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Brook Farm

Brook Farm was a transcendentalist Utopian experiment that was put into practice by transcendentalist and former Unitarian minister George Ripley and his wife Sophia Ripley at the Ellis farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. There were originally only fifteen members that included George, his wife Sophia, his sister Marianne, John Sullivan Dwight, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The community was in operation from 1841 to 1847, and was inspired in 1845 by the socialist concepts of Charles Fourier. The farm they lived on was influential to many writers like Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Brook Farm's philosophy

The fundamental ideas of Brook Farm, according to Ripley, were to “combine the thinker and the worker...by opening the benefits of education and the profit of labor to all.” At Brook Farm, and as in other communities, physical labor was perceived as a condition of mental well-being and health. The farm did not become a phalanx based on Fourierism until 1845.

Landscape and Architect

Brook Farm was named for the brook that ran near the roadside and that eventually went to the Charles River. It was surrounded by low hills and its meadows and sunny slopes were diversified by orchard, quiet groves and denser pine woods.

When the original founders bought the of land there was already a large farm house there, which was later called “The Hive.” The Hive became the center for social activities and was where the people of the community went to eat three meals a day.

As the community grew, it became necessary to add more buildings for lodgings and various activities. The first building constructed was “The Nest,” where school lessons took place and where guests of the farm would stay. Mr. and Mrs. Ripley's house, later to be called the Eyrie, was built during the second year. The next building to be built was Margaret Fuller's cottage. Her home, complete with three pianos, was used by Mr. Dana and other music teachers. The last building constructed was called the Plymouth house and was used for boarding pupils.

Education

Once Brook Farm was purchased, the first six months were spent getting set up. The school was a matter of particular importance, and Mrs. Ripley was in charge of it. On September 29, 1841, the “Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education” was organized. The school was the most immediate (and at times the only) source of income for Brook Farm. They charged a pupil four dollars per week for room, board, and instruction. Every pupil and member of the community was to do one to four hours a day of manual labor on the farm. This work was always deducted from their bills.

When entering the school, each pupil under high school age was assigned a woman of the community who was in charge of his/her wardrobe, personal habits, and exercise. The main teachers at the school were Mr. and Mrs. Ripley, Mr. Dwight, and Mr. Dana. Mr. Ripley was in charge of teaching English and was known to be relaxed in his class. Mr. Dana, who could communicate in ten different tongues, was in charge of teaching languages. Mr. Dwight taught music and was quite an attraction for pupils enrolling in the school. Pupils studied European languages and literature. At no extra cost, pupils could also indulge in the fine arts.

Within the school there was an infant school for children under six, a primary school for children under ten, and there was a preparatory school that prepared children for college in just six years. If anyone else wanted to take classes, elective classes were available.

Leisure Time

The people of Brook Farm spent most of their time either studying or working the farm, but they always set aside time in the day for play. This time was spent at or participating in dancing parties, picnics, musicals, pageants, plays, and tableaux. The tableaux, in which they acted out scenes from books and plays, were the favorite of all the entertainments. Every week everyone in the community would gather at “The Hive” for a dance of the young ladies of the community. They would wear wreaths of wild daisies on top of their heads, and each week a special wreath, bought from a florist, would be given to the best dressed girl.

“My dress on this occasion was made by my mother. It was simple and was trimmed with flowers.”

Women at Brook Farm

At Brook Farm, women were empowered and encouraged to showcase their creativity. They did have tasks that were typical of other women at the time such as simple food preparation, and shared house keeping. However, during the harvest time women were allowed to work in the fields and men even helped out with laundry during the cold weather. One of the best things for women at Brook Farm was the fact that no single religion could impose its beliefs on the community. This kept women safe from the typical patriarchy associated with religion at the time. Women were allowed to go to school and because of the well known education of women at Brook Farm, many female writers and performers visited the farm. George Ripley’s wife Sophia was very educated and was able to teach history and foreign languages at the farm. She even wrote the essay “Woman,” which challenged the images of women created by men.

Finances

Brook Farm was originally “financed by the sale of stock, a purchaser of one share automatically becoming a member of the institute, which was governed by a board of directors. The profits, if any, were divided into a number of shares corresponding to the total number of man-days of labour, every member entitled to one share for each day's labour performed.”

In fiction

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a founding member of Brook Farm and presented a fictionalized portrait of it in his novel, The Blithedale Romance. (He acknowledged the resemblance in his introduction, saying "in the 'Blithedale' of this volume, many readers will probably suspect a faint and not very faithful shadowing of Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, which (now a little more than ten years ago) was occupied and cultivated by a company of socialists.)" Some have seen a resemblance between Margaret Fuller and Hawthorne's fictional character Zenobia. In the novel, a visitor—a writer like Hawthorne—finds that hard farm labor is not conducive to intellectual creativity:

We had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor.... [but] the clods of earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and over, were never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing, and left us mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening. Intellectual activity is incompatible with any large amount of bodily exercise. The yeoman and the scholar—the yeoman and the man of finest moral culture, though not the man of sturdiest sense and integrity—are two distinct individuals, and can never be melted or welded into one substance.

In Whit Stillman's 1990 film, Metropolitan, two characters at a party debate whether Brook Farm was a failure or simply "ceased to exist." One character, Charlie Black, ends the argument by saying that ceasing to exist is, to him, failure.

Dissolution

During its later years, the Brook Farm community became more and more committed to Fourierist theories, and committed itself to building an ambitious communal building known as the "phalanstery (phalanstère)." When this building caught fire and burned to the ground in 1846, the community's hopes perished with it. Part of the land on which Brook Farm stood is a nature reserve, part is used by the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries.

Notes

Further reading

  • "Women in Spiritual and Communitarian Societies in the United States." Chmielewski. 1993.
  • "A Season in Utopia." Curtis. 1961.
  • "Brook Farm." Swift. 1900.
  • “The Brook Farm Book A collection of First-Hand Accounts of the Community” Myerson. 1987
  • "Brook Farm: the dark side of utopia." Delano, Sterling F. 2004. ISBN 0-674-01160-0

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