Communal life is as old as human history. In this country the 1840’s were a time of social and moral reforms whose aim was to end the suffering of humanity. There were movements, many led by Unitarians and Universalists, to abolish capital punishment, to improve prisons, to extend higher education to women, to end slavery, and to address crime and poverty.There was a desire to reorganize the entire social fabric and structure of the country and to establish a new order based on “equitable principles in the light of reason and religion. At least 60 communities or communes sprung up in New England focusing on education, economics and high ethical principles.
Three of these communities, Hopedale (started by Universalist Adian Ballou), Brook Farm (founded by Unitarian George Ripley), and Fruitlands (started by Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa), were formed by Unitarians or Universalists. All three of these UU Utopias were founded by intellectual middle and upper class men who had not a clue about the practicalities of agriculture, farming, and business. There was a certain romanticizing of the laboring classes that had nothing to do with reality. Eventually they would all go bankrupt.
Most of the other Utopias fizzled out as the nation became fully occupied with the impending Civil War.And as easy as it is to poke fun at these 3 experiments, we also need to seethe absolute commitment to a new, more just way of being that each tried to establish. Following their instincts, intellect and faith, Ballou, Ripley,Alcott, and others, took enormous risks for what they believed was possible.They believed that it was up to them to create heaven on earth, to bring about equality of the sexes and as well as of the races and of the classes. Somehow,they knew that interaction with, stewardship of the land, was something that fed the human spirit and soul.