Horace Champney was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1905, the son of Adeline Champney and Fred Schulder. His parents described themselves as "philosophical anarchists," and had chosen not to marry. Horace was the eldest of three children. Champney entered Antioch College in 1922, and graduated in 1932, later receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from Ohio State University. He joined the Fels Research Institute staff in 1936 as a psychologist, and worked there for several years. Champney specialized in the field of child development, concentrating on the role of parent behavior and its efforts at molding the personality of children. During World War II, he counseled conscientious objectors as part of his radical pacifism. Champney ceased to work as a psychologist around 1949, when he joined the Antioch Press as a printer and editor.
Champney continued his many peace and justice activities after the war. He was a founder of The Peacemakers Movement, a group of people who came together in 1948 in Chicago to develop a movement of disciplined and revolutionary pacifist activity. The main points of their program included social and economic revolution; commitment to nonviolence; refusal to perform war work, pay taxes for war, or register for the draft; and the establishment of Peacemaker-type communities. Champney was also involved with the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and was instrumental in helping desegregate restaurants and barbershops in Yellow Springs, Ohio. One of Champney's means of expressing personal protest was through fasting. He participated in a Christmas Vigil and Fast for Peace in December 1950, a fast in conjunction with Lee Stern (a staff member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation); in 1965 to protest U.S. policy in Vietnam; and the Fast for Life movements in 1972 and 1983.
It was with the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam that Champney's most intense period of peace activism began. He is generally credited with originating the idea of sending a "boatload of Quakers" to take medical supplies to North Vietnam. His idea came to fruition in 1966, when A Quaker Action Group issued a call for volunteers. Many problems and uncertainties lay ahead: the voyage would be dangerous because of American bombing and mining of North Vietnamese harbors; U.S. officials would certainly not issue the appropriate documents, leaving the crew members in a precarious legal situation; and their reception by the North Vietnamese was by no means assured. Nevertheless, Champney volunteered. He was 61 years old at the time, had no sailing experience, and (in his own words) was not in very good physical shape. However, he was accepted as a crew member of the yacht Phoenix along with Betty Boardman, Phillip Drath, Bob Eaton, and Ivan Massar, under the leadership of captain Earle Reynolds.
The Phoenix sailed in March 1967, visiting Hiroshima and Hong Kong before proceeding to North Vietnam. They were received by the North Vietnamese, first with caution, then with increased warmth. They presented the medical supplies they had brought, and viewed the havoc caused by American bombing. Their visit generated wide media coverage in the United States and Canada, Europe, and Japan. After their return to the United States, Champney and other members of the crew embarked on speaking tours to report on what they had seen. They were well-received, especially on college campuses. Yet they were frustrated by the seeming insensitivity of the American public to the carnage in Vietnam. Champney's Phoenix ship-mate Betty Boardman and the Wisconsin Women for Peace had begun a vigil at the White House. Champney joined them on July 1, 1969, and then began a fast and vigil of his own.
During the summer and autumn of that year Champney tried to convey his message to passers-by at the gates of the White House; he composed many appeals to fellow members in the peace movement; and wrote a letter each week to President Nixon, asking for an appointment (which was never granted). Forced by family circumstances and uncertain health to return to Yellow Springs, Champney continued to encourage Quakers and other peacemakers to keep up pressure on the government by means of White House vigils. He also continued his support of draft resisters and conscientious objectors, especially those who were imprisoned for their beliefs.
War tax resistance and tax refusal were continuing concerns of Champney from about 1950 until his death. He and his fourth wife, Beulah, refused to pay part or all of their taxes for several years. Champney had joined the Society of Friends in 1949, becoming an active member of the Yellow Springs (Ohio) Monthly Meeting. He continued his interest in A Quaker Action Group for many years after the Phoenix voyage. He was also involved with the American Friends Service Committee, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Champney continued to follow the affairs of Antioch College. Throughout his adult years, Champney believed in the efficacy of vitamins and a simple, healthy diet to improve and prolong life. He combined this with his efforts to reduce his standard of living as a protest against American materialism and need to "colonize" other nations to sustain this way of life. Horace Champney died on August 31, 1990, in Yellow Springs, Ohio.