The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984 Page: 372
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
brick house in Mt. Pleasant, which was then a suburb of Washington.
There they could relax and sample the culture of the nation's capital.
The sympathetic reporter discovered that the commune had suc-
ceeded through an unusual combination of religious vision, shrewd
business sense, and a cautious attitude toward males. "Oh, yes, we
have had men among us," the women claimed. "They are welcome if
they are willing to live the life we do. But they never stay very long.
You see it is in the nature of men to want to boss-and-Well, they
find they can't."2
The Woman's Commonwealth was part of the incredible prolifera-
tion of communal experiments in nineteenth-century America, a land
"useful in proving things before held impossible."3 The nation ap-
peared ideally suited for social innovation; its restless people and their
toleration of experimentation provided a unique laboratory for creat-
ing small innovative communities. In common with many other con-
temporary utopian experiments, the Woman's Commonwealth drew
its inspiration from the Christian religion, using the Bible as its spir-
itual guide and the communism of the early church as the model for
its economic and social organization. These theocratic communities,
organized by such charismatic religious leaders as McWhirter, Ann
Lee, John Humphrey Noyes, and Joseph Smith, had as one of their
primary goals the creation of a more just and humane economic and
social order here on earth. To accomplish this they sought to develop
a novel physical and social environment that would foster a life of
greater social intimacy and human fulfillment. Among the changes
envisioned by many of these divergent utopias was the creation of
novel and varied roles for women. Commitment to such changes pro-
moted cohesiveness among groups such as the celibate Shakers, the
pantagamous Oneida community, and the polygynous Mormons.
Many nineteenth-century communes prided themselves on solving
the paradox of "woman's sphere" in American society. After the early
18oos, the lives of women altered dramatically as a result of economic
and social changes that invested women with increased authority and
power within American culture and the family. But while women
became a more powerful force in American life, prescriptive literature
promoted the cult of true womanhood, with its emphasis on piety, do-
2Waco Weekly Tribune, July 20, 9igo; Washington Times, Sept. 18, 19o4; Margarita
Spalding Gerry, "The Woman's Commonwealth of Washington," Ainslee's Magazine, X
(Sept. 8, 1902), 139 (quotations).
8James Madison quoted in Harriet Martineau, Society in America (3 vols.; London,
1837), I, i.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984, periodical, 1983/1984; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/m1/440/: accessed August 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.