For the first 50 years of her life, Elaine Morgan (née Floyd) did not seem like someone who would be mentioned in an anthropology class, but 30 years after that it would be a rare introductory class on human evolution where at least one student did not ask about her ideas. Born in 1920 in Pontypridd, Wales, Morgan was good at school but leaned toward literature rather than science. She won an exhibition (scholarship) to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she studied English language and literature. After attending the university, she became a lecturer at the Workers’ Education Association. During the early 1950s, she started freelance writing in newspapers and magazines and then began a lifelong career in writing for television, eventually becoming an award-winning writer of serials, documentaries, and adaptations.
After nearly 20 years in television, Morgan read Robert Ardrey’s African Genesis and Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, did not like what she read, and in reaction came up with her first book on human evolution using the “aquatic ape” idea she had first discovered in Morris’s short write up of the idea. The result, The Descent of Woman, was a huge success, at least in the popular arena, and was translated into nine languages. She continued in her successful television career but also followed up on her new aquatic ape work with a slew of articles and talks as well as four more books: The Aquatic Ape (1982), The Scars of Evolution (1990), The Descent of the Child (1994), and The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (1997).
Morgan was also involved in a conference on the subject with both “pro” and “con” participants in 1987 and a resultant book (The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?), a symposium on the aquatic ape theory at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1992, and a BBC documentary in 1999.
Although Morgan’s supporters, faced with people opposing her ideas, often make a bid for leniency and some sympathy based on her age, Morgan herself does not take that tack. She seems to enjoy the parry and thrust of debate. After meeting her during part of the filming of the BBC documentary, anthropologist Bernard Wood described Morgan, in her late 70s, as “a tiny doughty sparrow of a lady whose advanced years have not dimmed her, or her supporters’ abilities to literally pin you against the wall so that she, or they, can make their point.”
The next point Morgan is planning to make is on evolutionary biology in a forthcoming book titled Darwin and the Left.
- Morgan, E. (1972). Descent of women. London: Souvenir Press.
- Morgan, E. (1982). The aquatic ape. London: Souvenir Press.
- Morgan, E. (1990). The scars of evolution. London: Souvenir Press.
- Morgan, E. (1994). The descent of the child. London: Souvenir Press.
- Morgan, E. (1997). The aquatic ape hypothesis. London: Souvenir Press.