By the 1840s and 1850s, hundreds of religious and secular communities in Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas had experimented with alternate forms of family organization and sexual practices. Some of these "utopian communities" were inspired by a religious faith that the Second Coming of Christ was immanent; others were a product of an Enlightenment faith in reason and the shaping power of environment. Many utopians argued that conventional conceptions of gender roles stultified women's intellect and constricted their development; that monogamous marriage distracted individuals from broader social obligations; and that children needed to have contact with more than two adults and to take part in the world of work.
Among the communities that tried to emancipate women from household and childrearing responsibilities and to elevate them to positions of equality with men were 25 inspired by the French theorist Charles Fourier (1772-1837). The coiner of the word "feminism," Fourier hoped to eliminate poverty and alienation by creating self-sufficient communities known as "phalansteries" in which each person would own a share of the property. This excerpt from a Fourierist newspaper describes the movement's attitude toward the nuclear family.
When we say that the isolated household is a source of innumerable evils, which Association alone can remedy, the mind of the hearer sometimes rushes to the conclusion that we mean to destroy the home relations entirely.... When, too, we say, that the existing system of Educaiton is wholly wrong, it is feared that we design some violence to the parental sentiment, or that...we would give children "wholly up to the care of others, when only a mother can bear and forbear with a child, and yet love it"....
The isolated household is wasteful in economy, is untrue to the human heart, and is not the design of Goid, and therefore it must disappear, but the domestic relations are not so, however they may have been falsified and tarnished by what man has mixed with them. Of these relations the present poosition of woman is an essential part, and she can be raised out of that position only by purging them of what is alien to their essential character., Now, as we think, the pecuniary dependence which society establishes for women, is one of the most hurtful of these foreign elements, and we do not doubt that with its removal we shall see social relations generally rise to a degree of truth and beauty, which they cannot at present attain. In the progress of society we see that the position of woman is a hinge on which all other things seem more or less to turn. In the savage state she is the drudge and menial of man; in the barbarous state she is his slave and plaything, and in the civilized state she is as you confess, his "upper servant." Society rises with the degree of freedom it bestows on woman, and it is only by raising her to "integral independence," and making her as she should be, and as God made her, the Equal of Man, thought not by making her precisely the same as man as some mistaken reformers have wished, the world can be saved....
Very many women find other employments more attractive than the care of their children, and consequently the children receive comparatively little attention from them. Now, this seems to me to show the plan of Nature, who does not form every woman to take care of children, but only a certain proportion of women. You will, perhaps, say that these are notgood mothers, and that they ought to discharge so interesting an office. But is not this to substitute for the method of nature certain notions which yoiu have formed for yourself, and which Nature does not at all recognize?
The Phalanx, I (February 8, 1844)