Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/October 1876/Organized Homesteads and Households



THE problem of homes for the people is not a simple one. The question is not merely how to house single families at the least cost. No solution of the problem can be worse than the solitary farm-house in a thinly-settled country. The real question is, how to reconcile the autonomy of the individual and family with the economies and productive forces of modern society. The solitary farm-house is a pioneer in the wilderness, and good for that. But the first generation born in it, or as soon as civilization has spread far enough to take it in, fly from it as if it were a pest-house. In the older States our population is rushing into the towns, not because the earth has grown barren, or because our town-life is natural or beautiful, but because modern civilization attracts and marshals mankind to coöperative work, and the universal instinct revolts against anti-social methods and solutions. More farmers and farmers' wives, in proportion to the population, are insane, than any other industrial or professional class in America; and this, notwithstanding all the healthful influences of Nature in the country, and the miasm, filth, and imprisonment, of the towns.

The first step toward social order is to secure the independent existence of the individual or family in a home which, like the traditional English house, shall be a castle inviolable and safe from all intrusion. One of the chief conditions of such independence is that the home shall be owned by the individual or family, not rented. On this account it introduces the wildest confusion into the present discussion to compare the working-men's houses in Philadelphia, owned by themselves, with hired tenements. We are brought, however, at once to a legitimate though limited ground of preference for the Philadelphia plan of purchasing a homestead, over the common method of living in rented houses, or in hired rooms in a tenement-house.

But this is only half of the question. The wastefulness of building a separate house for each family, even with the cheapest appliances, and of carrying on the household afterward, will be, always sufficient to make the difference between comfort and pauperism for the masses. In other words, which will bear repetition, the separate house does not, cannot avail itself of the social economies and productive forces which are the means of modern civilization. Two great departments of human industry, Agriculture, already alluded to, and the Household, remain in the hand-loom state of development.

What is needed in agriculture to charm the population back to the fields, and to double the production of the soil, is to substitute suitable buildings at the centre of an agricultural township for unsuitable, straggling farm-houses and barns, and to replace solitary labor on farms by the modern method of organized industry, applied to the cultivation of a domain large enough to permit selection of soils and the use of adequate machinery. This question, "How can we keep the boys on the farm?" has just received a thoughtful answer from Colonel George E. Waring, in an "Ogden Farm-Paper," in the April number of the American Agriculturist.

What we need, in order to harmonize our household system with other branches of modern industry, is a Federative Homestead, owned by those inhabiting it, in which the great entries or halls may be considered as streets under cover, and the individual or family domiciles, houses under a common roof. For such buildings a new architecture and new machinery are needed. The Peabody tenement-houses in London, the family club-houses in England and on the Continent, the family hotels in this country, and the Familistère at Guise, though furnishing valuable architectural suggestions, have solved as yet but few of the problems of construction of the "People's Palace," as it has been called. Invention also has done comparatively little to furnish labor-saving machinery for agriculture and the household on account of the segregated and slovenly character of these industries.

The most obvious form of the People's Palace in the town is a hollow square, surrounded with streets, with inclosed and surrounding gardens—the space in the centre being large enough to give air and a pleasant outlook to the inner domiciles. To further this object, one side of the square might be left open, or devoted to work-rooms, only a single story in height. In the country the building might take the form of a cross, giving an open view on all sides with public rooms and halls, or a conservatory under glass (a winter garden) in the middle, and gardens surrounding.

The economies would increase, and also the independence of the occupants, with the increase of numbers within certain limits. While the edifice might be of equal size for rich or poor, the separate domiciles would naturally be smaller and more numerous where the means of the proprietors were less. In the same building the various domiciles would differ in value according to situation and size, and thus would suit persons of different means. Not less than one hundred nor more than four hundred families may be assumed for illustration as probable limits of number.

A building of architectural beauty, favorably situated in country or town, to contain one hundred domiciles, would cost, including land, not more than two-thirds as much as one hundred separate houses of the same class, giving to each family the same amount and quality of habitable room. The edifice should be fire-proof, safer from intrusion, better drained, better ventilated, freer from offenses of all kinds, than the solitary houses. A finely-appointed kitchen, laundry, heating, lighting, and elevating apparatus, with telegraphic and other means of communication, sufficient for the wants of a hundred families, would replace one hundred sets of inferior work-rooms and apparatus in the separate houses. But one or more work-rooms would be provided in each domicile for minor or exceptional use.

The cost of carrying on the People's Household, including warming, lighting, water and food supply, cooking, and the laundry, with superintendence and general service, would not be more than two-thirds the cost of living in separate houses of the same class, all purchases being made at wholesale, and the work being performed by organized labor, using the best machinery. Each individual or family would be charged (perhaps against a monthly advance) for precisely what they consumed. The difference of cost between meals served in family alcoves of a great hall, or by dumbwaiter, or equivalent machinery, in each domicile, would be small, and, like all other arrangements, at the option of each proprietor. In previous experiments of this general character, it has not been found that any family would long prefer the more costly and inferior method of private purchase and labor in the departments of cooking and washing, although provision could easily be made for a limited use of the public machinery by individuals having such preference.

This estimate leaves to the women of each family the greater part of their time. Here is one of the greatest existing wastes of labor. The separate house necessarily and permanently dooms woman to drudgery. Under the present system she necessarily carries on a hundred trades every day by hand-work, as wasteful of productive force as the old spinning-wheel. The labor of women, saved in this way, would find new channels. The steam-power in the unitary building, in constant use for elevators, pumping, washing, cooking, heating, lighting, would always furnish a surplus of motive power for sewing-machines and small industries which would naturally grow up. In the People's Palace a Kindergarten for the youngest children, and schools more or less industrial and technical for those older, would have a natural and inevitable place. While this would still further relieve the mothers, it would also be a field for the occupation of women and men living in the Homestead who were specially gifted in these directions. Other collective work of the People's Home would give occupation to some of the inmates. Halls for lectures and social purposes, a library and reading-room, would also be among the endowments of every People's Palace.

Rising higher in the social scale, the question of domestic service, now so difficult of solution, would be summarily settled. In palatial buildings, occupying with inclosed and surrounding gardens a whole city square, erected with the wealth of a hundred rich families, nine-tenths of all the work would be done by the collective labor of employés, who would have no personal relations or contact with the individual proprietors. The remaining one-tenth of domestic service would admit of such selection and improvement of present methods as to get rid of the principal part of the evil. It is much easier to drill and actuate a corps of one hundred operatives in a public service than to direct a single domestic; and the elements of personal collision and suffering self-respect, inseparable from the latter rule, are absent from the former.

The Federative Homesteads, or People's Palaces, would especially need "Building Associations" for their establishment. But these associations would be neither charitable nor speculative; they would be mutual-insurance companies, not for rebuilding houses destroyed by fire, but to build each a palace, as perfect as modern art could make it, for the occupancy of its members, and subsequently to carry on the Palatial Household. The comparison of the Philadelphia system of separate houses, poorly constructed, and purchased by installments from building corporations not always purely mutual, should be made with such collective, self-owned homesteads, not with hired tenements, even should these be on the scale and with the appliances of the Peabody tenement-houses in London, erected by a magnificent charity.

The People's Palace, to replace the people's hovels, is no fanciful project or arbitrary contrivance, but the natural, inevitable form of the household required by our civilization, corresponding strictly with all our improved methods of productive industry; corresponding also with the social instincts and convictions of the time in which we live. Opposed to its practical introduction is the want of intelligence and mutual confidence in the masses, and also a selfish and exclusive spirit, which is short-sighted and defeats its own end. Witness the insecurity and ruinous waste of our separate households, the drudgery of women, and the slavery to servants. In agriculture witness also the loss of at least one-half the natural product by incoherent labor in the fields, and by the isolated farm-house and barn.[2]

I began this presentation of the "People's Palace" with the demand for an architecture and structural law which should throw around each individual and family a fortress of privacy, and which should secure a home-sphere more inviolable than is possible in our isolated houses, invaded daily by a horde of carriers, and pervaded by an alien caste of servants. This largest freedom and independence of the individual and family can only be assured by the perfect organization of the Homestead and Household.

In the vegetable and animal kingdoms the law of organization requires—1. The establishment of each individual molecule or cell in a world of its own; 2. The coördination and coöperation of such atoms or cells with each other, in a collective body or organism, according to their precise form and place. The want of either of these factors, the distinct individual units, or the scientific grouping and marshaling of units in a collective unity, deprives a body of its place in the organic world. The same factors must enter into every social organization which is entitled to the name. We have in this country an example of a true organization in our federative political system, composed of townships, counties, States, and nation, with its motto, "Out of many, one." I have drawn thence the designation Federative for the organized Homestead.

It is essential that relations of precise equity shall prevail between the proprietors of a Collective Home. The right of individual property in each domicile should be fortified by separate title and right of sale, subject only to chartered restrictions. In a well constructed and organized Federative Homestead such domiciles would always be salable at full cost value. A precise account, based on accurate standards of measurement, must be kept with each individual or family, including both general and special supplies and services. Instruction in the schools of the Palace would be classed among services to be specially accounted for. Our present common-school system (the best of our institutions) is a violation of social organic law, on the side of communism, to balance its violation in the opposite direction by incoherent industry and incoherent homes. The only scientific justification, if it may be so called, of the present system, is the rule that two wrongs make a right. The relation of highly-organized societies to children will, without doubt, be parental, through the recognition of new equities and the extension of mutual affection and service. But the further consideration of this subject does not belong here.

There are two extremes of reaction against existing society: one, Communism, its destructive fusion; the other, Individual Sovereignty, its destructive analysis. Each tends to social dissolution, because it rejects one of the organic factors. Between these extremes—occupying the domain of organization—are two possible social orders, one constructive, attractive in all its forces, cooperative, in harmony with modern thought, and with the development of science and the arts. The People's Palace is the natural form of household belonging to this order. The other is an inverted organization, compulsory, actuated by destructive rivalries, characterized by speculation and fraud, and feudal in its tendencies and results. To this latter order, the middle-age civilization of Europe and America, which still holds us, belong the isolated house and all in our present methods which insulate instead of associating the industries, and reconciling the interests of mankind. The single but sufficient means of resisting the communistic dissolution of our present society is to substitute everywhere for inverted methods natural organization, or, in other words, scientific coöperation.

The claim that the Federative Home, or "People's Palace," is the natural, inevitable form of the organized Household—coextensive with the future society—brings the subject within the domain of legitimate social science. The consideration of improved expedients for housing the people, without regard to the essential form and tendencies of civilization, is no part of social science, but only a discussion of the arts of life.

  1. A paper read before the American Social Science Association at Philadelphia, June 1, 1876.
  2. Reference is here due to an American sociological novel, entitled "Papa's Own Girl," by Marie Howland, which furnishes a vivid description of the Familistère at Guise, and its supposed adoption in this country.