Utopian communities have a fairly strong tradition in America. One can look
at the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth and their desire to set up a "city upon
a hill" as a very early example. Their intentions for arriving at Plymouth
were to set up a model society based around Puritanism that would, in turn,
be recognized by England as the "correct" way of living based on the
"correct" religion. The ultimate goal being a changing of English society.
Years later, the Mormon movement to Utah in order to escape persecution also
contained some desires of a utopian community. This one, again, would be
based on religious beliefs and would enable the Mormons to live according to
their own terms. Other utopian communes, though much smaller and having less
impact, were New Harmony and Brook Farm.
During the 1880’s, reasons behind the development of communes changed.
Previously, religion served as the main reason, but following Edward
Bellamy’s influential book, Looking Backward, political beliefs increasingly
served as the basis of establishing communes. In his book, Bellamy took a
Rip Van Winkle approach to describe what a possible future of America would
be like if socialism was allowed to flourish. This encouraged some radicals
to develop what were referred to as Bellamy or "Nationalist" clubs; many of
which eventually set up communities apparently intended to serve as models
for a new America. One such commune that I would like to concentrate on was
the Home community located on Puget Sound, Washington.
Established in 1897 by Oliver Verity, George Allen, and B.F. Odell, Home
emerged from the ashes of a previous attempt to form a socialist commune
referred to as the Glennis Cooperative Community. According to Verity,
Glennis’ demise was attributed to "the desire of the many...to make by-laws
restricting others from doing things that in reality were private matters."
Because of this, it was intended that Home would lean more toward
individualistic anarchism where there would be an "...absence of all laws,
rules or regulations." In such a society, the only requirements of residents
would be that they follow "...their own line of action no matter how much it
may differ from the custom of the past or present." In turn, the members of
the community would not condemn or ostracize any of their fellow neighbors.
The first activity was the setting up of New Era by Verity which served as
Home’s newspaper. In the beginning editions Verity invited "...all who
believed in man’s rights to do and think as he pleased..." to take up
residence at Home. Upon arrival, those who responded to the invitation were
allowed to take one acre of land on the bay that would serve as the spot for
their house as well as an additional acre of land that could be farmed.
Although there were some initial communitarian aspects, such as some
cooperative farming of land, most of those living at Home adhered to their
beliefs in individualism and thus tended to avoid communal life.
The first four years of Home went by with relative success. The invitations
extended by Verity in the New Era were accepted by a number of "free
thinkers" including not only anarchists but individualists, "free lovers",
vegetarians, atheists as well as those subscribing to various spiritual
beliefs, and mixtures of all. The center of the community revolved around
Liberty Hall. It was here that school was taught, meetings held, and evening
lectures given (including a few visits by Emma Goldman, who had
acquaintances residing at Home).
It is somewhat unclear what exactly the goals of those living at Home were.
The idea of presenting a model by which to change society may well have been
abandoned at this point. That may have been the reasoning behind the Glennis
community, but it is likely that the founders of Home merely sought to find
a place where they could live according to their own beliefs without the
immediate desire to change the whole of society. It was quite obvious that
although neighbors assisted one another, communitarian life was overshadowed
by individualist desires. In fact, this turned out to be one major criticism
toward Home by other radicals. Emma Goldman referred to Home as "the
anarchist graveyard" and criticized those living there for being "...more
interested in vegetables and chickens than in propaganda." In other words,
Goldman saw them as deserting the goal of restructuring society, intrinsic
in anarchist philosophy, in order to carry out their own self interest in
creating an isolated society of their own. However, if in fact those
residing at Home did intend to remove themselves from society and even the
anarchism that Goldman promoted, they soon found that to be impossible.
The assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 by self-proclaimed
anarchist Leon Czologosz resulted in a massive attack on radicals throughout
America. The association of anarchists with violence permeated throughout
the press, and, subsequently, public opinion. These thoughts certainly were
not secluded from the state of Washington. For example, following the
assassination, the Tacoma Daily Ledger published an article calling upon
American citizens to "exterminate the Anarchist" and further explained that
"Each anarchist should be killed as a wild beast, a mad dog..."
Previously, the anarchists at Home were able to live in isolation from
society. Apart from a few incidents, they were met with little attention
from neighbors or the nearby city of Tacoma. One situation in which they
received attention, especially from the postal authorities, was from the
continual articles published on free love in the town’s newspaper. Because
of the attention given to these articles, the general public opinion of Home
was that those living there participated in "...all manner of sex
orgies...", though most articles coming from newspapers in Home actually
theorized free love as an expression of women’s rights in sexual relations.
However, the somewhat disregarded attitude toward Home changed when, unlike
the Daily Ledger, the Tacoma Evening News localized the national fear of
Anarchism in their front page headline demanding: "Shall Anarchy and Free
Love Live in Pierce County?"
James Morton, who resided at Home and published Discontent, which had
replaced Verity’s New Era as Home’s Newspaper, attempted to defend the
colony in an editorial written to the Ledger. He expressed unsympathetic
feelings toward Czologosz’ act and further explained that "It is a pitiable
fact that the unthinking many will look on this deed as a logical outcome of
Anarchist teaching and will inaugurate an era of persecution against all who
are unsatisfied with existing conditions." Morton’s presumption turned out
to be correct. The backlash on radicals and especially Anarchists was
strong. At first it appeared that it’s impact on Home would result in a
violent confrontation. The Grand Army of the Republic (presumably a
nationalist club located in Tacoma) formed the GAR Loyal League which
strived to eradicate "...anarchy in all of its various forms, by legal
means, if possible, and if not by other means which will be equally as
effective"—"by banishment or burial." Their obvious target was Home.
Although the vigilantes of the Loyal League appeared to be in the process of
making plans to physically attack the colony, they eventually relinquished
their threats. Instead, a more "lawful" means was used to attack those of
Home. Federal officials used the Comstock Act of 1873 (an act which
"broadened definitions of obscenity and prohibited the mailing of lewd and
obscene matter" as determined by the state) as the basis for arresting
Charles Govan, James Adams, and James Larkin. The argument used against them
was that articles they had written on free love in Discontent were obscene
literature. Although they were acquitted, the postal authorities removed the
post office located at Home.
The loss of the post office at Home certainly was not devestating to the
colony-they continued the distribution of their newspaper (at this point it
was the Demonstrator) from nearby Lakebay. However, it did make clear that
the people of Home could not entirely remove themselves from the society
that they despised. For now, though, it appeared as though outside
interference with Home had subsided. If population growth is any indicator,
Home flourished for the next decade as the colony grew to 213 residents. In
addition to that, a good number of people took up seasonal residence at Home
as well as many others who came through on short visits with acquaintances
or for giving lectures at Freedom Hall.
Controversy erupted again, though, in 1910. Down the coast in Los Angeles
major labor disturbances were taking place in the conservative, open shop
city. In one situation, Harrison Gray Otis, the ultra-conservative publisher
of the Los Angeles Times, locked out the striking printers of his newspaper.
Tensions were high, and the dispute culminated in the blowing up of the
Times’ plant killing twenty-one people, thus having a devastating effect on
organized labor. Eventually Joseph McNamara and his brother, both union
organizers for the AFL, confessed to the crime. However, Home would again be
effected by "outside" disturbance as the William J. Burns Detective Agency
made continual visits to Home in search of accomplices. Eventually, they
found who they were looking for by inducing an occasional Home resident,
Donald Vose, to disclose the two men.
In that same year Jay Fox, a widely known anarchist who had taken part in
the infamous Haymarket Riot in 1886, made his home at the colony and set up
his newspaper, The Agitator, there. With these roots, Fox took a more
syndicalist approach to his anarchism though obviously continuing to "stand
for freedom, first, last and all the time." Through his paper he promoted
the industrial unionism efforts of the IWW and held as a goal the striving
to "help create that unity of effort and solidarity among the workers
necessary to their own emancipation."
Fox and Home went through yet another disturbance that emerged in 1911 when
authorities received complaints, originally thought to originate from
neighboring farmers, that some members of Home were bathing nude in the bay.
The consequence was that four people were arrested. Interestingly, in the
ensuing trial it came out that "...the complaints had actually been made by
members of Home Colony." Was Verity’s explanation for the collapse of
Glennis also taking shape at Home?
The discovery of internal conflict brought forth great controversy in the
colony. Fox attempted to address these issues in an article appearing in The
Agitator entitled "The Nudes and the Prudes." In it Fox labeled "prudes" in
the colony who were attempting to suppress freedom which further enflamed
the controversy between residents split on the issue. Fox also strongly
"...defended the right of persons to be or to swim in the nude." This aspect
of the article brought about drastic results for Fox. He was arrested based
on a law that made it a misdemeanor to "encourage or advocate disrespect for
law or for any court or courts of justice." Despite Fox’s arguments for free
speech and his accurate remark that "It is only by agitation that the laws
of the land are made better," he was found guilty and sentenced to two
months in jail.
Home Colony continued for several years after this event, although it
increasingly declined. At one point J.C. Harrison, in the IWW publication
Solidarity, reported on and ridiculed Home "...as a dilapidated
community..." where residents had "...constant quarrels and bickerings..."
Many of these arguments often ended up in court which led to further
contempt from anarchist such as Harrison. He further revealed that the
"...professed anarchists..." at Home "...denounced courts and the law but
used them to their own advantage..." Outside influence on life at Home had
obvious effects on those residing there. In their attempt to construct an
isolated society they discovered that external forces still had a
consequence on their lives. Some, such as Jay Fox, did indeed struggle to
reconstruct the whole of society and felt that syndicalism, which he
promoted in The Agitator, was a means toward that end. However, to those
seeking to merely find an enclave without putting efforts into remaking
society, Home may well have proved to be the "anarchist graveyard" which
Emma Goldman spoke of.
-For much more information on Home, check out Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915 by Charles Pierce LeWarne. I also used Sawdust Empire by Howard M. Brier, Tomorrow is Beautiful by Lucy Robins Lang, It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own by Richard White, and the Encyclopedia of the American Left. Also, even though there are only a limited amount of references to Home in Living My Life by Emma Goldman, you should probably read that anyway.—