by Karen Brozek









George Ripley


The Brook Farm experiment (1841—1846) was one of the most famous experiments in Utopian Socialism in America, of the time. From a Transcendental experiment of literary intellects, who’s intellectual pursuits were the primary purpose of life, the Brook Farm evolved into a Fourierist experiment promoting the ideals of Fourier, the Association of a “just” society.

The Founders of the Brook Farm community were a group of New England intellectuals. Their literary circle, know as the “Transcendental Club” met regularly in Boston in the 1830’s to discuss religious, social and philosophical problems. Members included George Ripley, William Ellery Channing, John S. Dwight, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry D. Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Elizabeth P. Peabody. They were humanists, believing “in an order of truth that transcends the sphere of the external senses.” 1) They blamed the social evils of the world on the “lust of accumulation of personal objects” and that the only way these “ills” could be cured is by “withdrawing from a competitive institutional society and setting up a new community, free of competition, commerce, and the desire for accumulation.” 2)



Urging the claims of other utopian socialists, and advancing the establishment of such colonies, the intellectuals, as Emerson wrote in a letter to a friend, were “all a little wild...with numberless projects of social reform; not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.”3)




In 1841, Unitarian minister, George Ripley, became anxious to put his views and the group to a test. He resigned from his post as minister, and chose a 200-acre milk farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, for his experiment. Although not all the “Transcendental Club” members joined him, he formed, with a group of twenty people (including Dwight and Hawthorne), the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education. Their aims were to substitute “a system of brotherly cooperation for one of selfish competition; to secure for our children and to those who may be trusted to our care, the benefits of the highest physical, intellectual, and moral education which, in the present state of human knowledge, the resources at our command will permit; to institute an attractive, efficient, and productive system of competent supply of our necessary wants; to diminish the desire for successive accumulation by making the acquisition of individual property subservient to upright and disinterested uses; to guarantee to each other the means of physical support and of spiritual progress, and thus to impart a greater freedom, simplicity, truthfulness, refinement and moral dignity to our mode of lifef. 4)  


The following excerpts from their original constitution (printed on The Dial, Jan., l842) sum up what the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education was all about:

“In order to live a religious and moral life worthy of the name... it is neces­sary to come out in some degree from the world, and to form themselves into a community of property, so far as to exclude competition and the ordinary rules of trade; while they reserve sufficient private property or the means of obtaining it, for all purposes of independence and isolation at will. They have bought a farm, in order to make agriculture the basis of their life, it being the most direct and simple in relation to nature.”


Nathaniel Hawthorne

Their plan went as follows:

“for all who have property to take stock, and receive a fixed interest thereon then to keep house or board in commons, as they shall severally desire, at the cost of provisions purchased at wholesale, or raised on the farm; and for all to labor in community, and be paid at a certain rate an hour, choosing their own number of hours and their own kind of work.”


Thus, everybody was provided with employment according to their own tastes and ability.

"With the results of this labor and their interest, they are to pay their board, and also purchase whatever else they require at cost at the warehouses of the Community, which are to be filled by the Community as such. To perfect this economy, in the course of time they must have all trades and all modes of business carried on among themselves, from the lowest mechanical trade, which contributes to the health and comfort of life, to the fines art, which adorns it with food or drapery for the mind.

All labor, whether bodily or intellectual, is to be paid at the same rate of wages; on the principle that as the labor becomes merely bodily, it is a greater sacrifice to the individual laborer to give his time to it; because time is desirable for the cultivation of the intellectual, in exact proportion to ignorance. Besides, intellectual labor involves in itself higher pleasures, and is more its own reward, than bodily labor.


After becoming members of this Community, none will be engaged merely in bodily labor. The hours of labor for the Association will be limited by a general law  (maximum working hours was set at ten) and can be curtailed at the will of the individual still more; and means will be given to all for intellectual improvement and for social intercourse, calculated to refine and expand. The hours redeemed from labor by community, will not be re-applied to the acquisition of wealth, but the production of intellectual goods. This Community aims to be rich, not in the metallic representative of wealth, but in the wealth itself, which money should represent; namely, LEISURE TO LIVE IN ALL THE FACULTIES OF THE SOUL. As a Community, it will traffic with the world at large, in the products of agricultural labor; and it will sell education to as many young persons as can be domesticated in the families, and enter into the common life with their own children. In the end it hopes to be enabled to provide, not only all the necessaries, but all the elegances desirable for bodily and for spiritual health: books, apparatus, collections for science, works of art, means of beautiful amusement. These things are to be common to all; and thus that object, which alone gilds and refines the passion for individual accumu­lation, will no longer exist for desire, and whenever the sordid passion appears, it will be seen in its naked selfishness. In its ultimate success, the Community will realize all the ends which selfishness seeks, but involved in spiritual blessings, which only greatness of soul can aspire after.

And the requisitions on the individuals, it is believed, will make this the order forever. The spiritual good will always be the condition of the temporal. Every one must labor for the Community in a reasonable degree, or not taste its benefits….Whoever is willing to receive from his fellow men that, for which he gives no equivalent, will stay away from its precincts forever. But whoever shall surrender himself to its principles, shall find that its yoke is easy and its burden light5)


Thus, with the twenty members, which expanded to about seventy, they set up four depart­ments: General Direction; Agriculture; Education; and Finance. They cultivated the land and even set up several small industries. Their primary source of income, however, came form their school, where several scholars boarded and worked as well. Their school had an excellent reputation, especially for their freedom of discussion between student and teacher, and the wide range of sciences and arts taught. Not only was education and learning important to the members, but their social life was as well. This included dances, music, and literary and scientific discussions, and they often invited others, including Horace Creeley and Albert Brisbane to speak.

The Brook Farm, however, faced problems. With financial difficulties stemming from over borrowing, the mental strength of the members went hand-in-hand with their  physical weakness. There was always a shortage of farm hands, but a surplus of teachers for the school. This went against the ideals of the founders that each member does his share of the manual labor, and thus set the stage for the transformation to Fourierism and the return of social distinctions.

Although originaly the Brook Farm members would not admit to being somewhat Fourierist they eventualy accepted conversion. It was through the frequent visits,  of Greeley and Brisbane, who were advocats of Fourier (a movement which was quite popular at the time) which helped push the Brook Farm into its conversion. Through their Lectures and discussions on their interpretations of Fourier, these two men convinced them of Fourier’s principles.


In his works, Fourier calls attention to the wastes in modern economic systems, the unnecessary hardship of labor, and the need to devise a system which would make work pleasanter. In the 1840’s, his ideas began to diffuse throughout America, and were supported by Brisbane and Greeley. “For the first time…[Brisbane] had come across an idea… of dignified manual labor of mankind, labor hitherto regarded as a divine punishment inflicted on man.” 6)

Brisbane claimed that society’s problems resulted from the organization of society and only a complete reorganization could alleviate the problems. It is the system itself, that is unjust, thus, Brisbane suggested increasing efficiency with justice.To restructure society, Brisbane advocated Furier’s Phalanxes under which worker (7/8 of all residents), capitalists, and scientists and artists, would cooperate. Agriculture would be primary, with three manufactures, and a council, “composed of stock holders, distinguished for the wealth or their industrial and scientific acquisitions”, would control the phalanx. Profits would be distributed as follows: Labor - 5/12 of all earnings; capital - 4/12, management, or “practical and theoretical knowledge - 3/l2. Class distinctions would remain, women being equal to men, and children would be organ­ized into “Corporations of Little Hordes” which would do all the filthy jobs because, as Brisbane rationalized, “since children love filth, these jobs would offer them an opportunity to help maintain…social unity, while they entertain themselves.”7)


Greeley, on the other hand, interpreted Fourier as the following: The injustices of society result from the infringement of a large part of society’s rights to enjoy “the Earth and all its natural products” by a small portion of society and this has benefitted the common good. Many people would have become better off

“if nature’s rule of allowing no man to appropriate to himself any more of the earth than he can cultivate and improve had been recognized and respected by society... But those who have been divested of an important, a vital natural right, are also entitled to compensation.

The Right of Labor, secured to them in the creation of the earth, taken away in the granting of the soil to a minor portion of them, must be restored. But the right to labor - that is, the constant employment with a just and full compensation - cannot be guaranteed to all without a radical change in our social economy... The ultimate and thorough remedy I believe is Association.

By Association I mean a social order which shall take the place of the present township, to be composed of some hundreds or some thousands of persons, who shall be united together in interest and industry for the purpose of securing to each individual the following things: (1) an elegant and commodious house; (2) and education complete and thorough; (3) a secure subsistence; (4) opportunity to labor; (5) fair wages; (6) agreeable social relations; (7) progress in knowledge and skill. As society is at present organized, these are the portions of a very small minority.


The property of an Association will be vested in those who contribute the capital to establish it, represented by shares of stock, just as the property of a bank, factory, or railroad now is. Labor, skill, and talent will be remunerated by a fixed proportion of their product, or of their proceeds, if sold. Men will be induced to labor by a knowledge that its rewards will be a certain and major portion of the product, which, of course, will be less or more, according to the skill and industry of each individual.

The capital of a mature association would be, perhaps, half a million dollars! of an infant association, fifty thousand dollars; and this increase of value would be both created and owned by labor. In an ordinary township, however, the increase though all created by labor, is chiefly owned by capital. The majority of inhabitant remain poor; while a few -merchants, landowners, mill-owners, and manufacturers - are enriched... In Association those who furnish the original capital are the owners merely of so much stock in the concern - not of all the land and other property.

Under the present system, capital is everything; man nothing, except as a means of accumulating capital. Capital founds a factory increasing capital, taking no thought of the human beings by whom it is increased. The fundamental idea of Association, on the other hand, is the effect a just distribu­tion of products among capital, talent, and labor,” 8)


In 1844, after the National Convention of Associates, the Brook Farm was renamed The Brook Farm Phalanx, thus transformed into a Fourierist experiment who’s main function as the center of Fourierism, was propagandism. Production of the official newspaper of the Fourierists, The Harbinger weekly, was transferred to the Brook Farm. It also became the headquarters of the new National Union of Socialists, whose purpose:

“Shall be the establishment of an order of society based on a system of joint - stock property; co-operative labor; association of families; equitable distribution of profits; mutual guarantees; honors according to usefulness; integral education; unity of interests: which system we believe to be in accord with the laws of divine providence and the destiny of man.

Its method of operation shall be the appointment of agents, the sending out of Lecturers, the issuing of publications, and the formation of a series of affiliated societies which shall be auxiliary to the parent society; in holding meetings, collecting funds, and in every way diffusing the principles of Association: and preparing for their practical application, etc.” 9)

Their goals were to “indoctrinate the whole people of the United States with the principles of associative unity; to prepare for the time when the nation, like one man, shall reorganize its townships upon the basis of perfect justice.”10) It became a “movement whose purpose is the elevation of humanity to its integral rights, and whose results will be the establishment of happiness and peace among the native of the earth.”11)


The early stage of this transformation brought about an inflow of membership and an outflow of the unique social atmosphere, which had characterized the Farm in its early years. The Farm was reorganized into three departments: Labor; Agriculture; and Domestic Industry and the Mechanic Arts. Thus, the cultivation of the mind began to lose its importance to the Farm. Dissention among new members disturbed the social unity, and old members became discontent. They spent two years building a Phalansstery -- a unitary dwelling to provide “convenient and comfortable habitations, at the smallest possible outlay.” 12) However, shortly before its completion, in the spring of 1846, the Phalanstery caught fire and was completely destroyed. Within a year, the community faced sever financial problems and together with increased discontentment and the waning Fourierist movement, the community was dissolved and the property was sold. All that remained was the memory of “noble ideals and self—sacrificing devotion”13)

Thus, the Community, beginning as the Transcendentalist Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education, was transformed from a center based on equality and learning to a center based on the justice of work, in the Fourierist Brook Farm Phalanx. It changed from a center of socializing and cultivating the mind, to a center for propaganda and promoting the ideals of Fourierism and Association. Transformation of the Brook Farm was inevitable. It could not have remained the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education because as the reality of manual labor set into the minds of its members, they desired the work less and tried to escape it by teaching. But somebody had to do the dirty work. Obviously, the equality among members could not last, for those who were more educated and influential would take all the teaching and learning, while the others would have to work the field. However, the transformation into an actual Fourierist community is not accurate. Although some changes were made in the society - class distinctions returned and education was emphasized less than manual labor - The Brook Farm Phalanx was Fourierist in that the members worked had a promoting and spreading Fourierism across the country and the Community became the headquarters for this.



1)   Mark Holloway, Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America 1680—1880  (New York:Library Publishers, 1951), p.127

2)   Bernard K. Johnpoll, The Inpossible Dream: The Rise and Demise of the American Left (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), p. 93.

3) Harry W. Laidler, Phd, History of Socialist Thought, (New York: Thomas Y Cromwell 1927), p.129

 4) Laidler, p. 94.

5) John Humphrey Noyes .Strange Cults and Utopias of 19th-Century America, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966) p. 114—116.

6)G.D.H. Cole, Socialist Thought: The Forerunners 1780—1850, (London: Macmillan &, 1955) p. 100.

7) Holloway, pp.86—87.

8) Cole, pp. 101—102.

9) Noyes, pp. 530—533.

10) Noyes, p. 531.

11) Noyes, p. 528.

12) Noyes, p. 526.

13) Laidler, p. 131.



Cole, G.D.H. Socialist Thoqght: The Forerunners 1780—1850. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1955.

Holloway, Mark. Heavens onE_aarth: Utopian Communities in America 1680—1880. New York: Library Publishers, 1951.

Johnpoll, Bernard K. The Impossible Dream: The Rise and Demise of the American Left. Westport:   Greenwood Press, 1981.

Laidler, Harry 14. Hjstory_of Socialist Thought. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Co., 1927.

Noyes, John Humphrey. Strang~ Cults and Utopias of 19th—Century America. NewYork; Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.






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