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Utopian Communities

by Brian Avery

     Utopian communities have a fairly strong tradition in America. One can look at the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth and their desire to set up a "city upon a hill" as a very early example. Their intentions for arriving at Plymouth were to set up a model society based around Puritanism that would, in turn, be recognized by England as the "correct" way of living based on the "correct" religion. The ultimate goal being a changing of Enlish society. Years later, the Mormon movement to Utah in order to escape persecution also contained some desires of a utopian community. This one, again, would be based on religious beliefs and would enable the Mormons to live according to their own terms. Other utopian communes, though much smaller and having less impact, were New Harmony and Brook Farm.

     During the 1880's, reasons behind the development of communes changed. Previously, religion served as the main reason, but following Edward Bellamy's influential book, Looking Backward, political beliefs increasingly served as the basis of establishing communes. In his book, Bellamy took a Rip Van Winkle approach to describe what a possible future of America would be like if socialism was allowed to flourish. This encouraged some radicals to develop what were referred to as Bellamy or "Nationalist" clubs; many of which eventually set up communities apparently intended to serve as models for a new America. One such commune that I would like to concentrate on was the Home community located on Puget Sound, Washington.

     Established in 1897 by Oliver Verity, George Allen, and B.F. Odell, Home emerged from the ashes of a previous attempt to form a socialist commune referred to as the Glennis Cooperative Community. According to Verity, Glennis' demise was attributed to "the desire of the make by-laws restricting others from doing things that in reality were private matters." Because of this, it was intended that Home would lean more toward individualistic anarchism where there would be an "...absence of all laws, rules or regulations." In such a society, the only requirements of residents would be that they follow "...their own line of action no matter how much it may differ from the custom of the past or present." In turn, the members of the community would not condemn or ostracize any of their fellow neighbors.

     The first activity was the setting up of New Era by Verity which served as Home's newspaper. In the beginning editions Verity invited "...all who believed in man's rights to do and think as he pleased..." to take up residence at Home. Upon arrival, those who responded to the invitation were allowed to take one acre of land on the bay that would serve as the spot for their house as well as an additional acre of land that could be farmed. Although there were some initial communitarian aspects, such as some cooperative farming of land, most of those living at Home adhered to their beliefs in individualism and thus tended to avoid communal life.

     The first four years of Home went by with relative success. The invitations extended by Verity in the New Era were accepted by a number of "free thinkers" including not only anarchists but individualists, "free lovers", vegetarians, atheists as well as those subscribing to various spiritual beliefs, and mixtures of all. The center of the community revolved around Liberty Hall. It was here that school was taught, meetings held, and evening lectures given (including a few visits by Emma Goldman, who had acquaintances residing at Home).

     It is somewhat unclear what exactly the goals of those living at Home were. The idea of presenting a model by which to change society may well have been abandoned at this point. That may have been the reasoning behind the Glennis community, buy it is likely that the founders of Home merely sought to find a place where they could live according to their own beliefs without the immediate desire to change the whole of society. It was quite obvious that although neighbors assisted one another, communitarian life was overshadowed by individualist desires. In fact, this turned out to be one major criticism toward Home by other radicals. Emma Goldman referred to Home as "the anarchist graveyard" and criticized those living there for being "...more interested in vegetables and chickens than in propaganda." In other words, Goldman saw them as deserting the goal of restructuring society, intrinsic in anarchist philosophy, in order to carry out their own self interest in creating an isolated society of their own. However, if in fact those residing at Home did intend to remove themselves from society and even the anarchism that Goldman promoted, they soon found that to be impossible.

     The assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 by self-proclaimed anarchist Leon Czologosz resulted in a massive attack on radicals throughout America. The association of anarchists with violence premeated throughout the press, and, subsequently, public opinion. These thoughts certainly were not secluded from the state of Washington. For example, following the assassination, the Tacoma Daily Ledger published an article calling upon American citizens to "exterminate the Anarchist" and further explained that "Each anarchist should be killed as a wild beast, a mad dog..."

     Previously, the anarchists at Home were able to live in isolation from society. Apart from a few incidents, they were met with little attention from neighbors or the nearby city of Tacoma. One situation in which they received attention, especially from the postal authorities, was from the continual articles published on free love in the town's newspaper. Because of the attention given to these articles, the general public opinion of Home was that those living there participated in "...all manner of sex orgies...", though most articles coming from newspapers in Home actually theorized free love as an expression of women's rights in sexual relations. However, the somewhat disregarded attitude toward Home changed when, unlike the Daily Ledger, the Tacoma Evening News localized the national fear of Anarchism in their front page headline demanding: "Shall Anarchy and Free Love Live in Pierce County?"

     James Morton, who resided at Home and published Discontent, which had replaced Verity's New Era as Home's Newspaper, attempted to defend the colony in an editorial written to the Ledger. He expressed unsympathetic feelings toward Czologosz' act and further explained that "It is a pitiable fact that the unthinking many will look on this deed as a logical outcome of Anarchist teaching and will inaugurate an era of persecution against all who are unsatisfied with existing conditions." Morton's presumption turned out to be correct. The backlash on radicals and especially Anarchists was strong. At first it appeared that it's impact on Home would result in a violent confrontation. The Grand Army of the Republic (presumably a nationalist club located in Tacoma) formed the GAR Loyal League which strived to eradicate "...anarchy in all of its various forms, by legal means, if possible, and if not by other means which will be equally as effective"--"by banishment or burial." Their obvious target was Home. Although the vigilantes of the Loyal League appeared to be in the process of making plans to physically attack the colony, they eventually relinquished their threats. Instead, a more "lawful" means was used to attack those of Home. Federal officials used the Comstock Act of 1873 (an act which "broadened definitions of obscenity and prohibited the mailing of lewd and obscene matter" as determined by the state) as the basis for arresting Charles Govan, James Adams, and James Larkin. The argument used against them was that articles they had written on free love in Discontent were obscene literature. Although they were acquitted, the postal authorities removed the post office located at Home.

     The loss of the post office at Home certainly was not devestating to the colony-they continued the distribution of their newspaper (at this point it was the Demonstrator) from nearby Lakebay. However, it did make clear that the pople of Home could not entirely remove themselves from the society that they despised. For now, though, it appeared as though outside interference with Home had subsided. If population growth is any indicator, Home flourished for the next decade as the colony grew to 213 residents. In addition to that, a good number of people took up seasonal residence at Home as well as many others who came through on short visits with acquaintances or for giving lectures at Freedom Hall.

     Controversy erupted again, though, in 1910. Down the coast in Los Angeles major labor disturbances were taking place in the conservative, open shop city. In one situation, Harrison Gray Otis, the ultra-conservative publisher of the Los Angeles Times, locked out the striking printers of his newspaper. Tensions were high, and the dispute culminated in the blowing up of the Times' plant killing twenty-one people, thus having a devastating effect on organized labor. Eventually Joseph McNamara and his brother, both union organizers for the the AFL, confessed to the crime. However, Home would again be effected by "outside" disturbance as the William J. Burns Detective Agency made continual visits to Home in search of accomplices. Eventually, they found who they were looking for by inducing an occasional Home resident, Donald Vose, to disclose the two men.

     In that same year Jay Fox, a widely known anarchist who had taken part in the infamous Haymarket Riot in 1886, made his home at the colony and set up his newspaper, The Agitator, there. With these roots, Fox took a more syndicalist approach to his anarchism though obviously continuing to "stand for freedom, first, last and all the time." Through his paper he promoted the industrial unionism efforts of the IWW and held as a goal the striving to "help create that unity of effort and solidarity among the workers necessary to their own emancipation."

     Fox and Home went through yet another disturbance that emerged in 1911 when authorities received complaints, originally thought to originate from neighboring farmers, that some members of Home were bathing nude in the bay. The consequence was that four people were arrested. Interestingly, in the ensuing trial it came out that "...the complaints had actually been made by members of Home Colony." Was Verity's explanation for the collapse of Glennis also taking shape at Home?

     The discovery of internal conflict brought forth great controversy in the colony. Fox attempted to address these issues in an article appearing in The Agitator entitled "The Nudes and the Prudes." In it Fox labeled "prudes" in the colony who were attempting to suppress freedom which further enflamed the controversy between residents split on the issue. Fox also strongly "...defended the right of persons to be or to swim in the nude." This aspect of the article brought about drastic results for Fox. He was arrested based on a law that made it a misdemeanor to "encourage or advocate disrespect for law or for any court or courts of justice." Despite Fox's arguments for free speech and his accurate remark that "It is only by agitation that the laws of the land are made better," he was found guilty and sentenced to two months in jail.

     Home Colony continued for several years after this event, although it increasingly declined. At one point J.C. Harrison, in the IWW publication Solidarity, reported on and ridiculed Home " a dilapidated community..." where residents had "...constant quarrels and bickerings..." Many of these arguments often ended up in court which led to further contempt from anarchist such as Harrison. He further revealed that the "...professed anarchists..." at Home "...denounced courts and the law but used them to their own advantage..." Outside influence on life at Home had obvious effects on those residing there. In their attempt to construct an isolated society they discovered that external forces still had a consequence on their lives. Some, such as Jay Fox, did indeed struggle to reconstruct the whole of society and felt that syndicalism, which he promoted in The Agitator, was a means toward that end. However, to those seeking to merely find an enclave without putting efforts into remaking society, Home may well have proved to be the "anarchist graveyard" which Emma Goldman spoke of.

     For much more information on Home, check out Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915 by Charles Pierce LeWarne. I also used Sawdust Empire by Howard M. Brier, Tomorrow is Beautiful by Lucy Robins Lang, It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own by Richard White, and the Encyclopedia of the American Left. Also, even though there are only a limited amount of references to Home in Living My Life by Emma Goldman, you should probably read that anyway.

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Anarchist Encyclopedia: Home Colony, Washington State



No place like home

It had a carefree spirit that made the community a home for crusaders and misfits and even drew national headlines for nudity


Monday, December 18, 2000

HOME -- What Dorothy said about this place used to be true.

There was no place like it.

Home, a 240-acre community southwest of Gig Harbor, has a history unlike any other. For more than 20 years, it was known nationally as a Utopia.

The colony drew communists and socialists, anarchists and women who campaigned for emancipation. It attracted people who advocated free love and others who just wanted to be left alone. One native recalled it as simply a safe, nurturing place to grow up.

Every house was full of books. Children were encouraged to read, ask questions and explore. "People talked all the time, and they talked about important things. Philosophy, socialism and every other kind of ism. No subject was taboo," Eleen Greco, now 80, recalled.

But the live-and-let-live spirit that made this spot so inviting to crusaders and misfits a century ago, that drew scorn from Congress and gave the Supreme Court pause, is history.

Sure, it still has all the charm you expect of a place called Home: historic houses in the hills and along the waterfront; cedar-shaded roads; businesses such as Lulu's Home Port, where the waitress knows what you want to eat, even if you don't.

  Eleen Greco, 80, remembers growing up in Home as a place where reading and learning and talking about philosophy and socialism was the norm. The days of Home being a melting pot of communists, socialists, anarchists and advocates of free love are gone, but the charm of its community still thrives.
Don Marquis/P-I
People still respect each other's privacy. It's still a nice place to raise a family. But 81 years after a judge ordered the colony dissolved, few of the old ideals remain.

Government seems ever present, requiring topographical surveys and inspections and all kinds of permits. Bridges bring stop-and-go traffic to the peninsula. Beaches that used to be everybody's aren't for just anybody anymore.

Through the years, "so many people have responded to the sound of Home," Greco said. "It's been nirvana for all kinds of people." But Home's story, she said, is the "birth and death of a unique civilization."

Three families looking for peace and tolerance arrived on the shores of Joe's Bay in Pierce County in 1896. They bought land from the bay to the top of the hill, set up the Mutual Home Colony Association and vowed to keep government far from their lives.

The rules of the growing colony were simple. The association held title to all the land and operated the village meeting place and the trading post. Residents joined the association and put their homes on community land. Each family was allowed to use up to two of the town's 217 acres. They could do what they wanted, believe what they wanted, as long as they lived peacefully and didn't hurt anyone.

They didn't drink; they didn't smoke; they didn't gamble or go to church. The only businesses were cooperatives where, instead of money, members traded goods from their small gardens and farms.

In 1899, Home had 54 residents living quietly and unobtrusively. By 1905, the population had grown to 120, wrote historian Charles Pierce LeWarne, whose research of Home is documented in his book "Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915."

Some were attracted by the controversies, which started in 1901 when Home's newspaper, Discontent, advocated free love. Tacoma's newspapers denounced the colony. A grand jury recommended that Home's post office be closed.

In September 1901, when an anarchist in Buffalo, N.Y., fatally shot President McKinley, the eyes of Pierce County turned to Home with fury. The Tacoma Daily Ledger, LeWarne wrote, said "each anarchist should be killed as a wild beast, a mad dog . . . eliminated, tooth and branch."

Frenzied Tacoma residents tried to reach Home, but the captain who ferried passengers between Home and Tacoma prevented the confrontation by refusing to bring them to Key Peninsula.

The colony continued to grow, attracting radicals from Chicago and California to lecture or visit friends. William Z. Foster, who became the principal communist leader in the nation, was a frequent visitor. Lena Morrow Lewis, a leader in the socialist movement, came, too.

Home's founding principles began falling away as more people moved there, some attracted by the cheap goods available at the colony's cooperative. In 1909, the association, with more than 200 members, amended its bylaws and allowed members to obtain the titles to the land on which they lived.

In 1911, four women and two men were charged with indecent exposure for nude bathing in the bay. Jay Fox, an anarchist newspaper editor who had moved to Home the previous year, wrote an editorial, "Nudes and Prudes," criticizing those who had complained about the sunbathers.

Fox was arrested on charges of advocating disrespect for the law. A jury convicted him but urged a lenient sentence. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to overturn the conviction, and he served six weeks of a two-month jail sentence before the governor pardoned him.

Much later, he told a reporter that people in Home thought nothing of taking a dip in the bay without their swimsuits. There was nothing obscene about it, no mingling of the sexes.

"I made some rather pointed comment in my paper," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in December 1942, and "the thing went up through the courts. I was charged with printing and publishing matter tending to bring the courts into disrepute. It was persecution, pure and simple.

"Our people may have had radical ideas, but otherwise they conducted themselves like any other decent householders."

The P-I added a footnote to that story. "The term 'anarchist' means one who believes in an absence of government or an irreducible minimum of government, but not necessarily, as it is popularly believed, in the violent overthrow of government or complete destruction of organized society."

Culture lingers

The Mutual Home Colony Association was dissolved in 1919, a few months before Eleen Greco was born. But the philosophies that had made the community famous stuck around far longer.

Reading, Greco said, was "the most important thing in the world. I read anything I could get my hands on from the age of 3. That's what everybody did."

Music also was part of life. A 1904 survey, author LeWarne wrote, indicated Home had "three pianos, eight organs, eight violins, six guitars, two mandolins, two cornets, one flute and about a half-dozen harmonicas."

Scott Moore, a fifth-generation Home resident, stands at the archway to his house. He says things have changed in the community since his childhood -- traffic for one. But he still can find deer roaming his back yard and knows the waterfront, bays and coves are attractions that keep many people at Home.
Don Marquis/P-I
Everyone had a cow and a garden. "There was no such thing as everybody having a job," Greco said. Her father raised chickens, picked loganberries, was a "jack of all trades." People could walk wherever they needed to go -- unless they needed a lawyer. Then they had to take a bus to Tacoma.

"It is a wonderful thing to grow up without a bar or a tavern or a lawyer or -- dare I say it -- a church," Greco said. "You remove all those things and you have a peaceful, talkative community."

She left Home as a teenager for a job in Tacoma, then moved to Seattle and Los Angeles, New York and Connecticut, finding interesting work wherever she landed. She helped lay out Boeing's plans for the B-17. She worked for dressmakers and designers and an artist. She married and divorced twice. In 1958, she came back to Home to visit her parents and stayed.

Forty-two years later, she is preparing to move again. She wants to be in the middle of things, to be able to walk or take a bus to lectures, museums, a grocery store that sells homemade bread. "It isn't enough to walk around the roads here. You need to do something with somebody and talk about it afterwards."

Paradise lost

Home still has interesting people who like the woods, the quiet, the rural feel. Many are retired. Some are loggers; others pick brush in the woods to sell to nurseries for flower arrangements.

There's a post office, but it carries Lakebay's name, not Home's. The community has a laundromat and three convenience stores.

Back in the woods, you may find a teepee or a campsite or an old school bus that serves as shelter. One dirt road leads to Winona Grymes and her family -- her grandmother, father, husband, son and nephew -- who have set up camp on their property while they build their houses.

"Port Orchard was getting too big," Grymes said. Home is "a beautiful community, nice and quiet. Trails for our dogs. Birds everywhere. There's a bald eagle right there."

Scott Moore, 34, a fifth-generation Home resident, counted five deer in his yard last week. But the peninsula has changed a lot since his childhood. Traffic is ridiculous. "We used to go to Tacoma for a movie, and we'd count cars from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Home. Ten or 12 would be a lot. Now, 10 or 12 cars pass before you get out of your driveway."

He understands the attraction. "You look at this area. There's so much waterfront. Bays and coves and big, beautiful homes with views. And then you have the back roads that go nowhere with an old school bus at the end. We have real wealthy and dirt poor, and not too many in the middle."

The live-and-let-live attitude is still prevalent, he said. "Nobody really bothers anybody." But anarchists are "part of the past."


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