Monday, July 11, 2011

Adamless Eden

An Adamless Eden
Adamless Eden

Location: Oswego, New York, USA

Founded: 1895

Closed: 1895

Here's how the Bruce Herald (all the way over in New Zealand!) reacted to news of an "Adamless Eden"-- or colony for women -- on November 29, 1895. Let's just say the reaction is flippant at best:

Dr. Mary Walker, says a New York correspondent, has just bought a farm of 135 acres near Oswego, in New York State where she intends to found a colony for women. Speaking of the scheme, she said that all colonists would live in one commodious house, under the immediate supervision of herself, and two elected lady officers. "Bloomers" will be compulsory at Oswego. Applicants for membership will have to pledge themselves to celibacy during their stay in the colony. Women above fifteen and under thirty-five, who are prepared to abjure flirting with outsiders and similar frivolities, will be eligible. The monotony of farm life will be varied by the study of politics, of literature, and of social questions, as well as by "manly" sports. The chief object of the scheme, according to Dr. Walker, is to educate and turn out credible specimens of the New Woman. The site selected is in the heart of the picturesque fruit country. Dr. Walker is confident that her farm will prove to be what she calls it -- the Garden of Eden without Adam.

Dr. Mary Walker (1832-1919)
A more detailed account appears in the [Washington, D.C.] Morning Times on October 2, 1895:


Dr. Mary Walker's Adamless Eden for New Women.


Celibacy Will Also Be An Absolute Requisite and No Side Saddles Will Be Allowed--Will Plow and Sow and Reap and Mow Just Like Real Men

Oswego, N.Y, Oct. 1. -- Dr. Mary Walker, who has for the past forty years been one of the most eccentric dress reformers of the country, and who has been arrested in many cities for appearing on the street in male attire, has a new scheme on hand looking to the advancement of the bloomer girl. 

She has purchased a farm seven miles west of the city containing 135 acres of land upon which she proposes to form a colony -- for females only. Those joining this colony must bind themselves to a life of celibacy so long as they remain members of the community, and must wear bloomers for life. 


The farm will be worked by the members, who will plant and harvest the crops and take them to market. The horses on the place will not be furnished with side saddles, as the girls will ride astride.

Dr. Walker will personally look after the daily routine work, and will exercise her authority in all matters connected with the colony.

"We will live in a large, commodious farm house, for which I am having plans prepared, " Dr. Walker informed me today. "Every member will have her own room. Portieres will take the place of doors. Steam will be employed for heating purposes, and there will be bathrooms and every convenience to be found in a well-regulated house.


"I shall give my personal supervision to the establishment. Members, however, will elect officers twice a year to conduct it. There will be an auditing board to look after all accounts, an improvement board to look after improvements to the property, and a governing board. 

"It shall be the duty of the chairman of the latter to report all infractions of rules by members. There will be two judges chosen. One will have powers similar to a police magistrate; the other will have a position analogous to a general term. Those accused of infractions of the rules will be tried by a jury of five, and, if not satisfied with the judgements of the lower courts, they can appeal to me. I will sit as a court of last resort. 

"The rules of evidence, as governing our State judiciary, will apply. There will be no imprisonments; all punishment will consist of withdrawal of privileges for a certain length of time. If we should get into our fold undesirable women, who flirt or gad about with men when they go to market or on other occasions, they will, after suitable warning, be expelled. All females of good character, between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five years, are eligible for membership. I am certain that the farm can be made to support fifty or seventy-five persons. 


"Each member will have a share in the profits after the expense for board and clothing has been deducted. The remainder will go into a general fund for betterments and the purchase of adjoining lands, if it is deemed necessary and the community grows as rapidly as I believe it will. I have not decided whether it would be wise to exact an initiation fee or not. If it is so decided it will be comparatively small.

"Any member will, after three years in the community, be eligible to retire, taking with her the initiation fee, if one has been charged, and seven-eighths of her share of the earnings, the other eighth to go into the general fund.

"My great object is to educate and to turn out new women, as the newspaper men term them. They will be women who have governed themselves. I expect lots of policies in the community, and members will be able to hold their own, I warrant, with some of the so-called statesmen of the present day. 

"Besides, it will not all be farm work. There will be many hours each day for study, and the curriculum will be as broad and extended as that in any of our universities. There will be frequent lectures in a large assembly room that I propose to have, and current literature, politics and questions of the day will be discussed. The members can ride bicycles, and a number will be kept for their use. 


"There will be horses but not side-saddles. My girls will ride astride, as do the men, and I predict that three years of life in our institution will make the members the peer of any man physically or mentally. I will not make rules that defy all the rules of nature, and exact pledges binding for life. That of dress will be the only life pledge that will be asked. 

"I expect that many of those who come to us will go forth from our tutelage to enter the homes of men to become wives and mothers. When such time comes they will know how to be both, and how to raise and educate families that will reflect credit upon the nation of new women. 

"The site selected for the new colony is a delightful one, in the very heart of the finest fruit country in New York State. Several acres of the land have been used in raising the famous Oswego county strawberries. There is a fine apple orchard, several hundred pear trees and four acres devoted to a vinyard. It is a beautiful place, and unless all my plans fail it will be a perfect garden of Eden, but without an Adam. 

"What will it be called? On January 1 next I hope to be able to announce the name. It has not yet been selected."

The doctor is enjoying good health, and her plans are being carefully made. Many prominent women of this city interested in the advancement of women have been consulted, and approve of the scheme.    

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) was a fascinating--if somewhat idiosyncratic--character. One of the best short accounts of her life is by Jonathan Ned Katz, though there are many other fine accounts. She was a feminist, a cross-dressing dress reformer, and a distinguished Civil War doctor. However, few of the accounts describing Walker's life mention anything about Adamless Eden.

It seems the reason we don't hear about "Adamless Eden" is that it really never got off the ground--at least according to Nina Auerbach. So it appears that Walker's dream of a woman-only colony was a stillbirth.

Illustration from the Sydney Morning Herald, August 9, 1930. Photo of Dr. Mary Walker.

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