The Role of Women in Hopedale, a Nineteenth-
Century Universalist-Unitarian Utopian
Community in South-Central Massachusetts
By Deirdre Corcoran Stam
In the communal Massachusetts society known as Hopedale, existing formally from 1841 to
1856, women were granted an extraordinary range of rights comparable to those enjoyed by
men, including holding office, owning property, and enjoying civil protection even within
marriage. Women played a major role in civic engagement and intellectual life. The progressive
role for women’s rights took place among a group of people who, unlike inhabitants of
contemporary Fruitlands and Brook Farm utopian experiments, were described by Hopedale
Community head Adin Ballou as “poor, and comparatively unlearned.”1 Vestiges of community
values were perceptible a century later long after the original Hopedale Community had
morphed into a paternalistic village whose economy until about 1960 was centered upon the
Draper Corporation, successful manufacturer of textile looms, an enterprise that ended with the
collapse of the northern textile industry.
It is often said that every research endeavor, regardless of its claims of objectivity, is to some degree
autobiographical. This one is frankly so. My teenage years were spent in Hopedale, Massachusetts,
where vestiges and values of the historical community were still in evidence a century after the
flourishing of that mid-nineteenth-century social experiment. In looking today at the role of women in
that historical community, I am irresistibly searching for an understanding of my own coming-of-age
experience more than a century later. Much of this inquiry centers on the long-terms effects in latter-day
Hopedale, and beyond, of Adin Ballou’s reforms of family life, and most particularly of the role of
women, in this socialist settlement in the Blackstone Valley near the Rhode Island border.
This paper was first presented at the 2012 Communal Studies Association meeting in Oneida, N.Y. Photographs
courtesy of the Bancroft Memorial Library, Hopedale, with special thanks to Ann Fields and Dan Malloy.
To understand women’s roles in Ballou’s Hopedale it is necessary, of course, to consider the roles
of both genders. The very concept of role involves social relationships. It is also necessary to describe
the setting in which this progressive experimentation took place, the Hopedale Community. Although
well known in the social, religious, and political spheres of its day, the 1840s and 1850s, it is largely
unknown today even among communitarian historians. Why that should be so is a question we will
reconsider in closing remarks. At this point, we need to paint a picture of the settlement in its heyday.
After two years of planning for the optimistically numbered “Fraternal Community, No. 1,” in 1841
founder Adin Ballou (1803-1890) and confederates formally founded “Hope Dale,” a name later
contracted to “Hopedale.” In that year, Community members bought the 258-acre “Jones Farm” near
Fig. 1. The Old House, first home of the Community beginning in 1842. Built ca. 1700, razed in 1874.
House” in 1841 were the Lillies whose daughter was born only weeks after the move. Five other
families soon crowded into the modest and somewhat dilapidated “Old House” which sheltered twenty-
eight people (thirteen men and twelve women) by April 1, 1842. “Boarded as one general family,” each
nuclear family had one private room, primarily for sleeping, and access to shared communal spaces.
By 1846, the Community had grown to seventy people. By 1851, the Community owned about five
hundred acres, thirty dwellings, a few mechanics’ shops, a church used also for education, and a few
barns and outbuildings.2 Small, privately owned businesses dotted the landscape. At its peak, there
were two hundred Community members, all living in Hopedale proper since the anticipated satellite
settlements never materialized. By 1855, just before the collapse, the population inhabited forty-one
“pretty dwellings,” according to the Woonsocket Patriot, including three octagons, and conducted
sixteen community businesses.3
In its unified, utopian form, the Community lasted for fourteen years, dissolving formally in 1856 with
the transformation of its economic base from a joint participatory stock company (regarded by Ballou
as socialist but never communist), where each was credited according to his contribution upon
entering the community and subsequently to his or her contributed labor. After the formal end of the
community, the enterprises became a privately owned company held by erstwhile Community
members and major stockholders Ebenezer and George Draper. Elements of the original contract
remained in place until 1868 when the Community morphed into the Hopedale Parish, a religious
congregation led by Adin Ballou, at this time a Unitarian minister.
After the breakup, the town prospered as a loom-making industry, thanks largely to the success of
the Northrup loom, under Draper leadership until the later 1950s. At that time, a combination of decline
in northern cloth manufacturing and related union issues brought to an end the unified and
paternalistic nature of the town under Draper stewardship. The solid, attractive Draper-owned housing
was then sold to residents and a trickle of outsiders entered the community. It was shortly before the
final breakup of the Draper Corporation that my own Hopedale experience took place. Although the
prosperity of the town began to decline in those and later years, the essential social values remained
in place, clearly derived from the founding principles of the Hopedale Community. It was a decent and
comfortable place in which to grow up but somewhat confusing to a young person whose early years
were spent in a more heterogeneous and competitive milieu.
The basic principles of the Hopedale Community as described by Adin Ballou in 1851 were these .4
We begin with what the Community was for: a belief in Jesus Christ and his teachings; peace and
harmony; a democratic and socialist republic where neither caste, color, sex, nor age is proscribed;
mutual criticism and public remonstrance; chastity; full sharing of liberty, equality, and fraternity;
sharing of goods and gifts to benefit both possessors and the needy; equal and excellent education for
all; and constant striving toward improvement. Just as important was what the Community was
against. The list, drawn loosely from Ballou’s prose, is a little complex because of the prevalence in
Community documents of double negatives, both grammatically and conceptually. In essence, the
Community forbad and/or discouraged these actions: outlawing specific theological dogmas,
ordinances or ceremonies; ill behavior or feeling to friend or foe; swearing; intoxicating beverages;
taking oaths; slave holding and pro-slavery compromises; war and preparations for war; violence
against government, society, family or individuals; and interference from the outside government
(although it was recognized that taxes to the state must be paid).
Rights were extended to all adults, men and women. These rights included: worship according to
dictates of conscience (although women did not function as preachers), free inquiry and free speech,
holding elected office, assuming a chosen vocation, owning property and assets, forming friendships
with kindred minds, contracting marriage and sustaining family relationships, joining or leaving the
Hopedale Association, and the right to “seek happiness in all rightful ways and all innocent means.”5
These were the foundational beliefs of the Community, and their extension to women marked
Hopedale as markedly different from most other intentional communities of its time.
These basic rights were in place in the Hopedale that I knew first-hand with one significant exception,
and that was a single but significant limitation on free inquiry. The dominant ethos in town was
Unitarian, reflecting the last days of the early Community and the ongoing religious preference of the
dominant Draper family. By the twentieth century, the Draper Corporation, in effect, owned the town
(with very little exception) and therefore, in a sense, operated and controlled its schools. It would not be
overstating the case to say that Unitarian values permeated the system. While technically public, the
largely Draper-financed school system functioned like a private educational enterprise with a high
degree of control assumed, and a considerable degree of uniformity of outlook among students and
teachers. It was assumed that most students would ultimately become part of the Draper workforce.
One school-mate remarked to me recently that he knows of no other school where all boys were
required to master drafting.
As to the proscription on free inquiry, as I recall it, we high school students were forbidden to raise
the issue in school of whether Unitarians were Christians. Some townspeople thought they, as
Unitarians, were Christian; others thought not. There were some Catholics, whose church was then in
the old high school on the edge of town by the railroad bridge, and a few members of the Union
Evangelical Church in the town center, and these adherents too had mixed views, though less
investment, in this subject of Unitarian beliefs that had vexed New England polity and religion for over a
century. Our patient and gentle high school social studies teacher explained to us that the question
could, in the extreme, lead to fist-fights, an unimaginable situation in this community where the desire
for peace and harmony generally trumped individualism.
The Hopedale Community in its heyday, 1842 to 1856, pursued many passing enthusiasms,
representing enlightenment at the time, that turned up also in other contemporary utopian societies.
These included spiritualism (which by advocating the recognition of special affinities challenged
assumptions of life-long monogamy), the “water cure” or hydrotherapy (which provided women relief
from marital duties, occasions for intimacy with other women, and in some instances information
about contraception),6 vegetarianism, homeopathy, the forbidding of games of chance, the forbidding
of tobacco, adoption of the bloomer costume for women (a reform that was shared by the Oneida
Community and by James J. Strang’s polygamous version of Mormonism in ca. 1851), musical
performance and dancing, millennialism, non-shaving (probably following the example of abolitionist
Charles Burleigh who refused to shave until slaves were free), and the adoption of simplified women’s
clothing that discouraged women from wearing jewelry or adding floral decorations to their hats.
These social and personal enthusiasms were pursued erratically, with some sense of tolerance and
even amusement. Wrote one-time community member Sarah Bradbury,“The fads, which were almost
as dear to the hearts of their owners as the principles, were often discussed in public, and the free play
of the various natures, grave and gay, matter of fact and mischievously humorous, made these
meetings a ‘continuous performance’ of vast entertainment. The argument was earnest on either side,
and usually closed by each with the same emphatic utterance, ‘So it seems to me and I cannot see it
otherwise!’ Neither party convinced the other, but the war of words afforded a certain relief to strenuous
natures who, as good non-resistants could indulge in no other form of warfare.”7 Ballou himself was
tolerant of exploring many novel beliefs, but drew the line at “irrational faith, terrorism, spasmodic
emotionality, superstitious pietism, and sanctimonious cant.”8 (It seems to me that Ballou’s cool
skepticism toward extremists was in the Hopedale soil and air as late as the 1950s and affected me
deeply in ways I only later came to appreciate.)
What happened when Community norms were violated in Hopedale’s communitarian heyday?
Sensing some relaxation of initial commitment to a shared moral vision after a decade of Community
life, Ballou instigated a kind of “moral police” in 1850.9 Some who disagreed with this move, or were
found in violation of norms, left the Community either by choice or by request. The most celebrated
example of transgression had to do, not surprisingly, with sex. It should be noted that experimentation
with traditional marital roles and arrangements was being pursued actively in contemporary society,
from the Oneida community to Mormons to Shakers, and variations from Hopedale’s basically middle-
class norms were not unimaginable at the time. Ballou characterized the Hopedale problem as a “free
love” incident although it hardly qualifies as such. In the early 1850s, Henry Fish, community auditor
and nurseryman, took into his home the troubled Mrs. Seaver, a new Community member. Mrs. Fish
took exception to the relationship between her husband and Mrs. Seaver, and complained to the
Council of Religion, Conciliation and Justice, which investigated the matter. The pair was guilty of a
sexual alliance, as charged, but claimed that they were acting according to the contemporary doctrine
of free-love. They were ejected from the Community.10 The situation shook the community for several
reasons, in one case because the Council found fault with prominent leader Abbey Price who was
criticized for not reporting the suspicious situation early on. An uncharacteristically specific and harsh
set of rules was put into place at this time to control with “unchastity” receiving overwhelming attention.
despite theoretical equality as Community members, most Hopedale women lived fairly traditional
lives, centered on house and home. Given the realities of frequent pregnancies and the demands of
infant care and child rearing, this situation is not surprising. And yet, their domestic contributions were
not unappreciated. A prime example was the nursing of infants, an activity recognized as a contribution
to the Community as a whole. Nursing women were credited with eight hours of donated labor per
week for this activity, the equivalent of the norm expected for manual labor from other Community
members.11 Women’s welfare was protected and respected in other ways as well. One example is the
attention to adequate pre-natal care.12 Another is the allowing of divorce in exceptional circumstances.
Sarah Baker Holbrook, for example, was allowed to divorce her husband who was a drunkard, and to
resume her former name.13 Further, Ballou cautioned against “unbridled sexuality” even within
marriage, and advocated for sex education before marriage.14
Although often at home, Hopedale woman were by no means housebound. Opportunities for
intellectual life and community service abounded in the Hopedale Sewing Circle and Tract Society,15
the Industrial Army which held “bees” to provide needed labor to the Community, weekday meetings
where visiting reformers delivered their impassioned messages, the Lyceum, and Sunday services led
by Adin Ballou, who was both governing and spiritual leader.
The founder of the Hopedale Community, Adin Ballou, came to his socio-religious beliefs though a
tortuous spiritual journey. While an account of his evolving religious beliefs might seem tedious to us
today, in his time the issues that obsessed him were white-hot among the religiously inclined. They
were critical to his shaping of the Community and deserve attention on that account.
As Ballou’s theology evolved, he moved from sect to sect, becoming a Unitarian in his and the formal
Community’s last years. Thus the post-Community adherence to that sect. In Ballou’s youth, the
principle issue for him seems to have centered on the responsibility of individuals for their sins, and
the probability of punishment in the afterlife for their transgressions. Early in life he took a harsh view of
the issue, insisting upon individuals’ “paying” for their sins after death, but wavered, as did
contemporary religious circles, on the nature, duration, and even probability of punishment in the
afterlife. Later in life, his theological concerns were more this-worldly in nature, and his energies were
devoted primarily to the reform of society. From age nineteen onward, with each of his conversions, he
almost immediately became a preacher in his new sectarian home. Yet far from dogmatic in his
sectarian affiliations, he regarded himself primarily as a “practical Christian” throughout his theological
The following summary of Ballou’s connections to religious communities attempts to harmonize
sometimes conflicting sources. Dates are approximate since it is often difficult to determine exactly the
beginning and end of a person’s beliefs or engagement with a religious community. Whether Ballou’s
changing institutional connections represented affiliations or conversions is a subtlety that we leave to
theologians to elucidate.
Principle Baptists, a Calvinist offshoot that held the view that Christ’s atonement of sins and
eternal salvation were available to all persons and not only to an elect.
• Ages 10-21 (1813-1822, preached at age 19): The Ballou family converted to the Christian
Connexion in Rhode Island, which rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, returned to Primitive
Church values, and believed in the doctrine of destruction of the sinners’ souls at death.
• Ages 19-28? (1822-1831?): Ballou converted to Universalism which believed in universal
salvation of all souls after death. He was ordained in 1823. Ballou served serially in
Massachusetts congregations of Bellingham, Boston, and Milford. He also led a church in New
York City. In this period, Adin Ballou was influenced by his distant cousin and Universalist
• (Overlapping the last days of Ballou’s Universalism, ca. 1831-35, was a brief heretical period
where he adopted a belief in a limited period of punishment for sinners after death before their
ultimate salvation. This view, known as Restorationism, led to his ejection from the
• Ages 28-41 (1831-1844): Ballou converted to Congregational Unitarianism which emphasized
earthly social causes such as temperance, women’s rights, and abolition. He preached in
Mendon, a town adjacent to Hopedale.
• Age 34 (1837): Conversion to Perfectionism—the belief system (but not a formal
denomination) favored by Oneida founder John Humphrey Noyes as well—that contended that
the Second Coming of Christ had already occurred and that earthly government was irrelevant
and need not be obeyed in matters of social organization and personal behavior. This
represented a split for Ballou from the Restorationists. He turned to non-resistance in 1839,
rejecting hatred and war.
• Ages 37-52 (1840-1855): In the Hopedale Community period, Ballou espoused an amalgam
of beliefs centered upon the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. The “Fraternal Community
Number One” explicitly forbad the rejection of any specific belief system (but assumed a
• Ages 52-63 (1855-1867): After Hopedale Community’s formal ending, the town residents
continued the association as a loose social/religious organization, led by Ballou, that was
characterized as a Liberal Christian Parish.
• Age 63-77 (1867-1880): Ballou and his Liberal Christian Parish joined the Unitarians, then
non-Trinitarians with waning emphasis upon the Bible as the singular source of theological
truth, and with a liberal theology that emphasized intellect, ethics, science, individualism, and
social reform. Ballou retired from active ministry in 1880, ten years before his death.
• In 1961, long after Ballou’s death, the Unitarians joined with the Universalists to form a joint
Association representing a liberal theology of religious diversity. Ballou would have been
entirely comfortable with this sectarian union.
Community were drawn as much from social theorists as from religious thinkers. Paramount in the
theory underlying the Hopedale Community, similar to the more famous Oneida Community, was the
work of French social theorist (and commercial traveler)Charles Fourier whose work was widely known
in the U.S. from about 1800 to 1837, just prior to the establishment of the Hopedale Community.16
In contrast to the social thought of other contemporary utopian theorists, who posited that the revision
of social institutions would lead to an improved society, Fourier advised that philosophers “should
watch how people actually behave and try to make some use of conduct they are unable to prevent.”17
Ballou echoes these ideas in his own writings.18
Fourier’s approach was empirical in nature, and may have had particular appeal to American
reformers who, since the Revolution, had lost their grounding in divine revelation as interpreted by an
official church, and were turning to science, and its dependence upon observation, to uncover
fundamental religious and social truths. Although Ballou found fault with some of Fourier’s theory, he
nonetheless seems to have found much that was consonant with his own thinking.19 Fourier’s
humane and realistic, if unsystematic and inconsistent, speculations can be seen in Ballou’s wide-
ranging and somewhat anecdotal approach to the creation of a social contract for Hopedale. It may be
significant that both Fourier and Ballou were basically self-educated, and both were acquainted with
the mindset and potential of ordinary working people, mostly farmers and craftsmen, whose
Fig. 2. Adin and Lucy Ballou’s House, built in 1843, originally at the corner of Peace and Hopedale Streets, moved in
1900 to 64 Dutcher Street.
Let us consider one example of a Fourier principle with implications for women’s roles that took form
in the Hopedale Community. Fourier advocated the building of a single “mansion house”20 as a
common dwelling for all inhabitants of his utopia. Ballou, taken by the notion of a shared dwelling (as
was John Humphrey Noyes of Oneida just a few years later), began his colony in that way in the old
Jones farmhouse, but gave up the idea after six months of complaints from residents. Ballou was
always cognizant of the tug between the common good, which he favored, and individual needs for
privacy and control. When the realities of human nature and circumstances required adjustments from
conformity to individuality, Ballou, ever flexible and realistic, acquiesced, although his autobiography
indicates that he often lamented the tilt over time in Hopedale toward individualism above
Both Fourier and Ballou had much to say about women’s roles. Their positions on many issues are
what would be called “progressive” in today’s parlance. Fourier recognized the importance of the
passions in social relations, and especially of love in all of its forms. He frankly advocated the
liberation of women from their traditional role in society primarily as faithful wife and helpmate. “Too
many restraints,” Fourier observed, “have been imposed on the passion of love.” He went on to explain
the “degradation of women in civilization.” The prevailing system of monogamy in his time (1772-1837),
he contends, “is simply a continuation of the oppressive customs that reigned in the dark ages,
customs which are becoming ridiculous in an age when people brag about their reason and their
respect for the designs of nature.” After speculating on historical trends, including homosexuality
common in antiquity that he thought led men to undervalue and suppress women in society, Fourier
wrote ”I am justified in saying … that women in a state of liberty will surpass man in all the mental and
bodily functions which are not related to physical strength.”21 Fourier had a great deal more to say
about love, which he called “The Divine Passion,” and dwelt specifically on its physical expression.
It should be noted that Fourier’s writings on love, as on almost every other subject he tackled, were
internally inconsistent, fragmentary, and variously articulated in his many writings. Followers of Fourier
could apply his ideas in very different ways. Using physical expression of sex as an example
particularly pertinent to the role of women in community, one finds Ballou advocating monogamous
relations of mutual respect and consideration. Another Fourier enthusiast of the same period, John
Humphrey Noyes of the Oneida Community in New York State, set up a system of “complex marriage”
where every adult female was in some sense “married” to every adult male. At Oneida sex was a
consensual activity that could be pursued for either recreation or procreation, or though not necessarily
for both purposes at once. The latter arrangement was sometimes erroneously labeled as “free love,”
but that description underplays the strong skein of social obligations tying together the community
participants. Both Hopedale and Oneida represent unique applications of Fourier’s principles on sex
and other matters.
Fourier himself envisioned a network of utopian communities built on shared principles, which he
called Phalanxes, where repressive and unrealistic rules would be eliminated, leading to a society
where inhabitants could fully develop the better and more natural parts of their natures. The Hopedale
Community was strongly influenced by Fourier’s vision and anticipated developing satellite
communities where its social reforms would be replicated. Hopedale tried unsuccessfully to set up a
Phalanx in Minnesota in 1855, but money problems, terrible weather, and hostile Indians undermined
their efforts.22 It reached out to some “sister” communities, such as the Northampton Community in
Florence, Massachusetts, but Hopedale cannot be said to have spawned independent and imitative
Phalanx communities in the sense anticipated by Fourier.
Consistent with Fourier’s vision, the Hopedale Community was intentionally agrarian in a period that
began to see the urban-industrial model emerge as a dominant economic paradigm. The implications
for women’s roles in this economic model were significant. In nearby New England mill towns, young
women provided much of the unskilled, cheap labor for the textile industry. While there were certainly
labor abuses affecting women, recent scholarship suggests that many young women working in mill
towns like nearby Lowell welcomed the opportunity for independence, and were glad to leave home for
a few years, boarding with other workers in supervised situations, in order to earn wages for spending
money, or education, or subsequent marriage expenses.23 Adin Ballou had a very different notion of
the proper economic basis for social organization.
Ballou envisioned the ideal society as a relatively small-scale unit with members living in close
domestic relation to one another in a rural setting. Both Ballou, and later John Humphrey Noyes at
Oneida, used “family” as their dominant metaphor, perhaps reflecting contemporary Victorian
idealization of that social unit. In Hopedale, adult Community members addressed one another as
“Brother” and “Sister.” Both Ballou and Noyes concerned themselves deeply with family and household
matters that were at the time usually considered the feminine domain. These included marital
relations, child care, domestic architecture, women’s clothing, diet and cookery, cultural activity, and the
education of the young.
As for necessary manufacturing activities, Fourier,24 and later both Ballou and Noyes, relegated this
function to a secondary role, as necessary but somewhat inconvenient in their utopian communities,
and rejected altogether the idea of factory concentrations. Manufacturing should be pursued only when
and where it was consonant with the agrarian activities of the community, and then in the Hopedale
case it should be developed as “attractive industry.” In this spirit, Hopedale initially fostered only
individually owned, small-scale, essential enterprises such as a sawmill, a loom-making shop, a book
bindery, a cobbler’s shop, machine shops, a water-cure business, a boarding school, and printing
businesses. The Hopedale community members thus rejected the values in nearby New England
towns where competition and the myth of the “self-made man” were celebrated. Hopedale “utopians”
favored the creation of a settlement with close to kinship ties and commitment of all to the material
prosperity and spiritual health of the whole. Ballou, Noyes, and other Fourier followers were arguably
successful for a time in what they were attempting, but in most cases their economic approaches were
not sufficient to ensure survival in a rapidly industrializing and capitalist nation.
The Hopedale agrarian ideal gave way with the ending of the Community proper in 1856, followed by
the dominance in the local economy of the Draper family which developed several large-scale,
mechanized enterprises, focusing finally on the construction of looms and manufacture of related
bobbins. Hopedale in my day took some pride in the “high-tech” nature of its manufacturing enterprise
and never considered itself a “mill town” in the sense that the term was applied to nearby low-wage
cloth-manufacturing centers. In recent years, an historic plaque bearing the term “mill town” was put in
place near one of Hopedale’s borders and the terminology gave rise to considerable criticism from
some town residents.
Hopedale always regarded itself, and was seen by others, as exceptional among New England
towns for its strong traditions of social reform and open-mindedness. It was recognized as such in the
middle of the nineteenth-century. A list of the reformers who were welcomed to speak to the
Community in its years of prosperity attests to these values.
While many popular reformers of the day, both men and women, were welcomed as speakers to the
Hopedale Community, it was always understood that Adin Ballou retained the right to refute their
positions if he wished to do so. Among such visiting orators were former slave and abolitionist
Sojourner Truth, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, lawyer and abolitionist Wendell Phillips, Quaker
feminist and abolitionist Abbey Kelley Foster, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass,
abolitionist Charles Burleigh, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Parker Pillsbury, English
socialist Robert Owen, free-love advocate Henry G. Wright, prison reformer and abolitionist Samuel
May, Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker, food and health reformer Reverend Sylvester
Graham, escaped slave Henry “Box” Brown, women’s rights advocate and homeopath Lucy Stone
Blackwell, spellbinding orator and abolitionist Anna Dickenson, and an anonymous spiritualist from
Michigan. The tradition of public oration established in Hopedale’s earliest days continued even into
the 1950s where the annual high school rhetorical contest enjoyed as much public attention then as
school sporting events typically do in American schools today.
We might pause for a moment to reflect on the commitment to abolition in the Hopedale Community
that is suggested by this list of reformers. In fact, former slaves were familiar figures in Hopedale as at
least short-term residents and visitors, although formal participation in the “underground railroad” has
not been irrefutably documented. One Community child, Anna Thwing Field, recalled in much later
years 25 that “many an escaped slave lived in the families of Hopedale. My father had a colored man
called John who did some work about the place.… In the opposite house a man, woman and two
children, all black, dwelt one winter in the cellar kitchen and one summer in the attic. The oldest girl
went to school and learned to read and write…. Several others there were who lived among us for
weeks or months. They were fed, clothed and sheltered.”26 The close relationship between the women’
s rights movement and the emancipation struggle is a story that is well known. The issues were
certainly known in Hopedale, but the debate was only distantly echoed in Community discourse
because of Hopedale’s rejection of violence for any cause and its general disengagement from the
politics of the outside world, including women’s suffrage. Hopedale was similarly detached from the
national political fray before and during the years of the Civil War. While the cause, and especially
abolition of slavery, was seen as just, the abhorrence of violence, more positively described by Ballou
as Christian non-resistance, was the more important principle.27 Reforms in general seemed for most
Hopedale Community members to be a largely domestic and local matter.
A close look at the lives of some individual women of the Hopedale Community indicates how
Community principles of equal gender rights played out. We shall meet three here who were
prominent for their activities outside the home sphere: Abbey Price, Emily Gay, and Harriet Greene. Our
choice is determined in part by the simple fact that more is known about these pioneers than about
those whose lives were more conventional and home-centered. It may be significant that two of the
three were childless.
Abbey Price (1814-1873) was the most prominent woman to hold Community office and the leading
spokeswoman for feminism in Hopedale.28 Joining the community in 1842, and a member of New
England’s Non-Resistance Society and author of many hymns and verses, she was elected in 1843 at
age twenty-eight as the Community’s secretary. She was the only woman to hold major Community
office in the early 1840s. Price was a major speaker in nearby Worcester early in 1850 at the Woman’s
Rights Convention, calling for equal rights to men, with the vote central to her demands. The mother of
four, Price unsuccessfully advocated for the setting up in Hopedale of a multi-family household with
nursery for child care and other domestic duties so that women could be freed to pursue their “nobler
powers unfettered.” Ballou was unsympathetic to some aspects of Price’s ideas on women’s suffrage,
mainly because of his non-resistance convictions, but he did make room in the Practical Christian for
her writings on equal rights and work compensation for women.29 Ballou had more enthusiasm for
another of Abbey Price’s reforms, the adoption of the physically liberating bloomer costume for the
women of Hopedale.30 Abbey Price left the Hopedale Community after 1853 when she was criticized
for not reporting the so-called “free love” sexual transgression committed by Henry Fish and Daphne
Seaver. After leaving Hopedale, Price moved to another Fourier-inspired community in Redhook, New
Jersey. In later years, Price became a friend and correspondent of Walt Whitman.31
geographical confines of Hopedale.32 In 1858 she married the younger spiritualist and eccentric Bryan
J. Butts, a New Yorker who had joined the community in 1852, and who had initially boarded with
Greene while pursuing a career as orator for progressive causes, especially spiritualism. Greene’s
aunts, one a Quaker preacher and another a writer, very probably set an example of independence for
her. At the time of her marriage, Greene protested to the Community against the “annihilation of [a
women’s] personality” that was represented by marriage and insisted on keeping her maiden name.33
(The alternative was to assume the surname of Butts and one wonders whether principle alone was
her motivation.) The couple began a widely circulated periodical, first called Radical Spiritualist, then
named the Spiritual Reformer, then renamed Progressive Age (supporting labor reform), and finally
called Modern Age. This publication helped to sustain Hopedale’s image even after its formal demise
as a progressive Community hospitable to spiritualism, natural science, individualism, true freedom in
love, and allied reforms. After Ballou gave up publishing the Practical Christian in 1860, Greene and
Butts bought his press and printing equipment for use in their publishing ventures. They ended their
publication activity in Hopedale in 1866 with the explanation that the “demand for rest—mental and
physical—is imperative.”34 Subsequently the pair undertook a variety of ventures for
Fig. 3. Emily Gay, homeopathic physician, b. 1818.
income, including manuscript preparation and the teaching of “vocal gymnastics” that included the
treatment of stammering.
About homeopath Emily Gay (1818-1883), our last example, less is known. Born in Dedham,
Massachusetts, Gay joined the Hopedale Community in 1842 and withdrew in 1862, but remained a
resident of Hopedale until her death due to accident in 1883 in neighboring Milford.35 She never mar-
ried and was listed in census records as head of her household. During the 1850s Gay taught herself
the rudiments of homeopathic medicine. It was said of her that she had a “naturally intuitive perception
of maladies.…Through sympathetic magnetism, and often a fund of volubility and cheerfulness, as
well as through the ‘little pills,’ she commanded the increasing gratitude of many in Hopedale and
vicinity.” “Dr. Emily Gay … was a familiar Figure on the Street … carrying her little medicine chest,
hurrying along with her swinging arms and gait.” After 1855 Gay was joined by her business partner
Phila O. Wilmarth, widow of a water-cure advocate who had been drowned in an accident in 1853.
Wilmarth was subsequently trained at the Female Medical College in Philadelphia and advertised her
services in Hopedale in 1856.36 In 1860, shortly after the Community breakup, Gay seems to have
adopted an entrepreneurial business model, advertising in a local newspaper that she had ink, and,
later, homeopathic medicines for sale.37 Gay’s contributions as healer were recognized by women’s
right advocate and fellow homeopath, Lucy Stone Blackwell, sister-in-law of the famous early woman
physician Elizabeth Blackwell.38
Our portraits of Hopedale women during or shortly after the Community period might include a
number of other personalities who appear in reminiscences of townspeople. We might, for example,
add Aunty Johnson, a “colored” woman;39 Rosetta Hall, a former slave brought to town by Frederick
Douglass; psychic Cora Scott;40 melodeon player Amanda Albee;41 notorious medium Fanny Davis
Smith; mail-carriers Susan and Anna Thwing;42 spiritualist Elizabeth Alice Reed; Community leader
Anna Thwing Draper; teacher and Ballou’s daughter, Abbie Ballou Heywood; and Ballou’s first and
second wives, Abigail and then Lucy Hunt Ballou. Creative and feisty women, all.
Whether the rights enjoyed by Hopedale women were significantly greater than those assumed by
women in other intentional communities of the period is a difficult question to answer. The very
definition of “right” is troublesome. Was the relinquishing of sexual activity for Shaker women a “right”
or an “onerous requirement of membership”? Was the independence of Brook Farm women a “right”
or simply a recognized “privilege of the upper middle class, educated Bostonian”? Also troublesome is
determining the relationship between the stated right and the actual practice of an intentional
community. The list of difficulties in such a comparison goes on. Suffice it to say that records of the
Hopedale Community, including diaries and memoirs, suggest that stated rights of women were in
effect. Further, these rights were consistent with the demands made by those considered the more
progressive reformers of the day. Those rights, embodied in egalitarian roles, became the norm in
Hopedale, both during Ballou’s reign and in later years during the town’s Draper Company period.
They were still in evidence in the Hopedale that I knew in the 1950s.
After the demise of the Community as a legal entity in 1856, Hopedale became the Draper
Corporation’s “company town,” a term that imprecisely links together distinctly different kinds of
business-related towns and hamlets. Hopedale was of the benign paternalistic variety, somewhat like
Fig. 4. A typical attached house for the managerial class, 1913 or later, Lake Street. Architects: Fred Swasey and
Robert Allen Cook; landscape designers: Warren Henry Manning and Arthur A. Shurcliff.
The communitarian traditions that survived in Draper’s Hopedale were manifested in its handsome
architecture that was set within a pleasant town plan developed in ca. 1886 by professional landscape
architects, Warren H. Manning and Arthur A. Shurcliff, associates of Frederick Law Olmsted. The
design incorporated a system of curved roads and recreational facilities with a partially wooded pond
as centerpiece. All residents in Draper houses could easily walk to the main Draper factory, known as
The Shop, and to the town center. Most houses were semi-detached arts and crafts structures in the
shingle style, ranging from modest dwellings nearest to The Shop to commodious houses for the
many engineers and managers employed by the company. All residents working in The Shop enjoyed
residences of similar basic style, with some differentiation among them manifest in decorative detail
and landscaping. Status was thus correlated with housing, but within a narrow range of difference.
Although these graceful structures were covered with a synthetic shingle in the 1940s and 50s, the
basic Hopedale architectural elements, with pleasant porches and landscaping, are still in evidence
The Draper Corporation, anticipating changes in its industry and fortunes, sold the houses to
residents in the early 1950s and it was then that my family moved into the town. Hopedale as I knew it
was an attractive planned community, proud of its progressive heritage, socially conformist but
hospitable to skeptics (as might be expected of its Unitarian base), peaceful and safe, sentimental in
its artistic tastes, well mannered, and religiously tolerant. It was remarkably unmaterialistic. All of its
activities were free and open to all residents, and participation was wholehearted. The town’s free and
wholesome entertainment and recreation included skiing, summer band concerts, bowling, movies,
dances, rhetorical contests, ice skating, swimming, lectures, concerts, school plays, hunting, fishing,
tennis, basketball, library visits, and holiday parades. Apart from The Shop, a candy and newspaper
store, and a drugstore with the requisite “Our Town” soda fountain, I recall virtually no commercial
activity within the town’s central area. It was very-small-town America at its best, with a graduating high
school class of about thirty students in the late 1950s. Its subsequent decline due to the failure of its
principle industry was certainly life-altering and probably even spirit-breaking to most of its residents.
Today it is trying to find its footing as a distant commuting residential town just beyond the usual ring of
very high priced real estate surrounding Boston.
Quite predictably for any seventeen-year old, I found the town rather stifling in its uniformity and
insularity as I prepared to leave it for college, but realized later that the experience of intense
community made me receptive to other such communal situations as I found in Vermont in the 1960s,
in Wisconsin in the 1970s, and to a modified degree in upstate New York in recent years, exemplified
in the museum-cum-residence of the Oneida Community Mansion House. These are of course very
personal reflections of a woman in the current day, probably distorted by time and experience. They
matter to me, but not—I readily acknowledge—to a larger audience. What does matter in terms of
women’s rights in the Hopedale Community experience?
What, in short, was Hopedale’s long-term significance? Stepping back from the details, we see that
early in America’s history, Adin Ballou and confederates set up a fairly radical social order where men
and women enjoyed equal rights and were in harmony with one another on this issue.
And yet, in Ballou’s vision, individual needs were always subordinated ultimately to the good of the
community. In time, of course, it became obvious that Ballou’s principles did not strike the perfect
balance between individualism and community, most especially in the economic sphere, and the
Community failed as a formal organization. Ballou should not be faulted for failing to solve the
conundrum of individual versus community needs. This issue continues to confront us today. It is
probably inherent in American political and social life.
Although its formal life lasted only fourteen years, the Hopedale Community did not, however, fail as
a living example of progressive thinking, especially in the area of women’s rights. It is obvious that
many of the reforms advocated by the Community, and made known through Ballou’s publications,
subsequently took hold over time in the wider society, although it is admittedly difficult to gauge Ballou’
s precise influence on this development.
Why is the town not better known as a bastion of women’s rights, communitarian ideals in action,
and other progressive achievements? This is another unanswerable question. My best guess is that
the progressive values of the Community entered town life, and later spread to the larger society, so
fully that they did not seem extraordinary to residents. Residents could not, I imagine, think why they
should make a fuss over a situation that seemed entirely normal to them. It was only in the 1950s, as
the old structures weakened, that the town established a historical society to document and explore its
unique American heritage. Its significance is still, I believe, under-recognized.
The great Russian social reformer and writer Leo Tolstoy had no doubts, however, about Ballou’s
significance in American history. Tolstoy knew Ballou’s work well from both publications and
correspondence conducted over many years. Tolstoy described Ballou as “a foremost American writer”
who, he predicted, would be “acknowledged as one of the great benefactors of mankind.”44 While
Ballou has not received the recognition that Tolstoy anticipated, he, and Oneida’s John Humphrey
Noyes for similar reasons, are recognized in progressive communitarian circles as both prophetic
visionaries and useful fanatics. Their stories and those of their communities help us appreciate that
progress in women’s rights, indeed in human rights, is often advanced by the radical visions and
dogged determination of a few driven, peculiar, and gifted leaders.
1. George Draper, Jr., “A Utopian Dream in Hopedale; Adin Ballou and the Brothers
Draper,” 2011, 6, http://www.hope1842.com/utopiandream1.htm, and http://www.
hope1842.com/utopiandream2.html (accessed 7/2/2012).
2. Adin Ballou, History of the Hopedale Community, From its Inception to its Virtual Submergence
in the Hopedale Parish, 1st ed. (1897, repr.: Philadelphia Pa.: Porcupine Press, 1972),
70-75; passage quoted in “A Beginning Made,” http://www.hope1842.com/
hopecommbeginning.html (accessed 11/9/2012). Basic to the understanding of
the Community is the complementary work by Adin Ballou and William Sweetzer
Heywood, Autobiography of Adin Ballou 1803-1890: Containing an Elaborate Record
and Narrative of His Life from Infancy to Old Age, 1st ed. (1896, repr.: Lowell, Mass.:
Thompson & Hill - The Vox Populi Press, 1972). Most of the documents of the
original Community are held by the Bancroft Memorial (Public) Library, Hopedale,
Mass. Many of these materials were microfilmed as Hopedale Community Books,
Pamphlets, Serials, and Manuscripts, 1821-1938 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms
3. “The Old House of Hopedale,” http://www.hope1842.com/hoperemSDanielsOldH.
html, and [WMRC text], http://www.hope1842.com/wmrc1.html (both accessed
4. William Alfred Hinds, American Communities and Co-operative Colonies, 2nd revision
(Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Company, 1908), 233.
5. Ballou, History, 400.
6. Susan E. Cayleff, Wash and Be Healed; The Water-Cure Movement and Women’s Health
(Philadelphia Pa.: Temple University Press, 1987), 147.
7. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, The Hopedale Community,
stories/178780.shtml (accessed 11/9/2012).
8. Draper, 17.
9. Edward K. Spann, Hopedale; From Commune to Company Town, 1840-1920 (Columbus:
Ohio State University Press, 1992), 74-76.
10. Ballou, History, 247.
11. Peter Hoehnle, A Bruised Idealist: David Lamson, Hopedale, and the Shakers (Clinton N.Y.:
Richard W. Couper Press, 2010), 8; Ballou, History, 91.
12. Spann, 88.
13. Marcia Matthews, “Patricia Hatch Reveals Super Finds at FAB [Friends of Adin
Ballou] Fall Lecture,” Friends of Adin Ballou News, http://www.adinballou.org/News-
2012-01.shtml (accessed 8/28/2012).
14. Spann, 76.
16. Ballou, History, 25 and 119.
17. Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier
(Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1983), 172-75.
18. Ballou, History, iv.
19. Draper, 26.
20. Spann, 28.
21. Beecher, 173-76.
22. Hinds, 241.
23. Thomas Dublin, Women at Work; The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell,
Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (New York N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1979), 40.
24. Beecher, 40 f.
25. “Hopedale Reminiscences [table of contents],” http://hope1842.com/
hoperemmenu.html (accessed 11/9/12).
26. “Underground Railroad,” http://www.hope1842.com/undergroundrailroad.html
27. John D. Hunt, “Adin Ballou and America’s Wars,” http://www.adinballou.org/
americaswars.shtml (accessed 5/23/2013).
28. Spann, 70.
29. Spann, 71.
30. Spann, 71.
32. Spann, 116.
33. Spann, 145.
34. Spann, 157.
35. “Emily Gay,” http://www.hope1842.com/GayEmilyCensusRecords.html (accessed
36. Spann, 69.
37. Spann, 140.
38. Sue Young, “Histories; Biographies of Homeopaths [Lucy Stone],” http://
39. “Childhood Days in the Hopedale Community,” http://www.hope1842.com/
41. “Childhood Days in the Hopedale Community,” http://www.hope1842.com/
homeremNGifford.html (accessed 9/1/2012).
43. John S. Garner, ed., The Company Town; Architecture and Society in the Early Industrial Age
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
44. “Ballou, Tolstoi, and Ghandi,” http://www.hope1842.com/balloutolstoighandi.html
(accessed 9/1/2012); also Draper, 15
This article was first published in the American Communal Societies Quarterly.
This issue of ACSQ begins with an article on the role of women in the Hopedale community by
Deirdre Corcoran Stam, whose high school years were spent in the town of Hopedale,
Massachusetts, site of the nineteenth-century utopian community of that name. Stam's later education
took her to Harvard, (BA); New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, (MA); Johns Hopkins University,
(MEd); Catholic University (MLS); and Columbia University (DLS). She served as full time faculty in
library science at Columbia, Syracuse, Catholic and Long Island universities where she taught in both
the information technology and rare books areas. Interspersed were leadership roles for the Drew
University Library, the Bibliographical Society of America, the Museum Computer Network, and the
New York State Center for the Book. Currently she serves as trustee for the Gladys Kriebel Delmes
Foundation and as board member for the Oneida Community Mansion House.