|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
New Harmony and the Owen Family
The links between Owen and New Harmony did not cease when the experiment was wound up. Five of his children became US citizens and either lived in New Harmony or retained a strong link with the settlement. They were all committed to their father's ideas on education and social improvement. They were also influenced by Owen's partner, William Maclure (1763-1840) "the father of American geology".
New Harmony became a centre of excellence for education and the natural sciences. David Dale Owen (1809-1860) became a noted scientist and was appointed a United States geologist. Congress published his geological surveys of the North West. His brother Richard (1810-1890) continued his work and was a noted geologist in his own right. He held a number of academic posts, including the professorship at Nashville University. He is, however, best remembered as a compassionate colonel in the Civil War. He had charge of 4000 confederate prisoners who so respected him that a statue was later erected in his honour.
The education experiment was continued, not least by Jane Owen, who came to New Harmony in the 1830s after the sad death of her mother and two sisters. She had always been a great supporter of her father and the Museum has a scrapbook of cuttings about her father from the British press. She opened a kindergarten like the one her father had set up in New Lanark. Joseph Neef, the famous educator, spent time in New Harmony and two of his daughters married David Dale Owen and Richard Owen.
Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877) became famous in his own right. He continued to propound his father's socialist and radical doctrines. But he is most famous for his career in American politics. As congressman for Indiana, in the US House of Representatives (1843-1847) he drafted the bill for the founding of the Smithsonian Institute. Later he drafted an open letter to Abraham Lincoln (September 7th 1862) in which he argued for the immediate cessation of slavery. A few days later Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation. (Abraham Lincoln had fond memories of Indiana from his youth. He said he had seen boats going up the Wabash to New Harmony and asked his father to let him go too. Sadly his father declined.)
In the 20th century two people have done much to make New Harmony a new utopia. Richard's great grandson Kenneth Dale Owen, met and married Jane Blaffer, while working as a geologist for Humble Oil (now Exxon Mobil). Like Robert Owen, Kenneth's wife, Jane, was an heiress. Jane was a woman of great education and vision in her own right. They married in 1941 and had their honeymoon in New Harmony. Jane fell in love with the town and this "magical place" was soon transformed by a trust set up in her father's name, Robert Lee Blaffer. Parks, sculptures, art works, beautifully laid out gardens and a hotel bring visitors to the town from all parts of the globe. Kenneth died in 2002 aged 98 and in June 2010 Jane died, aged 95. Their happy marriage had left a wonderful legacy in New Harmony. And for those privileged to meet her she remained a committed Robert Owen fan right to the end.