Orvis, Marianne Dwight

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ORVIS, Marianne Dwight

Born 4 April 1816, Boston, Massachusetts; died 12 December 1901, Boston, Massachusetts

Wrote under: Marianne Dwight

Daughter of John and Mary Corey Dwight; married John Orvis,1846; children: two

Marianne Dwight Orvis, the second of four children, lived the first 28 years of her life at the family home in Boston. After receiving a strong liberal arts education, she worked for some time as an assistant and later as a preceptress in Mr. Bailey's High School for Young Ladies in Boston. In 1844, Orvis and her family moved to the Brook Farm community.

In her first weeks at the farm, Orvis tried various occupations. She finally chose to teach drawing and assist her brother in teaching Latin. To increase the income of the farm, she devoted much of her time to painting lampshades, fans, and pictures of wild flowers. In her later years at the farm, Orvis spent most of her energy in the school, where she had been elected chief of the teachers' group.

Orvis contributed much to the life of the community through her artistic ability, her devotion to the school, and her belief in association, but her real legacy is her correspondence, published in 1928 as Letters from Brook Farm, 1844-1847. A few of the letters were directed to her brother Frank, who worked for an architect in Boston, but most were written to Anna Q. T. Parsons of Boston, a reader of characters and the founder of the Boston Women's Associative Union, or Women's Exchange.

As the editor of the correspondence points out, it represents "the only considerable body of letters now in existence which were written on the spot by a member of the Brook Farm community with the definite intention of describing the life of the place." Although they cover the years from 1844 to 1847 only, the letters give an enthusiastic first-hand account of Brook Farm as it passed from its early structure to an adaptation of a Fourierist phalanx.

The letters reveal their author as a joyful, sensitive, yet realistic person, and they show life at the farm as physically, mentally, and culturally vigorous. A typical early letter (27 April 1844) describes the freedom of interpersonal relations among the young: "we had company come in (up in our room)…and were drawn into playing whist and talking till eleven o'clock, which in these working days, is as late an hour as I like to keep. Evening before last went into the Pine Woods about sunset.… We threw ourselves upon our backs, Dora, Frederick and I, and whilst the rest walked on, and finally walked home, we staid (imprudent children) and talked till about nine o'clock when the dampness warned us home."

A letter written later in the same year (30 August 1844) states: "Women must become producers of marketable articles; women must make money and earn their support independently of man.… Raise woman to be the equal of man, and what intellectual developments may we not expect? How the whole aspect of society will be changed!" This serious, feminist tone pervades the remaining letters.

Orvis records with enthusiasm the visits of people like Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Owen, Albert Brisbane, and W. H. Channing. One group of letters written in October 1845 stands as the only explicit record of the period during which Channing led a core group of the community through a deeply spiritual phase. Channing also served as the presiding minister at the marriage of John and Marianne Orvis on Christmas Eve 1846. After leaving Brook Farm, the Orvises settled in Jamaica Plain, Boston, where their two children were born.

Although Orvis was not a literary person in the strict sense of the term, her Letters from Brook Farm, 1844-1847 contains some of the most delightful feminist writing of the first half of the 19th century. The volume also serves as one of the most important documents of the Brook Farm community.


Codman, J. T., Brook Farm: Historical and Personal Memoirs (1894). Cook, T. W., John Sullivan Dwight, Brook-Farmer, Editor, and Critic of Music: A Biography (1898). Curtis, E. R., A Season in Utopia: The Story of Brook Farm (1961). Orvis, F. W., A History of the Orvis Family in America (1922). Swift, L., Brook Farm: Its Members, Scholars, and Visitors (1961).

Other references:

Independent (1 Sept. 1928). Times Literary Supplement (4 Oct. 1928). NYTBR (26 Aug. 1928).