The New International Encyclopædia/Owen, Robert

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The New International Encyclopædia
Owen, Robert
Edition of 1905. See also Robert Owen on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

OWEN, Robert (1771-1858). An English social reformer, born May 14, 1771, at Newtown, Montgomeryshire, North Wales. He was the son of poor parents, and was apprenticed at ten years of age to a draper. He developed an unusual power of organization, and at nineteen years of age became manager of a cotton mill employing 500 hands. The enterprise was successful and Owen soon organized the Chorlton Twist Company, which later bought the large cotton mills at New Lanark of David Dale, whose daughter Owen married in 1799. Owen assumed the management in 1800, and New Lanark soon achieved wide reputation both for its industrial success and the prosperity of the employees. It was visited by the most prominent men of Europe. Owen opened pleasure resorts for the employees, stopped the employment of young children, and introduced a system of education far in advance of his time; improved the houses; furnished provisions at fair prices; and established insurance funds for sickness and old age. In 1813 he published his New Views of Society, or Essays upon the Formation of the Human Character, in which he held that character is wholly the result of the environment. Called before a Parliamentary committee in 1817 to testify regarding the causes of poverty and the means of avoiding it, he outlined the plan of a coöperative village, in which some 1200 persons should live in one large building with public kitchens and dining rooms, each family having its own private apartments and the entire care of its children until the age of three, after which they should be brought up by the community. Work and the enjoyment of its results were to be in common. Federations of such coöperative townships were to embrace the world in one great republic. From this time it was his constant dream to found an ideal community. Disciples of Owen started a colony at Motherwell, and later at Orbiston and other places, but all failed. In 1824 Owen came to America and founded at his own expense a community in Indiana at New Harmony (q.v.). This likewise failed. In 1828 Owen went to Mexico, hoping there to carry out his schemes, but was disappointed. His connection with New Lanark ceased in the same year. In 1832 he sought to establish at London a “National Labor Equitable Exchange,” but this did not prove a success. In 1835 he wrote the New Moral World. For the rest of his life he was an advocate of Socialism, and in his old age he became a believer in Spiritualism. He was not discouraged by his failures, but labored throughout his life to better conditions, expending his entire fortune on his social schemes. The words Socialism and Socialist were used during the discussions in connection with the association of all classes of all men founded under the auspices of Owen in 1835. Owen died in his native town, November 19, 1858. Consult his autobiography (London, 1857); Booth, Robert Owen (London, 1869); Sargent, Owen and His Social Philosophy;; (London, 1860); Jones, Life of Robert Owen (London, 1892).