Biographical / Historical
Nelson Fuson was a physicist and educator, active in Quaker concerns. He was born September 4, 1913, in Guang-zhou (Canton), China, the son of American Presbyterian missionaries; he had two brothers, Ben and William. His parents, Chester and Phebe (Meeker) Fuson worked in China from 1905-1949, and Nelson spent most of his first 15 years in China before returning to the U.S. to complete his high school education in Emporia, Kansas. He graduated from the College of Emporia in 1934 and earned an M.A. in physics and astronomy from Kansas University in 1934. In 1938 he earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan, and from 1938-1941, he taught at Rutgers University, N.J.
In 1941 Fuson was drafted as conscientious objector. He wrote that his childhood experiences influenced him to be a life-long pacifist. In 1941, he reported to CPS Unit #3, Patapsco, Maryland, administered by the American Friends Service Committee, where he worked with the Park Service. In February 1942 he was selected to report to Camp #6 in Lagro, Indiana, to train for a China Unit for humanitarian relief in Canton, administered by Church of the Brethren.
In August 1942 he was detached to Columbia University to participate in a joint civilian/military seminar in International Administration, preparing for post-war occupation and relief. In April 1943, he left Columbia to join the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia, training a new China Unit, CPS #99. During this time, he lived at Pendle Hill, the Quaker study center in Wallingford, Pa., and met his future wife, Marian Darnell. That summer, approving the so-called Starnes Rider to an appropriations bill, Congress refused to send conscientious objectors to participate in service work outside of the U.S., so the China Unit was effectively cancelled. In September 1943, Fuson was transferred to CPS Camp #46, Big Flats, N.Y., where he worked on a conservation and nursery program. In late March 1944, he was transferred to Camp #94, Trenton, N.D., involved in an agricultural project.
In January 1945, he was again assigned to detached service, CPS #115, this time at the University of Michigan to do physics research on infrared spectroscopy, under the administration of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). He and Marian Darnell, a birthright Quaker, were married at Moorestown Meeting, N.J., on June 23, 1945. Marian Haines Darnell was the daughter of Howard C. Darnell and Helen Wills Darnell. She was born on 5th month 19, 1920, in Moorestown, New Jersey. Nelson Fuson became a member of the Society of Friends on Dec. 1, 1953. Nelson had long prepared to do relief service in China, but by the end of the War, political and personal concerns had made that impractical. Rather, he began his academic career, still committed to peace and humanitarian relief.
From 1946-1948, Nelson taught at Johns Hopkins University. He taught for one year at Howard University and in 1949 joined the faculty of Fisk University, Tennessee, where he remained until his retirement, serving as Chairman of the Physics Department and director of the Infrared Spectroscopy research laboratory. During his tenure at Fisk, he took a long sabbatical (1956-1959) to research and teach at the University of Bordeaux, France. He and Marian had two sons, Allen and Dan. They were founding members of Nashville Monthly Meeting and Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and active in the AFSC International Seminar program, Friends General Conference, and desegregation and peace activities.
In 1998, Nelson and Marian Fuson moved to Kendal-at Longwood, Kennett Square, Pa., a Quaker retirement community. Nelson Fuson died February 5, 2006.