Saturday, July 28, 2007


As I related earlier, the main purpose for my trip back East was to attend my nephew's wedding. As it happens, the wedding took place at Fruitlands, a few miles west of Concord in Harvard, MA. Fruitlands is now a museum but it was started as a utopian community of Transcendentalists headed by Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May of Little Women fame.

Alcott was certainly a very interesting character. He is best known today, aside from being Louisa's father, for his educational reforms but interestingly, he was a self-educated man and never attended Harvard as Emerson and Thoreau had. His reforms included doing away with corporal punishment and instituting field trips, learning through experience, play time or recess, and physical education. These ideas are in the news currently as some educators feel we have veered away from these ideals and gone back to a more rigid method of teaching children. For example, see the cover article of this week's Time magazine, The Myth about Boys, and another recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, Why Children Need to Learn to Play. (Thanks again, Grace.) However, Alcott was a very impractical man and relied on his friends, in particular Emerson and Charles Lane, to support him and his family.

Fruitlands began in the summer of 1843. It was similar to other utopian communities of the time and can be likened to the hippie communes of the 1960s. Fruitlands got its name because the founders decided to live a vegetarian existence eating mostly fruit and vegetables. Animals were to be respected and not used for food or labor to run the farm. As the men were often away lecturing on their utopian dream, that left the women and children to do the hard work of growing food for the community. Louisa's mother, Abba, is quoted as saying that the only beasts of burden on the farm were the women. By autumn, things started to go wrong and the community was abandoned in winter. Louisa May later wrote a satire on the whole experience called, "Transcendental Wild Oats," which you can find inside Clara Endicott Sears book, Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands. (Miss Sears is the benefactor who bought and preserved Fruitlands in 1914.)

Today, the Fruitlands Museums include several buildings including one which houses 19th century paintings, one of Indian artifacts, one a Shaker farmhouse, and finally the farmhouse where the Alcott's lived (see photo). There are also woodland trails and of course the spectacular view of the Still River valley with Mt. Wachusetts and Monadnock Mt. in New Hampshire in the distance. We explored the museums the morning of the wedding when the weather was beautiful. By 5:30, however, it was threatening to rain but thankfully never did and all the clouds that had gathered made for a gorgeous sunset!

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