Attempted Utopian Society Ferrer Colony and Modern School Part 2

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


Family/Marriage/Sex: Because of its anarchist philosophy the Ferrers did nothing to intrude on human relationships, whether those relationships were sanctioned by marriage, or not. As a result the Ferrer colony, like most utopian colonies, gained the reputation of being a haven for free love.

Two other facts about the colony deserve notice. First, Margaret Sanger, the great advocate of birth control, was a frequent lecturer and visitor at the colony. Second, there were a considerable number of marriages between Jews and gentiles at Ferrer, an uncommon custom at the turn of the century.

Place of Women: Though a goodly number of lecture and discussion groups devoted themselves to the problems of women, there was no organized movement at the colony concerned with women's rights.

Education and Culture: The chief purpose of the Ferrers had always been to provide working-class children with a libertarian education. They hoped to initiate lives of free self-expression and to nurture a collective social commitment.

During the school's 1st decade, in New York and then at Stelton, it experienced great difficulty in finding a principal who could provide the leadership necessary for such an education. It wasn't until 1920, at Stelton, that the problem was solved with the arrival of Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm. In a short time they transformed the Modern School into the most progressive educational experience in America during the 1920s.

Because of their aversion to intellectual abstraction they converted the newly completed educational building's 4 classrooms into craft and manual training areas. The assembly hall became a kindergarten area, leaving only the library for academic work. The curriculum soon centered around printing, weaving, art, music, carpentry, nature study, and outdoor experiences, all activities for which materials could easily be found. The only time that attendance was required was at morning assembly. The Ferms were so effective that on one occasion, a teachers' holiday, the children, rather than miss school, took over the entire operation for 3 weeks.

Why the Experiment Ended: Bowing to the growing influence of the Ferms, a number of the colony's leaders, Kelly and Cohen among them, had left Stelton by the end of the 1st decade, taking with them much of the community's driving force.

The 1940s, and the war, brought on new problems. The Army purchased the property adjoining the settlement, and the community suddenly found itself the victim of theft, vandalism, and rape. Many of the colonists sold their property and moved to Miami and Los Angeles.

Finally, and most important, was the fact that few of the families were sending their children to the school in the late '40s and early '50s. As they became more and more middle class, so did their children, and the assimilation of the onetime anarchists into the American mainstream became unavoidable.

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