If it weren’t for the Transcendentalist, the summer of 1969 and the Hippie Communes of the 1970’s may have never happened – the idea of communal living and finding a ‘heaven on earth’ didn’t start in the 20th century, but way back in the 1840’s.
In the 1840s, Boston’s West Roxbury suburb — which was completely rural at the time — was home to an experiment in transcendentalist utopian living: the Brook Farm community. The idea was to create an environment of balance and equality. But as is often the case when a group of people unprepared for the realities of living off the land try to live off the land, the Brook Farm Community wasn’t a completely successful endeavor. Many famous Transcendentalist are connected to Brook Farm – Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there, and Emerson was invited on multiple occasions. Additionally, many of the women at Brookfarm were able to experience more personal freedoms than they had at any other point in their lives, contributing to the first wave of Feminism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement that was taking off in America.
In addition to Brookfarm, there was also Fruitland, the community start by educational reformer and Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott. That name may be familiar as his daughter, Louisa May Alcott, is a famous Transcendentalist herself and author of the novel Little Women. The Alcott family lived in Concord, Massachusetts and was connected to many of the most famous Transcendentalist of the day – Hawthorne was good friends with Bronson, and bailed him out of debt on many occasions; Louisa was neighbors with Emerson, and would visit Thoreau at his cabin on Walden Pond, bringing him fresh wildflowers. The Alcott’s serve as a reminder that the Transcendental movements brought new ideas not just about scholarship and philosophy, but also education, slavery and women’s rights.