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Brook-Farm Association

Of the many utopian experiments, the Brook-Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education, located about nine miles from Boston in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, one one of the best known. Its membership included such leading lights as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Elery Channing and Charles A. Dana.

The acknowledged leader was George Ripley. Shocked by the suffering which the poor classes had experience as a result of the depression of 1837, Ripley, a former Unitarian minster become transcendentalist, desired to create a community where thinkers and workers would join together and all would receive the same wages.

In April 1841, the group established itself on 200 acres, where they hoped to build a community in which both manual and intellectual labor would be respected and whose members could live a simple yet cultivated life. The soil was not rich but the association's members worked hard to cultivate it.

Ripley decided that more organization was necessary, so the Fourier phalanx was adopted in 1845, with the primary departments being agricultural, domestic, and mechanic arts. Fourier had concluded that the ideal size of the phalanx would be 1800 people, but Brook Farm's membership never exceeded 120.

Nevertheless, a large phalanstery was built, but it was destroyed by fire just as the members were celebrating its completion. Without enough money to rebuild, and unable to pay the promised 5% return on investments, the experiment was forced to shut down in 1847.

Nathaniel Hawthorne took part briefly in the Brook Farm experiment and wrote about his experiences in The Blithedale Romance, published in 1852.

Brook Farm was a greater social success than it was financial, however. The participants enjoyed the life it offered and educational programs were provided for non-residents. Famous intellectual leaders from Boston and Concord came to lecture, and their experiences kept the farm remembered in later years.

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American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever.
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