What does this document tell us about the original intent(s) that New Odessa’s members had for the community, and in what ways does this information relate to its demise?
In this document, the son of one of New Odessa’s founders provides an account of how the community came into existence. He begins by detailing how historical conditions affected decisions at the time. For example, in 1881 pogroms occurred in Odessa and throughout Russia. The victims of this persecution resolved to leave Russia. Some sought to relocate in Palestine while others in America. In any case, their original intent was to find refuge in a safer place.
Am Olam was consequently formed as an organization whose members were determined to adopt a farming lifestyle upon reaching America, reflecting yet another original intent for the community. It sent people to America in two groups. Leon Swett, the father of the author of this document, was treasurer for the second of such groups. Leon guarded the goods and moneys of 400 on the ship in route to America, and equally distributed them on the last day of the voyage. This action in particular perhaps reflects an original intent for New Odessa to be egalitarian, but we cannot assume such with full confidence. Leon Swett joined the remnants of the first group, because his own group dissolved in New York. This new group constituted the original members of New Odessa. Although 90% of them were educated in Russian universities, they still adhered to the original intent of adopting a farming lifestyle. However, not all of them immediately went to the farm: some supported the community by working other jobs instead. We can reason then that farming, their original intent, was not self-subsistent. Moreover, this evidence shows how they were willing to suspend their idealism for pragmatism. After some amount of time passed, all of the members eventually lived on the farm, which reflects a continued commitment to the original intent. While this document does not offer anecdotes that relate to New Odessa’s demise, it corroborates the argument of a scholarly source written by “Davidson and Goodiam”. Namely, New Odessa was too idealistic. Furthermore, this document clarifies how its demise was not due to “neglect” or “lack of appreciation” on the part of its members. Instead, the document suggests that they were troubled by the idea of giving up the farm. Following the disintegration of New Odessa, its members were successful in the different fields they pursued. Likewise, the demise of New Odessa was not due to a lack of ability (recall how 90% of the members attended Russian universities).
In essence, this document tells us that New Odessa was originally intended to be a place of refuge. Its members also belonged to New Olam, an organization that wanted to adopt the life of a farmer upon reaching America. However, this sense of idealism posed problems for the community and was perhaps its own demise. The members of the community, nevertheless, were reluctant to leave the communal farm. Most telling, however, is that some members worked a laundry business that operated on a communal basis after leaving New Odessa. It seems the document uses this evidence to suggest that, despite its demise, members of New Odessa were still committed to its original intents.
Swett, Theodore M. 1958. “New Odessa Colony.” The Oregon History Project. Accessed November 10, 2015. http://www.ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/historical_records/dspDocument.cfm?doc_ID=07F38A5E-B06B-B65B-0320EC03EBE61D30.