Brook Farm Community
The Brook Farm Community, or Brooks Farm Community, had its origin in the early
1840's against a background of an idealisation of co-operative communal living.
George Ripley was a graduate of Harvard and an Unitarian
minister. An increasing knowledge of European writers together
with a dissatisfaction with many aspects of contemporary society,
however, gradually widened the focus of his interest such that
social reform joined theology in his ongoing sphere of
In the summer of 1840 Ripley, and his wife Sophia Dana Ripley,
spent several weeks on the Ellis Farm, West Roxbury, some nine
miles from Boston. Ripley enjoyed being out in the Massachussets
countryside often spending hours relaxing in the open air
immersed in the poetry of Rabbie Burns. He became determined to
attempt the foundation of an experiment in communal living.
Whilst this project was the product, in a general way, of the
speculations and example of Owen and Fourier it was not
particularly intended to be socialistic in nature. In a letter to
Ralph Waldo Emerson of November 1840 concerning plans for
organising a socially utopian community to be called Brook Farm
"Our objects as you know, are to insure a more natural union
between between intellectual and manual labor ... guarantee the
highest mental freedom, by providing all with labor, adapted to
their tastes and talents, and securing to them the fruits of
their industry ... thus to prepare a society of liberal,
intelligent, and cultivated persons, whose relations with each
other would permit a more simple and wholesome life, than can be
led amidst the pressures of our competitive institutions."
He accordingly gave up his pastorate, preached a farewell
sermon to his congregation on March 28 1841, and in early April
he and his wife and about a dozen friends established a
"Practical Institute of Agriculture and Education" at the Ellis
The Institute was a established as a joint-stock company.
There were twenty four shares issued each costing five hundred
dollars on which interest was payable at five per cent, each
share was secured against the assets of the enterprise, each
share brought with it voting rights and an entitlement for a
child to be educated in the projected educational facilities.
Shareholders could expect that they could be reimbursed for their
shares at three months notice.
The farm, extending to some one hundred and seventy five
acres, was bought some months later from Charles and Maria Ellis,
as detailed in the deeds on October 11, 1841. Although it says
nothing about it in the deeds, another strip of property was also
purchased, called the "Keith Lot," which consisted of twenty-two
acres. The trustees George Ripley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles
Dana, and William Allen arranged several mortgages amounting to
some $11,000 upon the newly acquired property.
In the early days of the project the farm was often referred
to as Ripley's farm due to his central role as initiator.
As the Brook Farm Community became established it proved to be
a place where intellectual life was stimulating. Resident members
of the community included such notables as Nathaniel Hawthorne,
John S. Dwight, Charles A. Dana, and Isaac Hecker, whilst there
were also eminent visitors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, W. E.
Channing, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Theodore Parker,
Horace Greeley, and Orestes Brownson.
Fourierism was introduced to the American public in 1840 when
a New Yorker named Albert Brisbane published a compendium of
Fourier's writings entitled The Social Destiny of Man. Brisbane
also reached a wide audience through the column in The New York
Tribune that the editor, Horace Greely, had made available.
Fourier believed that the cause of conflict and suffering was
the perversion of natural human goodness by faulty social
organization. He advocated a solution of small planned communes,
and he called then phalansteries. He devised a blueprint
precisely indicating the size, layout, and industrial
organization of each community or "phalanx." Organized as both
producers' and consumers' cooperatives, the communities would
escalate economically and fulfill all man's passions. The result
was to create a situation where "Attractive Industry" would
contribute to the rise of social harmony and unimaginable
Set on arable cropping land, the "Central House" of each Phlanx (the
phalanstère) had three key structures: an administrative
centre, flanked by a wing which comprised both working and
recreational areas (a ballroom was indispensable): a residential
centre: and, at the back of the building, a parade ground to
celebrate the harvest, to honour the hardest workers and ridicule
the less motivated. The work of the community was to be a mixture
of rural and industrial pursuits in conformity with Fourier's
vision of unity and his antagonism towards the divisions between
town and country which were emerging under capitalism.
The membership of the phalanstery was to be tightly controlled
with a maximum of 1620 people who would come from all strata of
In March of 1842 Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on "Fourierism
and Socialists" appeared in "The Dial" the journal of New England
Transcendentalism. As variously publicised, (including through
American Fourierism's own journal "The Phlanx") Fourierist
Associationism became widely discussed and eventually laid the
ideological foundation for many of the twenty three or so utopian
communities that were established across the United States in the
Albert Brisbane frequently visited Brook Farm in visits that
lasted several days and eventually based himself there for
several months continuously whilst translating the works of
Fourier. During these times he enthusiastically advocated
Fourierism holding that it offered to alleviate social problems
and to produce great social harmony.
Brisbane successfully convinced George Ripley, as well as the
other directors, that a conversion to Fourierism could bring much
need capital and prosperity to their community.
The adoption of the principles of Fourier, with some
modifications, by the Brook Farm Community in 1844 seems to have
put an end to some of the more Idyllic features of life there.
There was a high degree of organisational complexity associated
with the Fourier model. Matters were also complicted by a system
of time keeping that had been introduced in deference to some
people's belief that others were slacking.
Brook Farm officially declared itself a Fourierist Phalanx in
1845. Ripley then established The Harbinger, 1845-49, a
periodical devoted to the exposition of Associationist theory.
That being said Ripley remained committed to the project
continuing to have a religious dimension.
In an article in The Harbinger Ripley wrote of "the systematic
organisation of labor, to make it more efficient, productive, and
attractive; in this way to provide for the abundant gratification
of all the intellectual, moral, and physical wants of every
member of the Association; and thus to extirpate the dreadful
inequalities of external condition, which now make many aspects
of society so hideous; and to put all in possession of the means
of leading a wise, serene and beautiful life in accordance with
the eternal laws of God and the highest aspirations of their own
During its early years of life the efforts of the Brook Farm
Community added several more houses, work rooms, and dormitories,
to complement the original substantial farmhouse on the property.
This original Ellis farmhouse, known to members as "The Hive"
served as a community house where meals were taken in common and
some social assembly took place. The other main buildings were
known as "The Eyrie", "The Pilgrim House" and "Cottage." An
extensive, (sixty feet by forty feet), two-storey workshop was
also constructed as was a substantial greenhouse.
George Ripley's valuable library, which included many rare
English, German, and French titles as well as Indian and Chinese
works in translation, was available to the community before and
after the Ripley's taking up residence in the newly constructed
Whilst the Brook Farm schools, (infant, primary, agricultural
and college preparatory), were a financial success the
community's agricultural efforts were not. The activities of a
perhaps over-large group of often inexperienced farmers on a
rather sandy soil yielded an insufficient financial return. There
were profitable businesses in sash and blind making and in
printing. Not all such industrial efforts engaged in by many
other members of the community brought a positive financial
During the winter of 1844-45 foodstuffs, clothing, and firing
were somewhat rationed, or as it was put "retrenched", due to a
lack of funds. Those whose general health was good were
encouraged not to expect to be served with meat, tea, butter or
sugar but there were concessions made for others.
The construction, on an ambitious scale, of a new Fourierist
central house, or unitary building, to be known as the
Phalanstery, was started in the summer of 1844. All the public
rooms were to be in this one hundred and seventy five feet long
by forty feet wide (55 x 12 Metre) wooden building of three
storeys which was in the middle of the Farm. It was to contain
parlors, reading rooms, reception rooms, a general assembly hall,
dining rooms capable of seating over 300 people, and a kitchen
with attached bakery carefully planned for common use.
During the winter of 1845-46 there were a number of outbreaks
of illness, including several cases of smallpox. Foodstuffs,
clothing, and firing were again "retrenched" as the finances of
the Association remained in difficulty. There was some
disillusionment that Mr. Brisbane and the central organisation of
Fourierism in America did not forward supportive funding that
seemed to have been offered to the Brook Farm Association. In
point of fact the central organisation had come to the conclusion
that the Brook Farm Association must inevitably fail because
it was operating on too small a scale and was attempting to
raise $100,000 to fund a yet more ambitiously planned new
Association elsewhere. Those in charge of the finances of Brook
Farm looked forward to being able to considerably expand
educational activity, with an associated boost in incomes, when
the Phalanastery was completed.
Progress on the Phalanstery was slow however, work on it was
abandoned for the winter, and, before it was finished the
Phalanstery burned to the ground on March 3, 1846. Some seven
thousand dollars had already been spent, much of this money
having been raised through interest bearing loans, and the
building was uninsured. To put this in perspective it should be
realised that the total capitalisation of the Brook Farm project
was about thirty thousand dollars. This serious loss created
severe financial trouble for the Brook Farm Association.
There were plans mooted to discontinue activities in
manufacturing and agriculture that were not financially
self-supporting. Such a course would probably have involved a
drastic cut back in community membership to perhaps twenty
persons. Although many had found their time spent at Brook Farm
to have been very personally worthwhile the trustees reluctantly
accepted that the Association's assets would have to be
completely disposed of.
The Ripley family, who had been the mainstays of the project,
in both finances and motivating energies, faced financial ruin.
George Ripley eventually regained a modest prosperity through
working as a literary critic for Horace Greeley's New York
Tribune and then became quite wealthy through the authorship, and
publication, of an Encyclopaedia.
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