What Was the Utopian Movement?

While the concept of a perfect society, or utopia, is as old as Plato's "Republic," the Utopian Movement gathered serious traction in 19th century America when thousands of people formed communities hoping to significantly improve on existing society. Many of these communities followed charismatic leaders and operated within a religious framework. Most of these societies dissolved with little trace by the early 20th century.

The heyday of the Utopian Movement was between 1820 and 1860 in the United States. One of the remaining groups from this period of time is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church. Joseph Smith founded this society in 1830, saying God had revealed to him a new set of holy scripture known as the "Book of Mormon." Smith's fledgling society encouraged polygamy, which angered a number of Americans who persecuted Mormons for this practice.

Other utopian societies that existed in the 19th century included the Oneida Community in upstate New York; the Shaker Movement, which existed in several states, including Kentucky and Indiana; and Brook Farm, a utopian community located in Massachusetts. Brook Farm residents helped to promote women's rights, labor rights and abolition. Many utopian societies failed owing to a lack of sufficient financial resources, while others experienced generational conflicts.