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Yellow Spring Association

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Yellow Springs, OH, has long been thought to be a haven for free-thinkers and eccentrics alike. It’s possible that the story of the Owenites is where that reputation began. In 1824, a visionary Scottish industrialist named Robert Owen visited the United States to investigate purchasing the tiny utopian settlement of New Harmony, IN, along the Wabash River. Owen was already famous for the great social welfare experiment he had begun at his textile mill at New Lanark in Scotland, which featured room and board for his 1,200 employees and access to such benefits as education and medical care. His tour across the country included stops in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, where he met with President James Monroe. He also stopped in Cincinnati, where a Swedenborgian preacher named Daniel Roe became an instant follower of Owen, whose adherents were called Owenites. Roe would accompany Owen on the final leg of his journey to New Harmony; soon after, he would be the brains and energy behind a proposed Owenite settlement called “The Yellow Spring Association.” Their constitution, reprinted below, is thought to be created largely by Roe despite the fact that his name does not appear anywhere on the document.

The Association purchased the land around the Yellow Spring on contract in 1825, undoubtedly hoping that the already established healthful properties of the waters would attract investors and members. Sources reported as many as “100 hands” there to work by the end of the year. It isn't entirely clear how the Association proposed to sustain itself economically, such as New Lanark did with textile production or as New Harmony had with fine pottery, though one source mentions Roe’s plans to manufacture paint at the Spring. One thing is certain, though: whatever revenues the Owenites hoped to gain from the Yellow Spring and the nascent resort business develop around it were never going to be enough.

It didn’t help that the Association's membership by and large were more interested in talking about intentional community than doing the work required to make one. Sharp disagreements among them over issues of social equality within the Association descended into outright factionalism so destructive that not even Owen himself could heal the rift, which he is said to have attempted personally in 1826. Philosophical differences exacerbated the Association's financial problems, and its members gradually dispersed until they were all gone. The property’s next owner, Elisha Mills, would remodel the buildings at the Spring into the hotel that would help make the area famous enough for Mills’ son William to eventually attract first a railroad and then a College to town.

WITH a view to improve the social system, upon the principle, that the character of every human being is formed for him, and not by him; and in order to establish a perfect equality of the means of enjoyment, as speedily as may be,—we, whose names are hereunto subscribed, agree to be governed by the following



           Until the completion of one side of a village, to be built upon the plan and scale of Robert Owen's village, about to be built at New-Harmony, the whole concerns of the Community shall be conducted and managed by a President and four Councillors: the President to be elected once in three years, and the Councillors annually, by a majority of all the votes of the stockholders, at a general meeting. The President and Council to hold weekly meetings, and in the intervals all authority to be vested in the President; and until an act of incorporation shall be obtained, the powers of the President and Council shall be limited and defined, by a power of attorney.


           We agree, that such misunderstandings as may arise between the members of the Community, shall be settled by the President and Council.


           We guarantee to each other, individual freedom of opinion on all subjects of human knowledge or speculation, moral or physical, particularly on the subject of religion; and we will respect the individual inclinations of each other in all cases, not incompatible with an established rule of action in the Community.


           We guarantee to each other, liberty to leave the Community when we please; and we yield to the President and Council the self-protecting power of renouncing, after due deliberation, the co-operation of any individual.


           All the members shall enjoy, equal advantages, in accordance with other rules agreed upon, to visit their friends abroad and to receive their visits in the Community.


           To women, forming half the human race, equally capable with men of contributing to the common happiness, and equally capable of individual enjoyment,—we guarantee eligibility, equally with the men, to every situation within the community, to which their individual talents and inclinations may adapt them. We guarantee to them, equal means of obtaining knowledge and social pleasures, and of individual freedom of opinion, as well as an equality of property, and of the physical means of enjoyment, with men.


           We also guarantee to the children of the Community, the best education, at the expense of the adult population, that time and circumstances will admit; and as soon as possible, the best that is attainable by our species.


           We guarantee to each other, that the young children of persons dying in the Community, shall be equally protected, educated and cherished, with the children of the living members; and entitled, when they become adults, to all the advantages and equal proprietorship thereof. In this Community, no child can be reduced to the destitute state of orphans, as in the old state of society.


           From the time a member begins to reside in Community, his or her whole time and talents shall be devoted to its benefit. The hours of labor to be decided by a majority of the members, at a monthly meeting; but the particular employment shall be pointed out by the President and Council: each member, however, to be at liberty to choose any employment considered by the President and Council compatible with the general good.


           We also all (male members) agree to learn, by mutual instruction, some branch of agriculture, orchard or gardening industry; and every agriculturalist engages to learn some branch of manufacturing industry. But agriculture shall always be a primary object of the Community.


           These will be performed in any manner, and by such persons, as each head of a family may direct; or as several families, agreeing to unite together, may determine; until at a future period, when a complete Community shall take place, and other arrangements of a general nature may be adopted, to reduce them in extent, and render them least burthensome.


           Until the time when one side of a village is completed, (when the condition of every one will be rendered so desirable, as to be a sufficient excitement to industry, by being held on that condition,)—the industry and good conduct of the members must be drawn forth, by a proportionate reward for labor to be paid by the Community, to the extent and in the proportions the President and Council shall determine to be just: always taking into account the former habits and conduct of the party, at well as his or her actual services or earnings; and in every case, after comfortable supply to the individual, retaining a portion of the earnings to form a common stock. But so soon as one side of a village, as aforesaid, shall be completed, all inequality of the means of enjoyment shall cease: and the President and Council, as soon as possible, shall, in all its preliminary operations, assimilate their rules of proceedings to those at New-Harmony, as far as circumstances will admit.


           Innocent and rational amusements, at the leisure hours of the members, shall be allowed.


           Any member wishing to devote the whole or any portion of the hours of daily mutual co-operation, to painting,engraving, sculpture, music, or any other branch of the Fine Arts, for the use, embellishment or amusement of the Community; or, for the general advancement of the study of nature, mineral, vegetable, or animal: or of chemistry, mechanics, or any other species of intellectual pursuit, may apply for the approbation of the President and Council, so as to devote the whole or any portion of his or her time, with full assurance of cordial encouragement in every useful pursuit, so far as consistent with their health.


           The tract of land lately owned by Baum and Whiteman, at the Yellow Spring, Greene county, Ohio, containing about 740 acres, shall be purchased for the Community; and a title in fee simple be made to a trustee for the use of the Community until a charter be obtained, fixing the title in the Community as a corporation. This land we will lay out and cultivate with the threefold view to health, abundant produce, and embellishment.


           We will extend the House of Entertainment to such limits, and in the shortest times practicable, as shall be deemed expedient; and immediately thereafter erect suitable buildings for a seminary of learning, with a boarding-house attached; and as fast as our means will admit, erect additional common dwellings, sufficient in extent, when added to those already built, to accommodate five hundred inhabitants. In the mean time always giving precedence to the erection of buildings for, and establishment of any of the useful and productive mechanic arts.


           Monthly meetings for the transaction of business by the members, shall be holden, at which this constitution may be amended or altered in any way not infringing on the vested rights of individuals, one month’s previous notice being given of the alteration proposed, in writing.


           Notwithstanding all that is said in this constitution, no individual  shall be entitled to become a member, without first being elected by the unanimous vote of John Keating, and such other three individuals as he may choose to associate with him; or afterwards by the votes of all the members present at an election.


           As it is important that the progress of the Community should not be clogged by an unproductive population, no member shall be permitted to commence his residence on its premises, until, in the opinion of the President and Council, such residence will promote the interest of the Community.


           Every member shall be supplied with medical attendance and medicine at the expense of the Community.


           To accomplish these objects,we the undersigned have created, and now offer for sale, stock to the amount of .$30,000, in shares of $50 each. Each share to entitle its holder to one vote in the election of officers,either in person, or by proxy.


           The President and Council shall have power to appoint a Secretary and Treasurer, and define their duties; and also in case of vacancy by death, resignation, or long absence of any officer of this Community, they shall have power to supply such vacancy.


           A subscriber for one share shall deposit at the time of subscribing $25; if he take two shares, $20 on each; if three shares, $18 on each; if four shares, $16 on each; if five shares, $14 on each; if six shares, $12 on each; and for any greater number of shares, $10 on each. The residue of said shares to he paid for at four equal quarter yearly instalments. The failure of payment of any instalment, for 10 days after it is due, shall subject the holder to forfeiture of all claim upon the community for all monies paid, for the term of five years; and of the right to claim any further benefit from his stock.


           All stock bearing interest,shall be transferable on the books of the Community only.



           Persons being stock holders to the amount of $500, and not residing in Community, shall be entitled to accommodations at the public Hotel, during the watering season, at a discount of twenty per cent, from the common charges; and for the education of their children, in the boarding school, to a discount of ten per cent. And further, the stock holders shall be entitled, including their six per cent interest, to receive one half of the clear income of said community, after three years operation, until such time as said community shall redeem the stock. Capitalists, male or female, owning stock to the. amount of $500, may be permitted to reside either in community, if members, or on its premises, if not members, under such arrangement and agreement, as may be determined between them and the President and Council, without engaging in the labours of the community.


           As soon as $2000 of the stock shall have been paid in, over and above the price to be paid for the land, a public meeting of the members and stock holders shall be called, by advertisement in the public papers; and those who shall attend at said meeting shall organize themselves for business, by choosing their officers.


           Individual happiness being the object of the association, and the voluntary co-operation of women, being as necessary as that of men, for its success, every woman joining the association, married or not, must, individually, assent to, and sign these articles.
           In testimony of our agreement to the above articles, and our determination to carry them| into effect, we hereunto annex our respective names:


           The Books are now open for subscriptions at John Keating's Office,No. 68, Broadway, Cincinnati, and also at the Yellow Spring.
January 9.1826.