Antebellum Reforms seen through the Brook Farm

By Bennett Devlin and Dev Merohtra


This attempted utopia was created by Boston transcendentalist George Ripley in 1841

The community was formed in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (now in the Boston area) and was meant as an escape for people with goals of self-realization and escaping from the toils of society.

The community considered leisure as part of self-cultivation, a view that was contradictory to the common views of leisure being lazy and unproductive


He was a Unitarian minister but resigned

He graduated from Harvard

He was the leader in a transcendental group

His Vision can be explained through his following quote:

"Our objects, as you know, are to ensure 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 with 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 person, whose relations with each other would permit a more simple and wholesome life, than can now be led amidst the pressures of our competitive institutions." –Ripley’s letter of resignation

He didn’t like industrial effects such as inequality and selfishness

The Brook Farm:

The Brook farm's mantra was that it“guarantee the greatest mental freedom, and to prepare a society of liberal, cultivated persons, whose relations with each other would permit a more wholesome and simpler life than could be led amid the pressure of competitive institutions.”

The establishment wanted freedom from industrial revolution and it’s horrible effects

The community attracted many intellectuals such as Emerson and Elizabeth Peabody

Hawthorne’s book Blithedale Romance denounced it, claiming it was a doomed project filled with greed and self-indulgence

It taught Manual work and was a  superb school

It taught responsibility and instilled a passion for intellectual study

It took on some theories of Fourier’s phalanxes

It bringed people of different classes together without regard to how much wealth one has or doesn’t have

Everyone paid the same

Ideal modeled on the dream of transcendentalists

Not have the monetary funds needed and not good for farming-, thus it failed

All residents except for young children worked

People such as Hawthorne invested in it

Communal living

Fourierism was popular in US, thus ideal communities such as Brook Farm arose, especially transcendentalist

The community broke up after a fire occured, and was subsequently chided for being an economic and social failure

The Brook farm Constitution:

Brook Farm Constitution

  • “In order more effectually to promote the great purposes of human culture; to establish the external relations of life on a basis of wisdom and purity; to apply the principles of justice and love to our social organization in accordance with the laws of Divine Providence…”
  • “…highest physical, intellectual and moral education…”
  • “…to institute an attractive, efficient, and productive system of industry; to prevent the exercise of worldly anxiety, by the competent supply of our necessary wants; to diminish the desire of excessive accumulation…”
  • Everyone worked in a way that was best for them and the community
  • Necessities would have be provided
  • “The department of industry…divided into Agricultural, Mechanical, and Domestic industry”
  • Those in charge were chosen by the residents of Brook Farm
  • “…nor shall any one be held accountable to the Association, except for such overt acts, or omissions of duty, as violate the principles of justice, purity, and love, on which it is founded…”

The map showcases how the farm was meant to be a haven in or near an urban center, and the location possibly showed how utopian escape could be found even in urban settings with high societal standards.

A painting of the Brook Farm in 1845 by Josiah Walcott, enamoring the ideals of nature as a cornerstone of transcendentalism
The actual Brook farm in the early 20th century (and possibly what it looked like at the time of its creation)
Another painting of the Brook farm and the surrounding landscape
Picture of the Brook farm now, mostly dilapidated and out of use
Picture of George Ripley, founder of the Brook Farm and advocate for transcendentalism
A Brook Farm engraving from 1845

Our Bibliography:

Primary Sources

Ripley, George. “Selections from Letters,” Texas A&M University, accessed October 21, 2014,

An excerpt from “The Constitution of the Brook Farm Association”

Secondary Sources

“Brook Farm,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed October 21, 2014,

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 4: George Ripley and Brook Farm," PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide, accessed October 21, 2014,

Gordon, Jessica. “Transcendental Ideas: Social Reform: History of Brook Farm,” Texas A&M University, accessed October 21, 2014,


Portrait of George Ripley, Library of Congress: PPOC,

Picture landscape of Brook Farm in 1846,

Brook Farm with Rainbow, Josiah Wolcott, 1845,

Brook Farm in 1861, R.P. Thomson,

Picture of Brook farm in the early 20th century, “The Brook farmers”

Picture of Brook farm,

Modern-day picture of the Brook farm (Reconstruction), Wikipedia page “Brook Farm”,

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