Two years ago, this column featured a series on Vineland poet and public speaker Augusta Cooper Bristol, who earned a national spotlight by visiting and reporting on Jean-Baptiste Andre Godin’s intentional community, the Familistere, in France. It was believed at that time that Bristol may have first encountered Godin’s ideas from the Republic of Industry, which had planned to set up its own communal system on 319 acres of land only three miles from Vineland in 1876.
But now, through research conducted recently by Patricia Martinelli, curator of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, we know that Bristol was educated in Godin’s concepts of establishing and maintaining a cooperative community by a local couple, Edward and Marie Howland.
The Howlands had already met Godin, seen his principles in practice and had first-hand experience in communal experiments by the time they encountered Bristol. Their future achievements would provide them with a legacy in the field of planned communities, and their lives and work warrant a closer examination to understand their contribution to Vineland and elsewhere.
Edward Howland, born in Charleston, SC in 1832, was the son of a philanthropist. While not much is known about his early years, records indicate he graduated from Harvard University in 1853. According to the Vault at Pfaff’s website, he was considered an “elegant scholar.”
Sometime during the 1850s, Howland settled in New York City and joined the Bohemian circle of literary practitioners who led an unconventional lifestyle and met regularly at a Greenwich Village eatery named Pfaff’s Restaurant and Lager Bier Saloon which, according to Ted Genoways in his book Walt Whitman and the Civil War, was located “on the west side of Broadway just above Bleeker [Street]…” To those who frequented the establishment, it was referred to as Pfaff’s or the Cave and consisted of two rooms, the first of which contained tables and a bar.
Genoways explains that “the second room, which tunneled under the sidewalk, held a single long table, informally dubbed “the Bohemian table,” over which Henry Clapp presided nightly as “the sharp-tongued center of attention whose special talent lay in whittling lofty figures down to size with his pithy quips.” By late 1859, poet Walt Whitman would “always [be] at Clapp’s right hand” at Pfaff’s, but in summer 1858, Howland made the acquaintance of the head of the Bohemian table.
Howland reportedly suggested the creation of a new literary weekly newspaper, and Clapp partnered with him, dubbing the publication the Saturday Press. Mark A. Lause’s book The Antebellum Crisis and America’s First Bohemians reports that funding for the newspaper came from Howland selling his extensive book collection.
Saturday Press would be known for publishing some early works by writers now renowned. In 1859, the publication would include Whitman’s “A Child’s Reminiscence.” Six years after that, Mark Twain’s “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” appeared in the newspaper.
William Winter reports in his book Old Friends; Being Literary Recollections of Other Days that Howland would also become one of these “friendly contributors” to the Saturday Press, who “were glad to furnish articles for nothing, being friendly toward the establishment of an absolutely independent critical paper, a thing practically unknown in those days.”
By 1859, Howland had become part of the Unitary Household experiment, a communal system with ties to early 19th century utopian socialism and philosophers like Charles Fourier, who inspired the formation of intentional communities like the North American Phalanx in Monmouth County, NJ in 1843. The Unitary Household was where Howland encountered Marie Case, wife of lawyer Lyman W. Case who, according to the Vault at Pfaff’s, “rescinded the marriage on account of how happy his wife and Howland seemed together…”
In the early 1860s, she and Howland were encouraged by Case to travel to Europe and to visit Godin and his experiment, the Familistere.