Helicon Home Colony

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Helicon Home Colony was an experimental community formed by author Upton Sinclair in Englewood, New Jersey, United States, with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. Established in October 1906, it burned down in March 1907 and was disbanded.[1]

In a 1906 article in The Independent,[2] Sinclair outlined a plan for a home colony located within one-hour of New York City. Following the model proposed by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her book The Home, Sinclair sought "authors, artists, and musicians, editors and teachers and professional men"[3] who wanted to avoid the drudgeries of domestic life. A farm community would be established that would generate its own meat, milk and produce. Food would be served in a communal kitchen and children raised in separate nurseries. The community would be run by a board of directors. While Sinclair insisted that the project was not a Socialist one, he did think that those interested in participating "would have to be in sympathy with the spirit of socialism".[3] Sinclair planned for about 100 houses on a 400-acre (1.6 km2) lot, and would get proposals for architects and business experts to create a business plan for the endeavor.[3]

In a letter published in The New York Times on July 16, 1906, Sinclair outlined his plan and announced a public meeting to be held the following evening at the Berkeley Lyceum on 44th Street. Employed individuals would join a cooperative and build homes of their own design that would not have kitchens or space for children. The community would use machinery to increase efficiency and "solve the problem of the management of servants". The community would be run by a democratically-elected board and would own enough land to produce as much of its own food as possible. Children would be cared for separately and overseen by a Board of Women Directors elected by their mothers. Lecture halls, reading rooms and other common facilities would be provided.[4]

The Times published an editorial the next day, supportive of the meeting and noting the difficulties of raising a family in the city. However, the editors raised concerns that the funds needed to purchase land in proximity to New York City would require substantial outlays beyond the means of most. The editorial questioned the practicability of raising children on a communal basis, noting that "There would be more fun in that spectacle -- for outsiders -- than in the traditional barrel of monkeys."[5]

Some 300 people attend the public meeting on July 17. Sinclair led the two-hour meeting and spoke for three-quarters of the session. It was agreed that women who paid the $10 initiation fee would be eligible to vote. Sinclair stated that he had offers of suitable land in the New York City area at $10 to $50 per acre, refuting claims made in the editorial in The Times that appropriate land would cost as much as $3,000 to $40,000 an acre. Gaylord Wilshire was named temporary treasurer, and Sinclair announced that commitments of $50,000 had already been made. Sinclair reviewed the responses he had received to a questionnaire he had distributed nationwide, receiving 44 responses, including one from a meat packer in Brooklyn. In addition to details on the types and manner of food to be served in the proposed colony, respondents indicated that they preferred to be close to New York City, preferably in New Jersey.[6]

See also