Born 1836, New Hampshire; died September 1921, Fairhope, Alabama
Married Edward Howland
Marie Howland was employed as a millworker in Lowell, Massachusetts, and then after a normal-school education, as a school principal. Her career as an author, political propagandist, and pioneering architect began as a result of her involvement with followers of the utopian socialist Charles Fourier in New York City in the 1850s. Through these associations, Howland became convinced of the necessity of economic and industrial reform; she also was a champion of the "combined household" and free love. During the 1860s, Howland lived in the Familistère, or Social Palace, a Fourieristic community in Guise, France. While there, she became especially inspired by architectural reforms that greatly reduced and collectivized domestic work traditionally ascribed to women. Most significant of these reforms were centralized facilities for cooking, laundry, and children's day care.
Hoping to effect similar reforms in her own country, Howland returned to the U.S. in 1866. During the 1870s and 1880s, she worked with Albert Kimsey Owen and John J. Dewey in organizing the Pacific Colony, a self-sufficient, communitarian socialist community in Topolobampo, Mexico. Her involvement was directly instrumental in changing Owen's initial plans for single-family dwellings to architectural designs stressing collective arrangements organized to reduce the domestic work of women, thus freeing them for more direct participation in the government of the community. In her studies of American women architects and social reformers, the historian Dolores Hayden has discovered and made public many of Howland's original designs. They include "resident hotels, row houses linked to communal kitchen, and picturesque suburban houses with cooperative kitchen facilities."
Financial and administrative mismanagement prevented the construction of these buildings, but the plans were published in Integral Cooperation: Its Practical Application (1885). The book was originally released only under Owen's name, but Robert Fogarty, in his introduction to the 1975 edition, revealed Howland's substantial participation. Howland lived at the Pacific Colony for several years but eventually left because of hostility to certain aspects of her feminism, primarily her advocacy of free love. She subsequently lived in a Fairhope, Alabama, single-tax community, where she served as a librarian.
Working with her husband, Howland for a brief period edited two journals devoted to the propagation of the principles of economic cooperation: the Credit Foncier of Sinaloa and Social Solutions. Howland's 1873 translation of J. A. B. Godin's Social Solutions, an in-depth presentation of the political philosophy responsible for the founding of the Social Palace in Guise, was serialized in 1887 in the Howland journal, Social Solutions. She also publicized the principles of utopian socialism in essays and short fiction written for Harper's, Galaxy, Lippincott's, and the Overland Monthly.
In her only novel, Papa's Own Girl (1874), Howland describes the establishment of a Fourieristic community in rural Massachusetts. According to a contemporary reviewer, "No novel has yet appeared so comprehensive in its range, bearing upon the great social questions of the day: the position of woman and the condition of labor." Today the novel is regrettably a forgotten classic in the tradition of political fiction written by American women.
In the first half of the novel, Howland describes how two women, Clara Forest and Susie Dykes, are converted to feminism. The two women—one separated from her still socially respectable husband and the other a mother unapologetic about her conspicuous lack of any husband—set up housekeeping, survive community ostracism, and operate a profitable greenhouse and nursery, an establishment that often serves as a refuge for other women. Howland is not content, however, with such a highly individualized resolution. In the novel's second half, her analysis extends beyond the immediate problems faced by the two women and toward a reformation of the entire social organization, based on a utopian socialism that sees industrial reform and feminism as inseparable.
In her work on Howland, Dolores Hayden has already established how Howland, like 19th-century women committed to domestic and economic reform, was attracted to communitarian socialism as "a concept which at once domesticated political economy and politicized domestic economy" and which held "special appeal for feminists because of their strategies to change traditional concepts of power and property." A revival of interest in Howland's writings should prove beneficial to anyone interested in the history of the ongoing study of the relationship between the social and sexual self-definition of American women.
Douglas, A. Feminization of American Culture (1977). Hill, V., "Strategy and Breadth: The Socialist-Feminist in American Fiction" (dissertation, 1979). Ransom, E., "Utopus Discovers America, or Critical Realism in American Utopian Fiction, 1798-1900" (dissertation, 1946). Reynolds, R., Cat's Paw Utopia (1972). Stern, M., The Pantarch (1968). Torre, S., ed., Women in American Architecture (1977).
NCAB. Other references: AL (Jan. 1944). Chrysalis (1977). Fairhope (Alabama) Courier (23 Sept. 1921). Godey's (Aug. 1874). New Orleans Picayune (14 June 1874, 26 Aug. 1894). SR (29 Aug. 1874). Signs (Winter 1978). Social Solutions (28 May 1886).
—VICKI LYNN HILL