Skip to content
Contact USI

Utopian History

The site of two utopian societies, New Harmony was first a spiritual sanctuary that later became a haven for international scientists, scholars and educators who sought equality in communal living.

New Harmony was founded in 1814 by a religious group called The Harmonie Society, led by George Rapp. Between 1814 and 1824, the Harmonists constructed over 180 log, frame and brick structures in their settlement. The community was entirely self-sufficient and produced a wide variety of goods that were recognized worldwide for their quality. Harmonist wares were sold throughout the United States and overseas in the British Isles, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany.

In 1824, George Rapp sold the entire town so that he could relocated his community back to Pennsylvania where they originated. He found a purchaser in Robert Owen, a wealthy industrialist of Welsh descent, who was operating a textile mill in New Lanark, Scotland.

In 1825, with his business partner, William Maclure, Robert Owen purchased the town of New Harmony, hoping to establish a model community where education and social equality would flourish. Maclure, a wealthy businessman and well-respected geologist, attracted many well-known scholars of the early 19th century to New Harmony, including American naturalist Thomas Say; French naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur; and Pestalozzian educators Joseph Neef, Phiquepal d’Arusmont, and Madame Marie Duclos Fretageot. Gerard Troost, a Dutch geologist, and Frances Wright, a Scots-born early feminist, were also drawn to New Harmony.

Robert Owen's "Community of Equality," as the experiment was known, dissolved by 1827, ravaged by personal conflicts and the inadequacies of the community in the areas of labor and agriculture. Many members, including Owen's own children, stayed in New Harmony and brought significant contributions to American scientific and educational theory, study and practice.

USI Connection

Historic New Harmony is a unified program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. The program maintains several historic properties, manages collections pertaining to the town's history, and offers educational programming that connects New Harmony's utopian legacy to today. Opportunities for collaboration among USI faculty, staff, students and New Harmony are facilitated by Historic New Harmony, a department within the division of Outreach and Engagement. These opportunities include the development of research projects and service learning courses, internships, and experiential learning in New Harmony.