursued her research interests with care and persistence.  She never ceased to be a good colleague, mentor, and positive role model.

–Carmel Chiswick, George Washington University

By Tom Riddell

Cynthia was a teacher, a colleague and an adviser.  I took classes with her during the late 1960′s and early 1970′s at AU.  She was enthusiastic and loved her material.  In addition, she clearly had high expectations.  It was also evident that she was very principled and committed to a search for the truth.  In the early exploratory days of my decision to actually get a Ph.D., she became an adviser for my first idea/project, which had to do with income inequality and the development of Washington, D.C.  She was gracious in guiding me into exploring the topic and then also in recognizing and communicating that it might be more fruitful to move in a different direction.  Which I did, still overly ambitious, but more contemporary.  She was equally gracious about stepping aside as an adviser when I decided to focus on the political economy of the Vietnam War.  Later (much), I was teaching at Smith when Cynthia joined the faculty there.  As a colleague, she was still very engaged with her teaching as well as her scholarship; and she still had high expectations for students and faculty.  She had an important impact on my own approach to teaching, scholarship and community.  I appreciate her energy, dedication and contributions to higher learning.

–Tom Riddell

By Leo Sveikauskas

I remember in the fall of 1955 I was a freshman at Harvard College.  I took economics as one of my first courses, and was placed in Cynthia’s section which met at Lamont Library.  I remember that, at the first class Cynthia started out with a brief presentation of her biography, and said to the class “I thought you might like to know” this information; it is amazing how strong the implicit bias against women was then.

 I remember how good and interesting the Samuelson text was then.   I also remember the students in that small section of 20, which included one of Adlai Stevenson’s sons (Borden), and a senior who was a member of the Lee family which was then very prominent in venture finance.  The class was so interesting that I decided to major in Economics, and in later years read Cynthia’s work, especially her joint work with Irma Adelman.  I have been working as an economist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics here in Washington for forty years, and together with my wife Cathy (who has a degree in Economic History as well as Economics), we have become regular attendees at the Washington Area Economic History Seminar.  We have both had the pleasure of talking to Cynthia again over the years.

 I always remember how gutsy and gallant Cynthia was.  It is so good for humanity that polio has been largely eradicated.  God bless Cynthia Taft Morris.  In common with various Oriental religions, I believe in reincarnation and like the idea of Cynthia reincarnating with full use of her limbs once again.
 — Leo Sveikauskas, Harvard College Class of 1959