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Did The Owenite Movement offer women a 'New Moral World'?

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Introduction

Women's studies. Did The Owenite Movement offer women a 'New Moral World'? Robert Owen was born in Newport Wales in 1771, the sixth child of a local ironmonger and saddler. Owen was a bright and lively boy who enjoyed playing football, learning to dance and to play the clarinet. At school he was so advanced for his age that he became a 'Pupil Teacher' when only seven. He read profusely on history, philosophy and theology. Robert was sent to London in 1780, to join his elder brother and became apprenticed to James McGuffog, a draper from Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was greatly influenced by his employers' liberal views on religion. In the late 18th century a major revolution was taking place in the textile industry. Originally the manufacture of cloth was a cottage industry, but the invention of water powered spinning machines, such as Arkwright's Water Frame, Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and later Compton's Mule led to the development of the cotton mills. (Robert Owen Memorial Museum archives.) In 1789, Owen borrowed �100.00d, from his brother and along with Ernest Jones went onto business manufacturing new spinning machines in Manchester. (Robert Owen Memorial Museum archives.) At age twenty in 1791, Owen took on the management of a spinning factory employing 500 workers; he proved to be an efficient manager with a compassion for the workers and began to develop his ideas on social reform. He stayed in Manchester for 13 years and in 1793 at the age of 22 he joined the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society where he was introduced to new ideas on public health. ...read more.

Middle

He attracted some influential people but the church was opposed to his ideas on Marriage and religion. In one of his speeches he expounded on the idea of marriage as nothing more than domestic slavery for women. These ideas led to other debates on sexuality and freedom of sexual expression. The church and some middle class people where outraged by these suggestions. His experiment in New Lanark, although considered a great success, did not outweigh his more liberal views on the family and morality. His partners at New Lanark were becoming increasingly concerned where Owen was going with his ideas. G.D.H. Cole, (1930). Many of Owens followers were now women who saw the opportunity to improve their living standards and to be regarded as individuals. In his autobiography Owen lists the qualities of his school citing that there was no corporal punishment, his teachers were kind, using conversation as part of the instruction, and an un-patronising attitude toward answering questions. His ideas on education could be described as 'Gestalt' meaning wholeness; he included quality of life as part of the nurturing of children exposing them to superior surroundings. Stewart (1972). In this sense Owens' enlightenment and progressive standards where visionary. Owen severed his links with New Lanark during the mid 1820s after financial difficulties In 1824, Owen heard that a settlement in America called Harmony was for sale. He set sail with the idea that the New World would provide the ideal opportunity to establish an experimental community Harmony was well suited for his purposes. ...read more.

Conclusion

He spent his life and a large fortune in seeking to improve his fellowmen by giving them education, self-reliance, and moral worth. His life was sanctified by human affection and lofty effort". http://robert-owen.midwales.com/rowen/#New_Harmony Did Owen provide a 'New Moral World for Women'? There is no doubt that Robert Owen had a vision of a 'New Moral World', his life was dedicated to his social engineering experiments, but one has to remember that the financial support came from the success of his mills. The women in the communities were encouraged to think about their lifestyles and the exploitation of their sex, to liberate themselves from marriage and sexual ownership. However this could be looked upon as a male attitude to sexual liberation in so far as, would the abandonment of sexual propriety work for the women or serve as a free source of sexual partners for men? His ideas on working conditions and the standard of living his workers enjoyed created a efficient style of production and could be argued as nothing more than an ideological exploitation of his workforce. His egalitarian communities paved the way for free thinkers and reformers but one cannot take away the efforts of his followers and their endeavours. Owens vision of an egalitarian society with mutual respect, the promise of health care, education, well built housing, and shorter hours must have been an attractive vision for people of that era. However the decline of Owenism ended the vision of a 'New World Order' for Women, the class struggle sidelined them into the symbolic idea of women once again. Feminism preceded Owen and it continued after his death, women of courage have always raised their voice against injustice. Owen died in 1858. ...read more.

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