Hoosier Harmony: Indiana’s Brave New World

This article offers you all the information on Hoosier Harmony and its history. When people picture the Hoover state they generally think of rolling farmland and Bible-belt values. Indiana is famous for its NASCAR, college sports and David Letterman rather than its pioneering social experiments, but in the early part of the 19th century this was not the case.

The exceptional town of New Harmony was founded in 1814 in what is today Posey Country, Indiana. Over the next 14 years it was home to not one but two would-be Utopia’s. Today it is home to less than 1000 people, and its commune past is long behind it, but in its day New Harmony was a magnet for scientists, scholars and radical thinkers.

New Harmony was born from the efforts of the Harmony Society, a religious movement founded by German separatists. Their leader was one George Rapp, and from him they received the sobriquet of “Rappites”, though they were often also referred to as the “Harmonists”.

The original town of Harmony was founded by the Rappites in Pennsylvania in 1805, where its prosperity inspired Rapp to found a 2nd Harmonist commune in Indiana only 9 years later.

The key tenants of the Rappist movement were based on the communal yet austere religious philosophy of George Rapp. All property was communally owned. The most difficult rule, both in terms of enforcement and the growth of the town’s population was a strict code of celibacy.

Though New Harmony was an industrial and agricultural success, Rapp became eager to return to Pennsylvania, and in 1825 the Harmonists went back east to found the town of Economy. Enter English cotton manufacturer and social reformer Robert Owen.

Owen was a self-made man who believed passionately in the peaceful transformation of society into a fully cooperative model as opposed to a competitive one. Owen was an atheist of sorts who believed that environment was the defining factor in shaping individual character, though he shared the communal property aspects of the Rappite social philosophy.

Over the next 3 years New Harmony became an American scientific and educational Mecca. Indeed The 1st kindergarten, free public school, free library, and t school with equal education for boys and girls in the United States were all established in new Haven, Indiana.

All the citizens did not embrace the communistic ideas of New Haven however, and in 1828 the dissenters won out. New Haven ceased to exist in its experimental form, and a disappointed Owen returned to England.

The original Harmonists, always a cult of personality as much as a social movement, didn’t fare much better after the death of their founder in 1847. The few remaining faithful, adhering to the doctrine of celibacy, hung on for some time, but it was inevitable that the sect die out, and it did so in 1906.

Communalist societies never did get a real foothold in the United States, but some of the ideas introduced in New Haven, especially those regarding public education, did eventually become part of the fabric of its society. There are still 25 original Rappite buildings standing in New Harmony today.

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