Erin's Blog Spring 2016

Robert Owen's New Harmony

Interpretation of Sources

I found that when reading the sources I have used in my research paper, there is a common pattern that stems from what I have learned about social utopia, past and present. For me, the most significant take away form this course has been that social utopias do not actually exist. So, when reading a source, I find that the general pattern is to, first, state the goals of, in my case, Robert Owen. With the background source, it states many of Owen’s goals, while the primary and secondary sources pinpoint a goal that is going to be the topic of the writing. The next part of the pattern is that the author then writes about how Owen attempted to fulfill his goal, whether it was to draw up a blueprint for a grand society with brick buildings, or to create a constitution that states all people are going to be equal. The final part of the pattern that I have observed in all of the sources I have read is how Owen’s goal failed. In the background source, since it was more broad, it discussed the general downfall of the community, like how industry failed and individuals of different classes were not able to live harmoniously. In Carol Kolmerten’s book, being a secondary source describing a particular goal of Owen’s that was not accomplished, she wrote about how equality was never recognized.

After obtaining a rich understanding of many different utopias, it became easier to pinpoint the actions of the thinker that contributed to the downfall of the community, or the actions that were going to lead to the downfall of the community in the long run. Having a background in the way utopias work, it was definitely easier to read a source, pick up the main ideas, and then make predictions of how successful the society will be.

The Problems of Utopia

I believe one of the most widely recognized problems of an attempted utopia like New Harmony was the tendency to invite everyone of all classes to join, then finding the harmonious union impossible. Although New Harmony was propagandized as a symbol for equality of the sexes, its women had different opinions on what the community actually offered to them. Some women found new freedoms but most of them experienced increased demands on their timeworn domestic services. Some women, especially those from working-class backgrounds, felt that their situation was bettered by the move, however, the majority of the women often felt betrayed by false promises of equality that brought them mostly demeaning labor. It was difficult to meet the wants and expectations of so many different people.

I think the take home from this failure of unification in the society directly parallels all of the other utopian societies we have read about. Utopian thinkers wanted to be able to create a society in which all races, classes and genders came together and lived harmoniously. Unfortunately, as we have seen all too often during our class research, bringing all of these different people together, with completely different backgrounds, initiated the breakdown of the society.

One connection I could make between Robert Owen’s New Harmony and Thomas More’s Utopia, although fairly unrelated to topic of unity above, is how the traditional view of gender roles seemed to permeate the thinking of these male utopian leaders. Thomas More referred to women, bluntly, as “the weaker sex” (More 60), and gave them more simple jobs that required less strength, such as weaving, while the men passed their time with carpentry or metal work. Although a minor example, Thomas More degraded women by providing them with smaller tasks, although most of the women were just as able to perform the tasks that men did. Although they claimed to be forward thinking and driven by peace and equality, many utopian thinkers did not consider the lives of women to be as important as the lives of men.

Work Cited:

More, T. (2001). Utopia (C. H. Miller, Trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Research Paper Organization

Each piece of information that I have come across in my research is equally as important as the next, for different reasons, and I think the way I plan on organizing the evidence makes sense as a way to argue my claim logically. Since I am making the claim that New Harmony’s ideas of gender roles were more traditional than one would think, the strongest evidence and, therefore, the most important evidence to support my claim are the letters written by Sarah Pears, who was a woman who lived in New Harmony. These letters bluntly state how unhappy Mrs. Pears was in the community and describe in detail the amount of work she was required to complete and the unreasonable rules she was required to respect.

Although Mrs. Pear’s letters are of the most value to argue that women were being mistreated, the other information I have come across during my research is just as vital to my paper because it allows me to make comparisons. The book, The Columbia Guide to American Women in the Nineteenth Century, is written about the pivotal role of women in the nineteenth century. I am going to use this source as a way to establish the standards of women and their roles in society in the early nineteenth century, so I can provide the reason for why women would look to New Harmony as a refuge. This information is also going to be used as a way to compare the way women were being treated outside of the community to the way they were treated on the inside, to further prove my point that gender roles were very traditional.

Before I start comparing the lives of women inside and outside of New Harmony, I plan on discussing the way Robert Owen advertised his new community. By doing this, I will show how Owen’s talk of the equality and happiness that he promised would appear in his community raised the expectations of the future inhabitants to absurd levels, making them eager to be a part of the community, and making them highly disappointed when the expectations were not met.

Although all for different reasons, the information I have found is equally vital to my research paper. By first setting the standards of women’s treatment in the nineteenth century, then writing about Owen’s promises of what New Harmony would be like, then sharing the words of Sarah Pears and Carol Kolmerten regarding the actual mistreatment of women within New harmony, I think my paper will flow well, while supporting my argument in a strong way.

The importance of my research and its relevance to this course.

I think an exceptionally important premise that has evolved from this course that studies utopias is that these perfect societies did/do not actually exist. We have analyzed readings and books and case studies, all about individuals striving to create a flawless community, but none of the communities have lasted. Robert Owen spent years planning his own perfect society in the United States, New Harmony, and it lasted only two years. Individuals entering into the society had such high expectations for perfection, when their expectations were not met, they gave up on the society. While examining the plans of the utopian thinkers, our class was always able to pinpoint certain flaws that led to the downfall of their dream society. Robert Owen’s new Harmony certainly possessed some of these flaws.

Owen preached to his followers that his new community would be one of total equality and human happiness. The women entering New Harmony expected parity and pleasure just as much as their husbands, but they did not receive it. They were forced to perform domestic work day and night and were even separated from their children so the children could be educated communally. They quickly became dissatisfied with their new lifestyle, and for this reason, many families left New Harmony and other Owenite communities that presented their inhabitants with false promises. Owen’s flaw was that he did not look at women as equals. Even in Owen’s The Book of the New Moral World he discusses his plans to work towards the universal happiness of human kind, but never explicitly suggests women were included in the happiness New Harmony would provide to all. The nineteenth century was an era of female oppression, and the women entering New Harmony, seeking an egalitarian lifestyle, quickly realized they would not be offered one, which is one of the many reasons New Harmony disbanded.

Research Topic Further Refined

After reading Women in Utopia: The Ideology of Gender in American Owenite Communities, by Carol A. Kolmerten, I have decided to refine my research question by not only asking if women were neglected in the Owenite community, but also asking why they were neglected. While some of the other sources I have read have discussed the fact that women were being oppressed in Owenite communities, the sources were not able to provide an explanation as to why women were oppressed in these societies that claimed there would be freedom for all.

After reading about Frances Wright’s life journey and her struggle to have women’s rights recognized, it has come to my understanding that a large reason for women not receiving equal treatment in the Owenite communities is a result of their only form of support, other women who were brave enough to stand up and speak out, being oppressed as well, outside of Owenite communities in the real world. These radical-minded women were completely rejected by society. Frances Wright, a women’s rights activist in a sense, fought her whole life for the equal treatment of women, all to no prevail.

After reading this chapter by Kolmerten, I have come to realize that there were many factors in the subjugation of women, actually.  Women entering into an Owenite community usually were there because they were simply following their husbands. From the very start, women were entering into a male-dominated society, even though the goal of an an Owenite society was to provide an egalitarian style community for all. Women, most of the time, were not even considered members. They often received gender-based education and jobs, leaving them overwhelmed with domestic work.

I plan on writing about the efforts put forth by Frances Wright in her lifetime, but also researching other women who made an impact, or at least attempted to make an impact, on the lives of women in the Owenite community. I also plan on discussing the other reasons that could have contributed to the unfair treatment of women, like those mentioned in the paragraph above. I also hope to locate a primary source written by a woman in an Owenite community to gain a first hand understanding of how severe their treatment truly was.


Work Cited:

Kolmerten, Carol A. “Frances Wright: A Woman in Utopia”. In Women in utopia: the ideology of gender in the American Owenite community, 111-141. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Blog Post 1: Thinking More About The Owenite Society

One thing I find very interesting about the Owenites is their outlook on education. Owen believed that the members of the society should be raised by the community as a whole in order to “fashion a superior character” (Pitzer 94), not by there families, which could be a negative influence on the children. As a result of Owen’s educational beliefs, children learned mostly through interaction with other members of the community. The schooling even included the adults in the community, offering to them educational, social and cultural activities (Pitzer 94). I find this aspect of the Owenite culture quite curious because it is so different from the culture within I was raised. I learned almost everything I know and believe today from my family. Although I attended school with all of my friends, we are all different people and all have different beliefs and morals.

I would like to learn more about the role of women in this community. According to the source, women entered into the society expecting to have equal civil and social rights to men, however, women from cultured families in the east often felt as though they were being forced to perform great amounts of demeaning domestic labor. Were the majority of women happy with their life in the Owenite society?  What role did Owenites play in advocating for women’s rights? Were men equal to women? These are questions I think are both interesting and important because it helps to see deeper into the Owenite community and learn what it was truly all about.

Work Cited:

Pitzer, Donald E. “The New Moral World of Robert Owen and New Harmony” in America’s Communal Utopias. Edited by Donald E. Pitzer. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997, pp. 88-134.

New Harmony Questions

1). How does Owen’s thinking differ from other enlightenment thinkers attempting to create their own ideal communities at the time?

2). What factors led to the downfall of New Harmony?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén