William C. Davidon

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William C. Davidon
William C. Davidon.jpg
Born(1927-03-18)March 18, 1927[1]
DiedNovember 8, 2013(2013-11-08) (aged 86)
Occupationphysics professor
Known forCitizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI

William Cooper Davidon (March 18, 1927 – November 8, 2013) was an American professor of physics and mathematics, and a peace activist. He was the mastermind of the March 8, 1971, FBI office break-in, in Media, Pennsylvania, and the informal leader of the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI which led to the disclosure of COINTELPRO, which in turn led to subsequent investigations and reforms of the FBI.[2]


Davidon was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1927. He attended Purdue University and graduated from the University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in 1957.[3]

From 1954 to 1956, he was a research associate at the Enrico Fermi Institute. From 1956 to 1961, he was an associate physicist at the Argonne National Laboratory, where he developed the first quasi-Newton algorithm,[4] now known as the Davidon–Fletcher–Powell formula. He was professor of physics at Haverford College, beginning in 1961, and then Professor of Mathematics, as his interests shifted to include mathematical logic, set theory and non-standard analysis. He retired in 1991. He was a 1966 Fulbright Scholar.[5]

Davidon moved to Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in 2010. He died November 8, 2013, of Parkinson's disease.


In 1966, he traveled to South Vietnam, with A. J. Muste, sponsored by the Committee for Non-Violent Action. He also announced that year that he would be refusing to pay his federal income tax in protest against the Vietnam War.[6] Later, he became a sponsor of the War Tax Resistance project, which practiced and advocated tax resistance as a form of anti-war protest.[7] In 1971, he was named an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Harrisburg Seven case. He was on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union, Philadelphia affiliate.[8]

As the leader of the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, Davidon was instrumental in planning and organizing a break-in of the FBI's Media, Pennsylvania office. The documents stolen there led to the disclosure of COINTELPRO.[9] According to The Burglary,[10] a book published shortly after his death, Davidon also had engaged in draft board raids, stealing or destroying files, and subsequent to Media participated in two acts of sabotage against military materiel intended for use in Vietnam. Due at least in part to his exceptionally careful planning and his co-conspirators' total commitment to secrecy and discretion, neither he nor anyone else was ever charged in any of those actions, despite an intense, five-year FBI investigation.


In 1963, Davidon married Ann Morrissett (1925–2004), a noted pacifist/feminist essayist and activist. They had two daughters (one of whom, Ruth, became an Olympic rower). Davidon and Morrissett divorced in 1978.[5] He was married and divorced prior to marrying Morrissett, and also remarried subsequently.[8] He had a son, Alan (1949- ), from his first marriage to Phyllis Wise (1927- ).[11]


  1. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2C3Q-SCW
  2. ^ https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/1971/characters.html
  3. ^ Davidon, William C. (1954). A proper time formalism (Ph.D.). University of Chicago. QC1099 Davidon.
  4. ^ Avriel, Mordecai (1976). Nonlinear Programming: Analysis and Methods. Prentice-Hall. p. 321. ISBN 0-13-623603-0.
  5. ^ a b "Ann Morrissett Davidon and William C. Davidon Papers (DG 144), Swarthmore College Peace Collection". Swarthmore.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-09.
  6. ^ Associated Press "Doctor to Lose Scholarship If He Refuses to Pay Tax" ca. 15 April 1966
  7. ^ "A Call to War Tax Resistance" The Cycle 14 May 1970, p. 7
  8. ^ a b Cook, B.L. (November 19, 2013). "William C. Davidon, 86, professor and peace activist". The Inquirer. Retrieved 2014-01-09.
  9. ^ Mazzetti, Mark (January 7, 2014). "Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-02-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/32356.html

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