Brook Farm was a prominant utopian experiment started by George and Sophia Ripley, the goal of this experiment was to merge leisure and work to create the perfect balance in a person's life. This experiment was part of a larger reform movement called transcendentalism. Transcendentalists believe that people are inherently good, and that society and it's institutions poison the individual, making independence and self-sufficiency the best lifestyle. The transcendentalist movement was largely caused by the growing sense of rationalism and the general spiritual state of society at the time. In order to fund the purchase of the farm, participants doubled as stockholders, investing $500 each. Life on Brook farm centered around equality and balance. People picked what work appealed to them, and everyone worked 10 hours a day for $1, regardless of their job or gender. Because of poor soil, the main income, of the small farm was it's influential school, students flocked from as far away as Cuba to attend. The school offered a kindergarden, preschool, and collage preparatory classes. The school's eduactaional approach of creating a peaceful relationship between students and teachers embodied the participant's transcendentalist beliefs. The transcendentalist movement was the first thought movement, and went on to inspire the "Mental Sciences" or New Thought movement, the Divine Sciences reform, and even Hinduism, changing western spirituality by centering religion around the individual and their actions rather than the old concept of predestination.
Letter from George Ripley to Ralph Waldo Emerson to join Brook Farm:
"Our objects, as you know, are to insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor than now exists; to combine the thinker and the worker, as far as possible, in the same individual; to 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; to do away the necessity of menial services, by opening the benefits of education and the profits of labor to all; and 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 pressure of our competitive institutions.
To accomplish these objects, we propose to take a small tract of land, which, under skillful husbandry, uniting the garden and the farm, will be adequate to the subsistence of the families; and to connect with this a school or college, in which the most complete instruction shall be given, from the first rudiments to the highest culture. Our farm would be a place for improving the race of men that lived on it; thought would preside over the operations of labor, and labor would contribute to the expansion of thought; we should have industry without drudgery, and true equality without its vulgarity.
An offer has been made to us of a beautiful estate, on very reasonable terms, on the borders of Newton, West Roxbury, and Dedham. I am very familiar with the premises, having resided on them a part of last summer, and we might search the country in vain for anything more eligible. Our proposal now is for three or four families to take possession on the first of April next, to attend to the cultivation of the farm and the erection of buildings, to prepare for the coming of as many more in the autumn, and thus to commence the institution in the simplest manner, and with the smallest number, with which it can go into operation at all. It would thus be not less than two or three years, before we should be joined by all who mean to be with us; we should not fall to pieces by our own weight; we should grow up slowly and strong; and the attractiveness of our experiment would win to us all whose society we should want.
The step now to be taken at once is the procuring of funds for the necessary capital. According to the present modification of our plan, a much less sum will be required than that spoken of in our discussions at Concord. We thought then $50,000 would be needed; I find now, after a careful estimate, that $30,000 will purchase the estate and buildings for ten families, and give the required surplus for carrying on the operations for one year. We propose to raise this sum by a subscription to a joint stock company, among the friends of the institution, the payment of a fixed interest being guaranteed to the subscribers, and the subscription itself secured by the real estate. No man then will be in danger of losing; he will receive as fair an interest as he would from any investment, while at the same time he is contributing towards an institution, in which while the true use of money is retained, its abuses are done away. The sum required cannot come from rich capitalists; their instinct would protest against such an application of their coins; it must be obtained from those who sympathize with our ideas, and who are willing to aid their realization with their money, if not by their personal cooperation. There are some of this description on whom I think we can rely; among ourselves we can produce perhaps $10,000; the remainder must be subscribed for by those who wish us well, whether they mean to unite with us or not.
I can imagine no plan which is suited to carry into effect so many divine ideas as this. If wisely executed, it will be a light over this country and this age. If not the sunrise, it will be the morning star. As a practical man, I see clearly that we must have some such arrangement, or all changes less radical will be nugatory. I believe in the divinity of labor; I wish to “harvest my flesh and blood from the land;” but to do this, I must either be insulated and work to disadvantage, or avail myself of the services of hirelings, who are not of my order, and whom I can scarce make friends; for I must have another to drive the plough, which I hold. I cannot empty a cask of lime upon my grass alone. I wish to see a society of educated friends, working, thinking, and living together, with no strife, except that of each to contribute the most to the benefit of all."
-George Ripley, Boston, 1840 (source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6592/)
In this letter, George Ripley outlines his Transcendentalist ideas to pursuade Emerson to participate in his experiment, he srives towards a "society of educated friends, working, thinking, and living together" with the "highest mental freedom." Ripley believes the transcendentalist idea of balancing labor and leisure for the most successful and peaceful lifestyle. By explaining his ideas of idividualism, society, and the "divinity of labor," Ripley makes apparent the influance of transcendentaism on his experiment.
Other Details on Transcendentalism:
Ralph Waldo Emerson and George Ripley were both part of the Transcendental club, the first organized Transcendentalist meetings. Other members of this club were intellectual leaders such as Fredrick Henry Hedge, George Putnam, Margret Fuller, and Elizabeth Peabody. This revolutionary group of influential people gave rise to the Transcendentalist moment itself.
Transcendentalist believed that truth was something that resided in the individual, that a person could reason to themselves wether something is true or not. Transcendentalists asserted that humans must embrace the fact that some things cannot be known with certainty, no matter how advanced science and technology become. This outlook merged philosophical idealism with New England's Puritanical work ethic, creating new theories about the balance between work, education, and spirituality.
Imagination was another important Transcendental ideology. Transcendentalists had faith that the imagination was one of the most important part of the human mind because it allowed people to extend themselves beyond the confines of reality. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his famous speech, "the American Scholar," encourages his student audience not to travel abroad to study, but to become intellectually independent from Europe. The powerful speech started the slow movement towards a uniquely American society and spirituality.