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Brook Farm

BROOK FARM


Brook Farm was an experimental commune and agricultural cooperative in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (now part of Boston). It was established in 1841 by Unitarian minister and author George Ripley (180280), a leader of the Transcendental movement. Transcendentalists rejected the conventional doctrines of the Calvinist Church and the rationalism of the Unitarian Church. They were influenced by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (17241804) as well as English poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834) and William Wordsworth (17701850). Transcendentalist philosophy held that an individual's intuition, as opposed to the five senses, is the highest source of knowledge. The senses are therefore to be transcended. They also emphasized self-reliance and intellectual stimulation. These beliefs spawned an American literary movement, which flourished between 1836 and 1860, and was epitomized by the works of American writer and former Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson (180382) and his protegee author Henry David Thoreau (181762). The movement's philosophy was also captured in the transcendentalist journal The Dial.

At Brook Farm the transcendentalists strove to establish social harmony. They followed French philosopher Charles Fourier's (17721837) ideas that small communities (preferably of 1,620 people) should form an economic unit, share a communal dwelling, and divide work among themselves. Since labor was shared each community member was theoretically allowed ample time for artistic and literary pursuits. But the utopian experiment was short-lived: Brook Farm's central building caught fire and was destroyed in 1846; by the following year the commune had disbanded.

Other notable figures who were associated with Brook Farm included American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (180464), whose novel Blithedale Romance (1852) was inspired by his years at the commune; and American feminist and writer Margaret Fuller (181050), editor of The Dial. The utopian community was also visited by American newspaper editor Horace Greeley (181172), founder of the highly influential New York Tribune.

See also: Utopia, Utopian Communties

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Brook Farm

BROOK FARM

BROOK FARM. Founded in 1841 on 183 acres of land purchased from Charles Ellis in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, the Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education was a utopian community organized by the Unitarian-turned-transcendentalist reverend George Ripley. The community, which was founded to promote equality and education through the union of physical labor and personal self-improvement, drew support from influential transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne (who based The Blithedale Romance on his time at Brook Farm), and began a well-regarded school that taught students ranging from children to young men being tutored for Harvard. The community was governed by voting, based on the shares purchased by members, whose contributions funded the undertaking, including a newspaper, The Harbinger, as a joint-stock company.

The introduction of the ideas of Charles Fourier in 1845, as well as a frustration on the part of members who believed others were not contributing labor fairly, led to strict enforcement of community rules, which alienated many early members. Also, the growth of the community strained its ability to sell any of Brook Farm's produce, which was largely consumed by the members. Although a great success intellectually, the community suffered a financial blow when its central building burned down in 1846, during celebrations commemorating its completion, and it failed to pay its investors dividends. Forced to disband, the community continued the publication of The Harbinger until 1849 in New York City, and it remains a model of mid-nineteenth-century utopianism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Curtis, Edith Roelker. A Season in Utopia: The Story of Brook Farm. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1961.

Francis, Richard. Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Myerson, Joel. Brook Farm: An Annotated Bibliography and Resources Guide. New York: Garland, 1978.

Margaret D.Sankey

See alsoTranscendentalism ; Utopian Communities .

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Brook Farm

Brook Farm, 1841–47, an experimental farm at West Roxbury, Mass., based on cooperative living. Founded by George Ripley, a Unitarian minister, the farm was initially financed by a joint-stock company with 24 shares of stock at $500 per share. Each member was to take part in the manual labor in an attempt to make the group self-sufficient. Intellectual life was stimulating, with such members as Nathaniel Hawthorne, John S. Dwight, Charles A. Dana, and Isaac Hecker, and such visitors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, W. E. Channing, Margaret Fuller, Horace Greeley, and Orestes Brownson. Brook Farm was mainly an outgrowth of Unitarianism, although most of the members had left that church and were advocates of the literary and philosophical movement known as transcendentalism. Economically, the community's excellent school was the most successful part of the venture (anticipating John Dewey's progressive-education ideas of learning from experience); agriculture showed little profit because of the sandy soil and the inexperience of the farmers. The popularity of the doctrines of Charles Fourier led, especially through the efforts of Albert Brisbane, to Brook Farm's conversion to a phalanx in 1844. The group, however, did not long survive the financial disaster of the burning (1846) of the uncompleted central building. The Harbinger (1845–49), printed at Brook Farm and edited by Ripley, was rather a Fourierist weekly newspaper than the organ of Brook Farm and was continued in New York City with Parke Godwin as editor after 1847.

See E. R. Curtis, A Season in Utopia (1961, repr. 1971).

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