The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

By Dolores Hayden | Go to book overview

7 Domestic Space in Fictional Socialist Cities

An Unlikely Coalition

At the Merchants' Exchange in the center of Boston's financial district there met, in the winter of 1888, as unlikely a political caucus as had ever formed in that politically minded city. Its feminist contingent included Mary Livermore and Frances Willard of the Women's Christian Temperance Union; Lucy Stone, the suffragist who succeeded Livermore as editor of the Woman's Journal; Abby Morton Diaz, novelist and witty critic of traditional housework; and Helen Campbell, home economist and journalist. The literary world was represented by William Dean Howells, celebrated novelist and editor and a former member of the Cambridge Cooperative Housekeeping Society, and Edward Everett Hale, popular author, Unitarian minister, housing reformer, and uncle of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Sylvester Baxter, a crusading journalist active in promoting Boston parks, was present. Among the well-known social reformers were Solomon Schindler, a radical rabbi; Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, suffragist, abolitionist, son of members of the Cambridge Cooperative Housekeeping Society; and Lawrence Gronlund, cooperative theorist. A group of retired military officers, all of them members of Colonel Higginson's club, arrived and were welcomed, taking over several positions in the new organization which was forming. 1 What cause could have commanded these diverse political loyalties? Edward Bellamy's Nationalism, a program of evolutionary socialism.

The Boston Nationalist Club's inspiration was Edward Bellamy best-selling novel, Looking Backward 2000-1887, published in 1888. Its popular appeal lay in its fictional solution to the crises of an industrialized United States, a solution blending conventional Beaux-Arts city planning and unconventional uses of futuristic technology. The novel conveyed, through long, didactic "conversations," an image of militaristic industrial discipline regulated by time clocks and a vision of cooperative housekeeping aided by scientific expertise. To his thousands of readers, concerned about the nature of work and home under industrial capitalism, Bellamy presented a reassuring picture of a familiar American city improved by a century of peaceful evolutionary socialism.

The hero of Looking Backward, Julian West, falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in Boston in the year 2000. After his awakening, West relentlessly cross-examines his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Leete, and their daughter, Edith, about all aspects of life in the socialist city of Boston:

"Who does your house-work, then?" I asked.

"There is none to do," said Mrs. Leete, to whom I had addressed this question. "Our washing is all done at public laundries at excessively cheap rates, and our cooking at public shops. Electricity, of course, takes the place of all fires and lighting. We choose houses no larger than we need, and furnish them so as to involve the minimum of trouble to keep them in order. We have no use for domestic servants."

"What a paradise for womankind the world must be now!" I exclaimed. 2

-135-

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