CHAPTER 18. EDWARD BELLAMY AT CHICOPEE FALLS

 

Edward Bellamy was born in Chicopee Falls to a family run by a Baptist Minister who held his ministerial post for thirty-five years. For a short time he was at Union College. At age eighteen he went abroad for a year, staying mostly in Germany. While abroad he saw such considerable poverty that it awoke him to the need for reform.

Back in the United States he studied law and gained admission to the bar. Bellamy then joined the editorial staff of the "Springfield Union." As he watched his beloved Chicopee Falls change from a prosperous New England village into a depressing mill town, Bellamy joined the crusade to eliminate industrial poverty. In 1872 he began writing editorials and articles on the terrible Depression of the 1870s--the grinding unemployment, hunger, the suffering of immigrants, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and the oppressive routine.

In 1879 someone reworked and published Bellamy's unfinished historical novel on Shays's Rebellion. In 1880, with brother Charles, he established the "Springfield Penny News' (later the "Daily News"), which continued to score the abuses of industrialism. However, Edward himself took little part in the enterprise. Also in 1880 he published Dr. Heidenhoff's Process. Some critics praised Bellamy as the lineal descendant of Hawthorne. In 1884 Bellamy published Mrs. Ludington's Sister. Both works used his study of psychic phenomena, which he continued to be interested in for the entirety of his lifetime.

Since the budding author had received little attention for his writings, he decided to try a new genre. In 1888 he published a vision for reforming society. His book, Looking Backward, attacked the unprecedented poverty and labor suffering caused by industrialization. It described an America in the year 2000 in which everyone enjoyed material comfort, personal fulfillment, and social harmony. The book advocated nationalization as a solution to America's problems.

The hero of the novel, Julian West, falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up 133 years later. American had been transformed into an abundant and orderly society by a conversion to "solidarity." An all-encompassing bureaucratic system organized the society into a single industrial army and distributed the wealth in a rational and equitable fashion.

The book had tremendous appeal to the millions threatened by the immense social changes of his era. This book, which sold a million copies, was second only to Karl Marx's Capital as the most influential book of the age. It became an international best- seller translated into over twenty languages. Over 165 "Bellamy" clubs sprang up around the United States. The book and the author's magazine articles stimulated the progressive reform that reshaped America in the first years of this century.

The utopian author was introverted and sickly. Even after his marriage, he preferred to live at home with his parents in Chicopee Falls. Although Bellamy himself never joined the church, he was influenced by the moral fervor of his parents. For him social reform could only come about through a spiritual feeling of brotherhood, "a religion of solidarity."

In 1891 he founded in Boston the New Nation, a weekly which lasted only a few years. Bellamy's health suffered because of his exertions and he went into retreat. However, he still continued to write. Looking Backward had been criticized for being rather anti-democratic with its emphasis on bureaucracy and organizations. Learning from these criticisms, in 1897 he published a sequel, entitled Equality. The book advocated grass roots democracy in small decentralized communities forming a metropolitan region. Bellamy journeyed to Colorado to resist the tuberculosis he had contracted, but came back home because he knew he was dying.

Edward Bellamy Homestead
91-93 Church Street, Chicopee Falls, MA

This house is a National Historic Landmark. It currently houses the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce. Exhibits on Bellamy's life are planned.

 

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