History of Utopian Founder Robert Owen Part 2

About utopian founder Robert Owen, history and biography of the creator of New Harmony.


ROBERT OWEN (1771-1858)


When George Rapp put Harmony, his Indiana utopian community, up for sale, he offered Richard Fowler $5,000 to find a buyer. Fowler went to Scotland, hunted up Owen, and sold him Harmony--a 20,000-acre established community--for $150,000 (a steal).

Some prestigious people came to settle at Owen's "New Harmony." Among them were educator William Maclure; Thomas Say, "the father of American zoology"; naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur, who was the first to classify the fish in the Great Lakes; and Gerard Troost, a Dutch geologist. Other famous people came to visit, including utopians Fanny Wright and Josiah Warren.

From the start, in 1824, the group did not live up to Owen's high ideas. For example, when Owen put out an open cash box so that the needy could help themselves, the greedy soon emptied it.

But the members did have some beliefs, even if they did not hold to them totally: community property for one, and freedom of speech for another, and equal rights for all--including women--for a third. They were the first prohibitionists in the U.S.

Even though the Owenites did not adhere to Owen's strictures against marriage, they didn't make any great production out of it either. Their marriage ceremony was simple--one long complex sentence. (A member of the group was persuaded to get married in a dirty black and white dress she had scrubbed floors in, but she wasn't really happy about it.) Children of the community were raised outside of the natural parents' home.

Though the group was not in favor of free love, its members developed a reputation as libertines, probably just because they were different. The Indianapolis Indiana Journal stated: "It would be no breach of charity to class them all with whores and whoremongers, nor to say that the whole group will constitute one great brothel."

New Harmony, like the 16 other Owenite communities, lasted only a few years. Owen lost $200,000 on the deal--or ideal.

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