Orderville Experience

Living History: Orderville’s utopia was nearly perfect

— for about a decade

 

By Kristen Rogers-iversen

Specia to The Tribune

 

Updated: 09/11/2009 05:47:10 PM MDT

This bad economy stinks. But it is making us rethink our economic systems. What isn’t working? Is there anything we can learn from the past?

I think so. Not that we’d actually do this, but Orderville’s experience in communal living resulted in economic success and generally happy people. After interviewing former members of the Orderville community, historian Andrew Jenson wrote, “I was assured by several of the brethren who stuck to it till the last that they never felt happier in their lives than they did when … they were devoting their entire time, talent and strength for the common good. Good feelings, brotherly love and unselfish motives characterized most of those who were members until the last.”

In 1875, after Brigham Young urged his followers to form “United Orders,” a group of people founded Orderville. They had lofty goals.

Resident Thomas Robertson explained, “Accumulating wealth was not our object, that was furthest from our minds; our aim was to establish a principle of equality — as near as our fallen natures would admit of, striving always to grade upwards to the mark.”

In Orderville, everyone owned property in common. Everyone who worked received equal wages. The community ate meals together — making 300 pounds of flour into bread each day! They organized dozens of very successful enterprises, such as blacksmithing, livestock, mills, molasses making, cloth-making, freighting, shoemaking, farming, public works, schools and much more.

 Within this system, people lived plainly, but they didn’t have to worry about losing their jobs. One woman, looking back, exclaimed, “My, we did work, but, Oh! We were happy.”

“Here was an ideal situation — industry with cheerfulness,” wrote author Mark Pendleton. “They had a purpose in life: to establish a better social order here on earth and to secure for themselves a high degree of exaltation in the spirit world.”

The residents of Orderville believed that all God’s children were equally entitled to the bounties of the earth. They believed that communities flourish when people use their property, time and talents for the good of all.

Isaac Carling was one who gave his all for the good of all. A cabinetmaker by trade, he devoted his “spare” time to making things for others. He made toys for Christmas — by the hundreds. He made small tables and chairs, rockers, wash tubs, wagons, large sleds, bedsteads, tin plates and plaster-of-Paris doll heads and limbs.

For adults, Carling made jewelry and household goods. He organized a free night school, where children spent happy evenings learning drawing and painting. And, as Emma Carroll Seegmiller later wrote, “Wherever Brother Carling was, there were beautiful flowers, and many took lessons from him in the culture of plants.”

Others contributed their own gifts. For instance, girls would serve at the communal meals, but some went beyond mere duty. Emma’s sister Kezia and friends would often rise early in summer and gather hundreds of wild roses from the creek bank. They would place a single rosebud at each plate, filling the room with fragrance.

Orderville wasn’t a perfect community, of course. No would-be Utopia has ever been perfect — or even successful — for long. But it worked pretty well — until, after 10 years, the experiment came to an end.

Why? Lots of reasons. The state economy was changing. Kids began to want store-bought clothes. The group discontinued its communal meals. Brigham Young died. And Apostle Erastus Snow urged the Order to start paying wages based on talent, skill or education instead of equal wages. Cooperation and communalism weakened as people began to covet and hoard.

It’s a pity. We could use more of their communal attitude today:

Live together, work together,

Angels do above;

Each one try to help the other

This will bring true love.

 

Kristen Rogers-Iversen can be reached at kristenri@yahoo.com.

Sources: “The Orderville United Order of Zion,” by Mark A. Pendleton, and “Personal Memories of the United Order of Orderville, Utah,” by Emma Carroll Seegmiller; A History of Kane County, by Martha Sonntag Bradley.

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