The failures at Fruitlands showed that anarchist and vegetarian ideals weren’t enough to sustain a community—spiritually or nutritionally.
By Katrina Gulliver, December 15, 2023
There have been various utopian experiments over the last 200 years. From communes to cult compounds and new religions, different groups have tried to create alternative models of society. Bronson and Abigail Alcott (parents of Louisa May Alcott), for example, established such a community, called Fruitlands, in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Together with Bronson’s friend Charles Lane and their families, the Alcotts attempted to live out a vision of agrarian self-sufficiency.
As historian Kathryn R. Falvo explains, the Fruitlands experiment was also an early American example of both anarchism and veganism. To the extent that the Alcotts were anarchist (not a term they would have used), their vision seemed to include a world without property ownership. (Not coincidentally, Bronson Alcott had previously been jailed for resisting taxes.) They wanted to create a harmonious community without property or commerce.
In addition, they (especially the men) wanted to free themselves from a meat diet. One of the intellectual influences on their dietary choices was socialist theorist Charles Fourier, whose views found an audience among other countercultural New Englanders of the era. In this, the Alcotts and Lanes were part of a wave of dietary modernizers, linked to the Protestant revivals of the nineteenth century and a response to industrialization. As with Sylvester Graham and his eponymous cracker and the cereals of John Harvey Kellogg, these movements were about improved health but also temperance and moral uplift.