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Conger, Arthur Latham, Jr. (1872-1951)

Arthur L. Conger, Jr., the leader of the American branch of the Theosophical Society in the years immediately after World War II (1939-45), was born on January 30, 1872, in Akron, Ohio. His father was a Civil War veteran and prominent leader in the Republican Party. While at Harvard (1890-1894), Conger became attracted to Theosophy and joined the local lodge in 1892. He met his future wife, Margaret Loring Guild, at the lodge. Following his graduation, at his parents' request, he left for England to study for the Episcopal priesthood, but while he did well at the seminary at Cambridge, he settled upon Theosophy as his belief. Before his second year was out, he left the seminary and moved to New York to work for the society, just as the controversy heated up between the national leader of the society and the international organization. That controversy would lead to the American society separating from the international movement. He met Katherine Tingley, and in 1896 when she became the new leader of the American branch, she asked Conger to become her secretary.

Conger worked at the headquarters (without pay) for the next two years, but his family cut him off financially and he had to seek paid employment. He joined the army and participated in the Spanish American War (1898), where he was awarded the Silver Star. Over the next years he rose in the ranks and during World War I(1914-18) was chosen to join the staff of General Pershing in France. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and (from the French government) the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel and retired from the service in 1938.

In the years following the war, Conger again became active in the society, speaking occasionally at national gatherings. He served a brief term as the American section president (1932-33), and was reelected in 1939. Among the projects he fostered was a new digest-sized periodical, Theosophical Nuggets, a pocket-sized magazine that was published during the World War II years (1939-45).

Conger was president of the American section at the time the community at Point Loma was abandoned and the head-quarters were moved to Covina, California (a Los Angeles suburb). Gottfried de Purucker, the head of the society, died in 1942. A collective leadership emerged for the rest of the war years, but in 1945 Conger was named the new leader of the society. By this time he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. The years of Conger's leadership showed two very different trends. First, he developed a forward-looking program to re-build the society, which had suffered greatly from inattention during the war years. He also became the center of much controversy as a number of prominent older members did not accept his leadership and were asked to leave the headquarters staff. The splintering that occurred divided American Theosophists for a generation.

Among his last actions as head of the society was initiating the move of the headquarters to Pasadena, California, in 1950. Conger passed away in Pasadena on February 22, 1951. He did not write any books, but during his years as head of the society, he edited its journal, The Theosophical Forum.

Sources:

Donant, Alan E. "Colonel Arthur L. Conger." Theosophical History 7, no.1 (January 1998): 35-56.

Conger, Arthur Latham, Jr. (1872-1951)

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