Utopias on Puget Sound

May 27, 2022 at 8:44 a.m.
"Utopias on Puget Sound" explores the idealistic communities that flourished around the region in the late 1880s
"Utopias on Puget Sound" explores the idealistic communities that flourished around the region in the late 1880s

Postmaster General James Farley’s famous toast in 1936 “to the forty-seven states and the soviet of Washington” introduces and sets the tone for a 1995 book about the state’s idealist communities, Utopias on Puget Sound: 1885-1915, by Charles Pierce LeWarne.

Washington’s colorful reputation for radical movements was established in the 1920s and 1930s by free speech fights, strikes, strong labor organizations and woman suffrage reforms. But author Charles LeWarne finds the roots of these movements in Washington’s utopian communities that were sprouting up in the late nineteenth century.

Hundreds of these anarchic (self-governed) colonies were developing across the country, embracing ideals such as equality and individual freedoms. In the Puget Sound region, they could be found in places like Harmony near Mossyrock, Equality on Skagit Bay, Freeland on Whidbey Island, a colony near Port Angeles, along with Home and Burley on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Justin Wadland wrote a book about Home, a utopian community on Kitsap County's Key Peninsula 
Probably the most famous of the experiments was Home Colony on Joe’s Bay, on Kitsap’s Key Peninsula. From the original three families that settled there, Home grew to over two hundred residents and lasted for more than twenty years.

The tiny settlement of Home had several anarchist newspapers that were distributed nationwide. The colony’s reputation for anarchism and flamboyance contributed to a jail sentence for editor Jay Fox, who published a series of editorials called “The Nudes and the Prudes,” after some residents of Home swimming in the nude roiled up conflicting sentiments in the region. According to LeWarne, one of the downfalls of Home and other utopian communities came when the colonies’ ideals for equality and individual freedom didn’t mesh with their needs for community cooperation.

In 2015, John Morgan of Pacific Northwest Book Reviews had this to say about LeWarne’s book:

Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915 is passionately researched and puts history in context with detailed stories from letters, records and newspaper accounts about life at the time, and profiles on colorful characters and charismatic leaders.” He goes on to write: “The utopian socialists who settled in western Washington state at the turn of the 20th Century cared little for money, politics or the class struggles of the world outside their communities. They saw an opportunity for a prosperous new life on their own terms. Communal societies of like-minded people living in harmony tend to last for short periods of time, mostly because people get older, their needs change, they move on or they die.”

The effects of these socialist colonies, says LeWarne, were felt long after those “utopias” ceased to exist, including the political movements in the 20s and 30s, as well the optimism and idealism of the 1960s and early 70s communes, which he deemed similar to the utopian socialism of the 1890s.

 Charles LeWarne wrote another book about a Washington idealist community, "The Love Israel Family"

Several years after publishing Utopias on Puget Sound, LeWarne wrote another book about an idealistic community, The Love Israel Family: Urban Commune, Rural Commune (2009). The Love Israel Family formed in 1968, a time of countercultural movements, when a one-time television salesman named Paul Erdmann changed his name to Love Israel and started a controversial religious commune in Seattle’s middle-class Queen Anne neighborhood.  The group lived a communal lifestyle centered on meditation and equality. By 1983, fractures within the community—fueled in part to the realization that some inside the group were more “equal” than others. Two-thirds defected, although about a hundred followers remained with the Family and resettled on a ranch in north Snohomish County near Arlington, where they remained for two more decades.

Love Israel Family performing at the Pike Place Market 65th anniversary celebration, 1972. Photo courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (36754)

Historylink.org, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history, has several essays about the Love Israel family, including this one: Love Israel Family. 
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