Communal Living in the 19th century

A curious experiment is being tried in Tennessee.

A co-operative town has been established by a few workingmen, and from all accounts it seems to be a great success.

The town is called Ruskin, and at the present time has seventy families in it.

In this town all men are considered equal, every man, and woman too, receiving the same amount of wage for his labor, whether it be skilled or unskilled. The school teacher receives the same pay as the day laborer; all stand on an equal footing.

When a man wishes to go and live in Ruskin, he has first to ask for permission to settle there. The Ruskinites own their town, and are careful not to allow any people to settle in it who are not likely to be agreeable to them.

To every person who wishes to join them they send a list of questions, asking the would-be settler what his ideas are on certain points.

If the answers are unsatisfactory, the applicant is told that there is no room for him in Ruskin.

If, however, his ideas agree with those of the rest of the community, his name is put up for membership, and he is elected by ballot, as he would be to a club.

When elected, the new member is obliged to pay an initiation fee of $500 toward the general funds of the town, and he and his family are then welcome to join the settlement as soon as they see fit.

When they arrive they are given a house and lot rent free. There are no taxes to pay in Ruskin; everything is free but furniture and food. Schools and school-books, doctors, medicines, all are free; theĀ family washing is even undertaken by the community free of charge.

In return for these advantages the family is required to work.

The father must be willing to do any task that is assigned to him, without complaint. It does not matter if he has never handled a spade in his life, he must dig if required to, and dig to the best of his ability.

The payment in Ruskin is not in dollars and cents, but hours’ labor, notes of one, five, and ten hours’ value being printed, and passing for currency in the town.

The community allows each man the value of fifty hours’ labor a week, his wife the same amount, and his children twenty hours each.

The husband is required to work the full time for the community; the wife is allowed four hours of the day to work for her home, and need only give five hours to the general good. The four hours that she spends in her housework are, however, credited to her as hours of labor, because she is benefiting the community by keeping an orderly home.

In the same way the twenty hours’ weekly labor for which the children are paid are the hours they spend in school. By going to school and learning they, too, are benefiting the community, so that their labor is also for the general good.

When school is over, children who wish to do so can wait on table in the community dining-hall, and then they earn more time-checks.

These checks can be exchanged at the general store for goods, the prices of articles not being reckoned at so many cents but at so many hours of labor.

The Ruskin people seem to be hopeful that they have solved the problem of living.

A similar experiment is to be tried under the management of Eugene Debs. He is the man who led the strikers in Chicago, got into trouble with the authorities, and was finally sent to prison.

Debs proposes to start a co-operative town in the West, taking one hundred thousand men and women along with him to settle it.

He is going to build factories and start all kinds of industries, which are to belong to all the people in common, the profits and the losses to be shared by all the citizens alike.

Peace and prosperity are promised to all who will enter this ideal town. It will be interesting to watch the experiment and see just what results can be achieved.

Taken from here:

The Great Round World and What Is Going On In It, Vol. 1, No. 36, July 15, 1897
A Weekly Magazine for Boys and Girls

The colony of Ruskin only lasted a couple of years. Its founder, Wayland, left after just a year over arguments about ownership of his newspaper and printing press. The rest of the colony seems to have fallen apart over acrimonious arguments about money and freelove.

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