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 (1802–80), 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 (1724–1804) as well as English poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) and William Wordsworth (1770–1850). 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 (1803–82) and his protegee author Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). 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 (1772–1837) 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 (1804–64), whose novel Blithedale Romance (1852) was inspired by his years at the commune; and American feminist and writer Margaret Fuller (1810–50), editor of The Dial. The utopian community was also visited by American newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811–72), founder of the highly influential New York Tribune.
See also: Utopia, Utopian Communties
A religious experiment in communal living (1841–47) at West Roxbury, near Boston, Mass. It was founded by George Ripley, a Boston Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist, and his wife, Sophia Dana Ripley, to manifest in miniature the Transcendental belief in a new world in which each man might develop his own talents according to the norms of individualism and self-reliance. Each member was to enjoy complete freedom as long as he did not trespass on the rights of others. Although it is not certain that the new association was consciously socialistic, it is clear that the founders did envisage a new attitude toward manual labor and the creation of a utopian society. As one of the Brook Farm students expressed it: "No Adventist ever believed more absolutely in the coming of Christ than we in the reorganization of society on a fraternal basis."
At Brook Farm all domestic work was divided among the members of the society. At first farming occupied most of the men, but when the land proved unproductive because of the lack of tools and skills, the community turned to manufacturing. Carpenters, shoemakers, and printers plied their trade, and Isaac hecker worked for a while as a baker. All labor was paid at the rate of one dollar per day. Room, board, and clothing were supplied practically at cost. The work week was 48 hours during the winter and 60 hours in summer. But it was in the field of education that Brook Farm truly excelled. The curriculum of the community school was well organized and included mathematics, classics, history, literature, modern languages, philosophy, botany, drawing, dancing, and music. Faculty and students lived together, with frequent contacts between teacher and pupil. There were no specific study hours, emphasis being put on the need for personal responsibility. Each student worked at least two hours a day at manual labor, and all were called upon to work in the kitchen or wait on table. Famous visitors, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Orestes Brownson, Robert Owen, Horace Greeley, and Elizabeth Peabody, furthered the students' education by informal conversations, lectures, and dialogues. Many of the New England intelligentsia sent their sons there after the Harvard faculty especially recommended the Brook Farm school as an excellent place to prepare for college.
If it had concentrated on education, Brook Farm might have prospered, but its founders were more interested in universal reform. When the works of Charles Fourier, the French Socialist, were published in the U.S., Brook Farm turned itself into a Fourierist phalanx (1844), with little change in its original constitution. For the next four years it published the Harbinger, an important socialist paper that kept the community in debt. Meanwhile, the school was neglected as missionaries went out to teach socialism. After a fire destroyed a new and uninsured central building (March 1846), the community decided to disband and to auction all its assets to pay the heavy debts.
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.
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.