Attempted Utopian Society Ferrer Colony and Modern School Part 1

About the attempted utopian society the Ferrer Colony and Modern School, history, population, economic and social structure.


Founder: Twenty-two anarchists founded the Francisco Ferrer Association as a cultural center and evening school, then added an experimental day school, and finally it became an experimental community. The association was named for Francisco Ferrer, a radical who built a network of anticlerical schools in Spain, and who was executed after an uprising in Barcelona in 1909.

The experiment was different, and remarkable, because it managed to bring together newly arrived eastern European Jews with native-born, college-educated Anglo-Saxons at a time in America's history when such contact was rare.

Harry Kelly, Joseph Cohen, and Leonard Abbott, 3 men heavily involved in the radical causes of their day, were among the association's most influential members during its formation. Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm, who came to the community to serve as co-principals of the school in 1920, became its dominant members.

Where and When: The Francisco Ferrer Association was begun in New York City on June 12, 1910. The Ferrer Modern School followed 16 months later, on October 13, 1911. Finally, because of an upsurge in police harassment and violence from other anarchists, the association purchased a 140-acre tract of land near New Brunswick, N.J., in Stelton, and began the Ferrer Colony on May 16, 1915. It remained an ongoing venture until the early 1950s.

Political and Social Structure: The association was never doctrinaire. The ethos of the Ferrers leaned toward extreme radicalism and as a result they supported a number of protest movements while in New York. In keeping with their anarchist philosophy there was no declaration of principles at the colony. In fact, members had decided that the colony would continue only for as long as members chose to stay and work together.

Among the community's most enduring and successful traditions were lecture and discussion groups. Among the lecturers that came to the Ferrer Center were Clarence Darrow, Margaret Sanger, and Lincoln Steffens. No communal policy was set without benefit of communal discussion and democratic vote. Unlike former communal experiments, at the Ferrer Center no single individual set standards or policy.

Property and Distribution of Goods: Land for the colony was purchased at Stelton, N.J., for $100 an acre and then resold to individual colonists for $150. This allowed 9 acres to be set aside for the school, around which the community was to be built.

People were poor and in the beginning supplies were difficult to obtain. But as the community developed, a sense of camaraderie grew as neighbors helped one another to farm or build homes. By 1922 nearly 90 houses, the colony's peak number, had been built.

One of the great differences between the Ferrer Colony and other communal experiments was that many of its members did not live at the colony, but visited from New York City on weekends and holidays. Also, unlike other experiments, many of those who lived at the colony would commute by train to New York, where they worked.

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