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Utopian Experiments

Utopia is a word derived from Greek, meaning a place where perfection has been achieved. During the nineteenth century, a number of communities were formed with the intent of environments where people could achieve their highest potential. These utopian experiments experienced varying degrees of success and while all eventually either disappeared or were converted to other forms of governance, their impact on American thinking was profound. One of the best known utopian experiments was Brook-Farm Association, which was launched in 1841 on land west of New Roxbury, Massachusetts. It attracted many eminent Boston intellectuals to either take part or come to the farm to deliver lectures. Another was the New Harmony, Indiana, commune, organized by Robert Owen. It was founded earlier by the Harmonists, who named it Harmony. After selling the project to Owen, they returned to Pennsylvania, where they founded Economy. Owen`s New Harmony foundered after a few years. French socialist Charles Fourier expounded a theory that self-sufficient communities of limited size would be the most effective means to human happiness. Brook Farm adopted Fourierism but was unable to make it work. Another effort was made by the Sylvania Association in New York. Founded in 1843 by, among others, Horace Greeley, who also served as the association`s treasurer. The community disappeared within a few years. The failure was attributed to the unsuitability of the land for Farming. A longer lasting test of the principles of Fourierism was conducted at the North American Phalanx in Red Bank, New Jersey. Founded by Albert Brisbane, one of Fourier`s disciples, the projected last twelve years. The Hopedale Community did better. Established in 1841 near Milford, Massachusetts, by the Universalist Adin Ballou, it lasted fifteen years. It did well until 1852 when Ballou stepped down, by which time it had acquired 500 acres and included a village with 30 dwellings accommodating around 175 people. Those who succeeded Ballou dissolved the community within a few years. An even more successful community was the Oneida Community, established in 1847 by John Humphrey Noyes. It prospered through the development of successful industries and lasted until 1879.