Document 16A: Fredrika Bremer, The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America, translated by Mary Howitt (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1853), 2 vols., pp. 2:615-23.

Fredrika Bremer, c. 1849
Courtesty of rhe American Swedish Historical Foundation, Philadelphia.


        The leading literary figure in Sweden, at the age of fifty Fredrika Bremer travelled alone throughout the United States from September 1849 to September 1851. She came to the United States to gaze into the future. Because her novels centered on everyday life, she was particularly interested in the reconfiguration of domestic life in America, especially through the women's rights movement and in utopian communities. This passage from the end of her journey describes her visit to the North American Phalanx at Monmouth County, New Jersey. After her trip Bremer thought often of the example of the American women. As she wrote a friend there, "I have spoken several times before large assemblies. . . and I cannot but thank American radicals and ladies in America to have been able to do so with calm and self-possesion. Their example has guided and sustained me. I have thought especially of Lucretia Mott."[49] Her translator, Mary Howitt (1799-1888), was a well-known English Quaker poet and feminist. For the text of all the letters, see UW-Madison Libraries primary sources.

New York, September 4th [1851]

        The subjects which were here touched upon will be still further pursued and developed at the great Woman's Convention which will be held in the beginning of October, at Worcester, in Massachusetts, and which will be attended by many of the members now here present, my friends, Marcus and Rebecca, among the rest. They wish me also to be there, and I would very gladly, but on the 13th instant I must leave America for Europe. I must see England on my return, and I should, in that case, be too long detained from home.

        While I am on the subject of woman's position in society, and Women's Rights' Conventions, I will say a few words about them. I am very glad of the latter, because they cause many facts, and many good thoughts to become public. I rejoice at the nobility and prudence with which many female speakers stand forth; at the profound truths, worthy of all consideration, which many of them utter; at the depth of woman's experience of life, her sufferings, and yearnings, which through them come to light; I rejoice and am amazed to see so many distinguished men sympathize in this movement, and support the women in their public appearance, often presenting the subject in language still stronger than they themselves use. I rejoice also that society, with decision peculiar to the Anglo-American spirit of association, has so rapidly advanced from talking to action--has divided into separate committees, for the development of the separate branches of the subject, preparatory to new social arrangements.

        But I do not rejoice at some lesser, well-intentioned measures and steps which have been proposed; do not rejoice at the tone of accusation and bravado which has now and then been assumed in the Convention, and at several expressions less noble and beautiful.

        It must, however, be confessed, that these clouds on the heaven of the new morning are few and fleeting in comparison with the vast and pure portions of light. Conventions are good, because they give emphasis to the great new moment of life in the community; they are good as a sifting wind separating the chaff from the wheat. They will, if rightly conducted, hasten on the approaching day; if otherwise, they will retard it. There are signs enough, both in Europe and in this country, which predict the approach of a time, of which Moses already prophesied in the words,

"The daughters enter in."

And if you should say, as you once said when we spoke on this subject,

        "Then all the wrong-headed will rule, and the whole corps will be disgraced!"

        To which I will reply, "I am not afraid of that, and less so now than ever. Look at the Society of Friends, and at the small Socialist community at this place. All the women in these have the right to speak in the public assemblies, but none avail themselves of the right but they who have talent for it, or who have something very good to say. All participate in the government, but it is done quietly, and evidently for the best interests of the community. Neither does one ever hear of quarrels between the men and women, of disunion and separation between married couples. With affectionately conceded privileges, the spirit of opposition and disquiet is generally appeased. The power of reason and affection obtain greater power. Thoughtfulness and gentleness are the distinguishing features of these free women."

        A case of decision by general vote in the Phalanstery has just lately proved in a striking manner the good influence of the pure spirit and morals of home on the affairs of the community, through its direct influence from the heart and centre of the home.

        "The Gauls," Tacitus tells us, "on important occasions summoned a select assembly of women into the councils, and their voice gave the final decision."

        When the female consciousness of life becomes that which it may be in our time, its influence must be most beneficial in the councils of the community. As it is, this is now deprived of that fructifying life which belongs to the sphere of the mother, and the home does not now educate citizens and citizenesses.

        Not that I imagine a new and better state of things would bring forth perfection. Ah! no one can have arrived at fifty without, both from one's own shortcomings and those of others, being too well acquainted with human imperfection to believe that every thing is to become perfect upon earth; but somewhat better they will be nevertheless, when they who are the mothers and foster-mothers of the human race become as good and as wise as the light of an extended sphere of life can make them--when that fountain of light with which the Creator has endowed their nature can flow forth unimpeded, and diffuse its living waters within the home and social life.

        I can not see it otherwise. I believe that this development of liberty is the profoundest and the most vital principle upon which the regeneration of society depends, and upon which the greatness and the happiness of the New World depends.

        "The darkness of the mother casts its gloom over the child; the clearness of the mother casts its light over the child from generation to generation."

        It is in this conviction that I will unite myself to the Convention, and say with it,

        "Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth."

        And now again to the Phalanstery.

        In the evening of the second day after our arrival, there was a little play and a ball. A lively little piece, but without any very profound meaning, was acted very well by a number of the young people. Many of the young ladies made their appearance at the ball in the so-called Bloomer costume, that is to say, short dresses made to the throat, and trowsers. This costume, which is, in reality, much more modest than that of the ordinary ball-room, and which looks extremely well on young ladies in their every-day occupations, is not advantageous for a ball-room, and is not at all becoming in the waltz, unless the skirts are very short, which was the case with two otherwise remarkably well-dressed and very pretty young girls. Some of them had really in their Bloomer costume a certain fantastic grace; but when I compared this with the true feminine grace which exhibited itself in some young girls with long dresses, and in other respects equally modest attire with the Bloomer ladies, I could not but give the palm to the long dresses. Among the most graceful of the dancers in long dresses was the lovely Abbie A., the daughter of the President of the Phalanstery.

        The ball was in other respects far more beautiful (even if the toilets of the ladies were not so elegant), and the dancing in much better taste, than that which I saw at Saratoga.

        When I was making a sketch in my room of the beautiful groups of waiters at the first day's dinner, I asked them, one after the other, if they were happy in their life at this place. They replied unanimously that they could not imagine themselves happy under other circumstances. Life appeared to them rich and beautiful. How many young people in the home of the Old World could give the same reply?

        Among the ladies now members of the association was one still young, without beauty, but with a lofty, intellectual forehead. The mind had pondered within this forehead upon the unjust distribution of human lots--upon the disproportion between the longings which she felt within herself and that portion in life which was hers, as a young woman of weak health and small means. She dwelt on these thoughts and this state of life until she became also insane. Rigid, evangelical relations of hers counseled her "to bear her cross!" She came hither. Here she was received by love and freedom--the most invigorating atmosphere both for soul and body. Her being expanded and unfolded itself like a drooping flower. That life of social love, and that taste for fellow-citizenship which lay fettered within her, liberated itself, and she soon became one of the most active members of the little community, devoting herself to the cultivation of the garden, and to the care of its fruits and flowers. She is now a universal favorite in the little community, and is there only addressed by some appellation of endearment, expressive of the general love for her, and her affectionate activity for all.

        I sat one evening in her little room, listening to the simple and affecting history of her former inward struggle and her present happiness. That little room was not larger than an ordinary prison cell; it had bare, whitewashed walls, but a large window which afforded light and air. We sat upon a very comfortable sofa, and the cornice and angles of the room were covered from floor to ceiling with rich sheaves of beautiful grasses, grouped with the most exquisite taste. The inmate of the room did not know their names; she had never had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with nature and its productions; but every one of these grasses had been gathered by her with love, had been contemplated with admiration, and bound together one with another, so that the peculiar beauty of each was made availing to the whole. That fantastic moulding of yellow grasses was richer than one of gilding.

        My conversation in this little room was interrupted before I wished by my being called away to see one of the sweetest young girls dance the Scottish hornpipe.

        On Sunday Channing gave a public discourse on the relationship of religion and the community, on the relationship between the inward and the outward laws, a discourse rich in Christian consciousness, and in which nothing was wanting but that prominence should have been given to the constant point of this consciousness, the need of mercy, and of the communication of the Divine Spirit, and of prayer, that wonderful speaking-tube between earth and heaven.

        In the evening, which was beautiful, I ascended with Marcus and Eddy a green hill at some distance from the Phalanstery, which is called from its shape the Sugar-Loaf Hill. We had an extensive prospect from the summit, and saw in the golden light of the setting sun the whole fertile, cultivated region, full of small rural abodes embowered in their wooded parks, and among these the pale yellow-colored house of the Phalanstery looked like a large mansion. I gazed upon it with cheerful feelings, although I can not divest my mind of fears regarding its stability, more especially as some of its wisest members are not without anxieties regarding its pecuniary difficulties.

        This community, and those which resemble it in this country, aim at producing the model community on earth, a perfect state of social life. They call this community the Harmonians, and place it above the old one, in which the members graduate merely in artificial culture; their efforts are principally directed toward the spiritual, the natural, which, in its full state of culture, will lead to a perfect, and in all respects harmoniously developed social state.

        Nevertheless, it seems to me that all the various talents and natural gifts, upon the development of which the full development of the community principally depends, can not here attain to the depth and fullness which is necessary for this purpose. A small community can scarcely furnish scope sufficient for the many dissimilar powers, and these--but I will not say more on this subject. I feel that I am not fully possessed of it, and that the objections which I might make could be met by the answer of the extended sphere of the nursery, which I have here seen. I will rather adhere to that portion of the subject which I understand with my whole heart, which makes the institution dear to me, and which, I am certain, forms a transition point in its life and activity as regards the life of humanity.

        It is a work of Christian human love. It aims at preparing every man and every woman for a harmonious development, conformably to their innermost being, by means of a harmonious social life, in which all shall enjoy the fruits of the labor of all, and all enjoy the fruits of God's rich and beautiful earth. It enforces that object in individual activity at which it aims publicly in the great community. It is a forerunner and a prophet. The prophets of old were stoned, and are dead.

        And their voices sound even now upon earth. The community of the Phalanstery, as I beheld it here, with its sound kernel of pious and earnest working members, with its surrounding garland of intellectual, devoted lookers-on, is a product of Christ's doctrine of love, and it aims at making this a vital principle of social life. It is an upright and a noble endeavor.

        And the kingdom of God is extended by such endeavors. May one and all be faithful in their part. And should the Phalanstery, even in this its contracted form, become one of the earth's "enfans perdus," yet it will not be so in the history of the new community, neither in that of the house of God.

        For my part, I feel convinced that these small socialist communities will not sustain themselves longer than they are sustained by the noble spirits who infuse into them their energetic life of love. Then probably their work will fall to pieces. But if they, during a short successful period, exhibit that which social humanity may become when all shall be influenced by a noble and beneficent spirit, and possessing all these material advantages which associated life affords, then they will not have flourished--will not have lived in vain.

        And it can not be denied that the moral element which they adopt as the principle of association, and which constitutes their characteristic and recognizable feature, is also beginning to be valid in the great commercial, industrial, and scientific associations of North America. People are acknowledging more and more that man is more than meat, and "leveling upward" is the universal watchword in all associated life. Associations in all professions, and for all purposes, spring as the natural products of this soil, but only the more is it felt that the strongest bond of union is a supernatural one, and depends principally upon that which is highest and best in man. Associations become fraternities.

        The last evening of my stay at the Phalanstery I conducted all its members through a grand Swedish Nigarepolka, which made a fervor. Seldom indeed had "the Great Joy" resounded with a more universal or hearty rejoicing.

        The following morning Channing was to leave. After breakfast, therefore, we walked into the park for quiet conversation. We met several people who would gladly have exchanged a word with the beloved teacher, yet none interrupted us, none disturbed us. I saw a lady sitting reading under a shady tree; she sat as quietly there as in her own room: so much is the private circle respected by the members of the Phalanstery.


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