Undergraduate and graduate student presentations from the Department of History, 2021 Online University Research Symposium, Illinois State University
This project will explore free love in the United States in the 19th century, specifically in the form of a case study surrounding the short-lived 1850s utopian settlement in Berlin Heights, Ohio. The Free Love movement was part of a wider utopian spring in the United States in the 19th century, in which radical religious and socialist communities drew national attention and ire with their experimental ideas for society. Free Lovers, a part of this larger group, dismissed marriage as a form of sexual slavery, and saw humanly love as inherently non-monogamous. These beliefs could not have contradicted the standard conception of the Victorian Age more – one that many regard as the most prudish and restrained in American history. Indeed, Berlin Heights experienced multiple controversies and was a subject of national attention, despite its small size and shorter life span. My project will address the following questions: Was free love so removed from the Victorian age, or was it more a part of the wider culture than we might presume? How was free love viewed by both broader American society and the rest of the utopian movement? How did Berlin Heights seek to address the issues of sex, gender, and marriage, and in what ways did it succeed or fail? My project will provide a more complete insight into the utopian movement as a whole, a closer look at this seldom studied settlement, and deepen our understanding of the America that created it. To assess the passionate discourse surrounding Berlin Heights, from both its adherents and opponents, I study utopian publications, such as The Oneida Circular and The Liberator, and mainstream papers, such as New York Times and The Cleveland Daily Herald. Most importantly, I will use publications specific to the settlement, such as The Social Revolutionist.