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Dimock, Marshall Edward (1903-1991)

By Wendy Bartlett

Marshall E(dward) Dimock served as the first post-merger moderator from 1961-64. Though the American Unitarian Association (AUA) under Frederick May Eliot had created a moderator role in 1937, Marshall Dimock was the first person to serve as moderator for the newly formed UUA. Dimock had a hand in redefining the role during merger planning, having served on the subcommittee for this express purpose under the Committee on Mode of Organization. Suggested to the newly formed post-merger Nominating Committee by soon-to-be Executive Vice President and fellow subcommittee member, Raymond Hopkins, Marshall Dimock was elected moderator at the 1961 General Assembly. Dimock’s extraordinary career as a professor of public administration and his service in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration made him an outstanding choice for moderator.

His lifelong interest in humanizing large corporations and institutions by urging their leaders to consider the public good, and his contributions to immigration justice predating the Executive Order 9066 and the internment of Japanese Americans, illustrated his strong Unitarian Universalist values. Eager to put these values and his well-honed practical administrative knowledge to work for the good of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Dimock moved in to his office at 25 Beacon Street, and began working closely with staff. The original vision of the role of moderator was that the moderator, along with the Board of Trustees, would steer policy, and that the president of the newly formed UUA would work to carry out that vision.

To that end, Marshall Dimock, armed with decades of experience in public administration that honored the individual within the organization and the ideal of general welfare for all, began studying the existing set up at UUA headquarters. However, President Dana Greeley was determined to pursue the style of leadership he had used as AUA president, which was more focused on setting policy and centralized decision making. A power struggle ensued between the two men, ending after three years with the resignation of Dimock, who was unable to carry out the Merger Commission’s vision of the moderator as the policy setter in the face of Greeley’s strong personality and charisma. As noted by historian Conrad Wright, this was a pattern of power that would be carried out by presidents following Greeley.

Personal biography

Marshall Edward Dimock was born in San Bernardino, California, on October 24, 1903. He graduated from Pomona College in 1925 with a major in history, and received his Ph.D. from John Hopkins in 1928. He was teaching political science at UCLA by 1930. In 1932, he moved to the University of Chicago as an Associate Professor of Public Administration, and taught there until 1941.

In 1938, Dimock became the Second Assistant Secretary of Labor in FDR’s administration, eventually working his way up to the Associate Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Department of Justice. During World War II, Dimock was appointed the Director of the Recruitment and Manning Organization of the  War Shipping Administration, helping to outfit and recruit for the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Dimock left this post in 1944 and returned to academia as Professor of Political Science at Northwestern until 1948, serving as a consultant to both the War Department and the General Accounting Office. He served one year in the Vermont State Legislature before being appointed head of the Department of Government at New York University from 1955-1962.

He authored over forty books and numerous articles in his long and productive career, one addressing his personal theology entitled Creative Religion: Notes from a Social Scientist, published in 1963 just as he was leaving the moderator job. He also penned and published a fanciful work of fiction titled Games Cats Play and other Scrivelsby Tales when he was 70 years old.

Marshall Dimock was married first to Lucy Butler Stotesbury, with whom he had three children: Milton, Mark, and Marianne. The marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage to Gladys Gouvernour Ogden lasted until her death in 1989 and produced one son, David Ludlow. Gladys co-authored several textbooks with Dimock, and produced two books of her own, Home Grounds: Living in the Country, and A Home of Our Own, both about life on their farm in Vermont.

Career in academia and public service

Beginning with his dissertation on Congressional investigating committees, Dimock argued for transparency and increased accountability in government, believing that Congress’ powers should be expanded in regard to investigating committees. Even as he was embarking on his academic career, his eye was on Washington, and on administrative responsibilities of large national entities. Early in his career at the University of Chicago, Dimock’s public career in governmental administration was launched with the publication of British Public Utilities and National Development. Published in 1934, the book was a result of a year-long grant funded study of England’s emerging utilities and the effect on the “national welfare.” As the United States was beginning to have similar issues with understanding how to administer public utilities, the book gained favorable reviews and an appreciative audience, and brought Dimock to the attention of the Roosevelt Administration.

While Dimock believed in a strong central government, and  experienced it firsthand during FDR’s administration, he also developed a distrust of large organizations, believing them to be depersonalizing. In later works, he would put forth the idea that large organizations such as corporations and labor unions should be regionalized—not unlike the districting that would take place when the UUA was formed. Dimock was concerned for many years after his work in the federal government with what was then referred to as “corporate gigantism;” the idea that corporations would be so large that they would become soulless and ignore the needs and rights of both the people they served and the people who worked in them. He believed that what corporate and governmental agencies did in the name of “efficiency” was merely an excuse to wield their power to accumulate more. He maintained that unless corporations could be persuaded to have a sense of noblesse oblige, that greed would take over, and that tyranny lay ahead.

Dimock had a chance to put his theories into practice, beginning with what we would now regard as immigration justice, in the heart of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization itself. Marshall Dimock worked under Frances Perkins between 1938-1940 in an effort to reform the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Determined to carry out the Supreme Court’s decisions on “administrative decision-making” and a deep desire to improve the humanitarian conditions for “aliens” as immigrants were then known, Dimock’s committee recommended expanded protections for immigrants. And it is important to not miss the “administrative decision-making” freedom that was new to Dimock and his colleagues. During this time, Dimock formed a great respect for, and a great trust in, the ability of administration, if properly designed, implemented, and allowed to function, as a great force for good in the world. Specifically, he believed that good administration prevented greed and self-interest from taking over corporations and large organizations.

The timing, and fate, were against the reforms that Dimock’s group had recommended. On June 2, 1941, Dimock gave a speech at the Annual Conference of Social Work in Atlantic City. Dimock spoke out strongly in favor of aiding “aliens,” or both documented and undocumented persons as they would be known today, and asserted strongly that President Roosevelt knew that internment was ill-advised. Dimock reassured, clearly answering some previous concerns, that “[t]he government knows the dangers incident to internment of whole nationality groups.” And here is his prophetic statement that sends chills, “There is nothing to be said in its [internment’s] favor except that if a nation is so unfortunate as to be caught unprepared it may be forced to adopt inept methods which under other circumstances it would never have considered.” That was delivered June 2, 1941. This speech, which exemplified Dimock’s highest aspirations for better treatment for immigrants came six months and five days before Pearl Harbor, and eight months before Executive Order 9066 was issued, creating Japanese internment camps.

Five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dimock addressed the national convention of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). In his speech, he pleaded for the elimination of “class consciousness” and a careful consideration of the “alien” (immigrant) issue. He warned that to ignore potential dangers was “stupid and bungling” but that to be too restrictive and punitive to the millions of immigrants in the country “might knock national unity for a loop.” He carried with him a letter from President Roosevelt making the same plea for unity. Even after Pearl Harbor, Dimock was working to protect the rights of immigrants against mounting prejudice and racism.

Underlying Dimock’s philosophy was a kind of moral suasion. He believed special interest groups, and in particular, capitalist for-profit organizations could be persuaded to “have a care for the public interest,” something he had seen in England years before. While this optimism was fueled by his work with FDR and the Great Depression, it did not age well given the explosion of capitalism and organizational growth in the years following World War II. “The culture of “the man in the gray flannel suit” was precisely the sort of lack of individualism and corporate-think that Dimock abhorred.

Dimock’s theology infused his theories of organizations and good government, and lasted for decades in the annals of management theory. In 1997, James A. Stever noted “Dimock swam against the current of modern organizational theory which depicted mode of organization as an inherently powerful, superior, institutional form. His latter works argued that organizations must conform to nature and that they wither if they do not take the natural qualities of people into account.”

Career within and contributions to Unitarian Universalism

Dimock was appointed a member of a subcommittee under the Committee on Mode of Organization—the committee responsible for working out many operational and administrative details of the merger. Prior to the 1961 General Assembly, Dimock invited then Raymond Hopkins, minister of the Brockton, Massachusetts Universalist congregation, and fellow subcommittee members, Raymond Hopkins, and Robert Killam to his home in Bethel, Vermont to prepare all the necessary detailed recommendations to present to the General Assembly. Because of his administrative experience and expertise, Dimock was uniquely qualified for this work. Hopkins put forth his name for the Committee on Mode of Organization because of Dimock’s incredible background of teaching, researching, and implementing administrative organization on a large scale. Eventually, so impressed was he with Dimock’s work that Hopkins urged the Nominating Committee to put forth Marshall Dimock as the first post-merger moderator. (Hopkins himself was chosen by President Dana Greeley to be his Executive Vice President. Greeley thought it important to have a Universalist as his Executive Vice President for “balance,”  in this new post- merger administration, and told Hopkins, “and you are the only Universalist I know I can work with.”)

Historian Conrad Wright tells us that Marshall Dimock had been on the Interim Study Committee on Mode of Organization, where he had been active in shaping the recommendations and drafting the report. As moderator, he took seriously the bylaw provision that the president was to be ‘subject to the direction and control of the Board.’ He was given an office at 25 Beacon Street, where as chairman of the Board he began to consult with various members of the staff. Greeley who took a decidedly different view of the role of president and considered this to be an intrusion on his turf. It soon became clear that an elected full-time president, directly responsible for day-to-day administration, and evidently intending to be a stronger president than the bylaws had envisaged, had a more secure power base than a volunteer board meeting three times between annual sessions of the General Assembly, headed by an unpaid chairman. After three years, Dimock gave up and resigned before the expiration of his term while the Board never developed as the democratic center of policy decisions that the Interim Committee had envisioned. (Congregational Polity, 187)


Interestingly, many of Dimock’s philosophies about people and management reflected the optimism of the early Roosevelt Administration, when creative solutions featured prominently in rescuing the American economy from disaster, and aided in achieving the public good. “Creative” is a word that resurfaces several times in the numerous books and articles authored by Dimock as in Creative Religion as Seen by a Social Scientist, which was published by Beacon Press in 1963, just as he was resigning from the role of moderator due to his frustration with President Dana Greeley.

Further, Dimock’s underlying philosophies of remembering “nature” in organizations, of his belief that with a little moral suasion, those at the top (and society as a whole) could be persuaded to act in the greater interest of all, a kind of updated and modern noblesse oblige, was congruent with many Unitarian Universalist values, and congruent with the kind of governmental administration in which Dimock had directly participated as a member of the New Deal administration under FDR.

As we have seen, Dimock carried this style and this philosophy in to his role as the first post-merger moderator. An expert administrator, he went to work at 25 Beacon Street, getting to know staff members and attempting to put this new model—this new Unitarian Universalism—in place administratively, as was Marshall Dimock’s gift. Unfortunately, Dimock’s old style optimism and faith in leaders ready to sacrifice all—including their power and their egos—was misplaced in the person of President Dana Greeley. As the president of the American Unitarian Association, (AUA), Greeley was accustomed to governing and persuading by force of personality and charisma. More Teddy Roosevelt than Franklin, as it were; imagine the Roosevelt cousins in the White House at the same time, and you have some idea of what 25 Beacon Street might have been like with the intense charismatic leadership of Dana Greeley and the cool, effective, and quietly determined personality of Marshall Dimock, who believed a well-designed administration could solve any problem, as long as leaders could be persuaded to let it work. Greeley was not persuaded, or amused, and the power struggle did not last long. Three years in to his tenure, Dimock resigned and returned to teaching and writing—the two long-running hallmarks of his long-running career, and Greeley’s style of president as policy-setter and central figure would long influence the UUA presidencies that followed. The role of moderator, seen as central to policy making and governance, would be permanently set aside as secondary in power to the presidency.