Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David A. England


This history, written from a feminist perspective, uses historical materials which trace unusual social and educational experiments in Fairhope, Alabama, in the early twentieth century. The early development of the utopian Fairhope community, founded by E. B. Gaston and a group of like-minded midwestern social reformers, is reviewed. Gaston's resolve to alleviate the worst inequities of monopolistic capitalism through practicing the single tax principles of Henry George is placed in historical context. Both the social experiment and its ideologically complementary Organic School are situated within the period known as the progressive era which followed closely upon the industrial revolution. The period was marked by crisis, confrontation and contradiction as an industrial economy replaced an agrarian economy, as an urban world of impersonal bureaucracies replaced rural villages and farms--the small, personal social units which had heretofore defined the American landscape. Marietta Johnson, the Minnesota teacher who would found the Organic School, is central to this study. Her school would come to be known as one of the most radically child-centered schools of the progressive era and the only such school in the south. The study explores Johnson's life and examines the philosophy upon which her school was based, a philosophy influenced by the writings of Nathan Oppenheim, C. Hanford Henderson, and John Dewey. Johnson's organic idea, synthesized from the three, is presented and critiqued, and the practices of her school defined. The study reveals the bases of her organic theory--the monistic nature of the child, the inseparability of body, mind and spirit--and Johnson's conviction and that all three must be considered in the pedagogical process. The voices of Marietta Johnson's own students speak for the school throughout the history. The study chronicles the further unfolding of Johnson's organic idea as it came to embrace relationships between individuals and between the school and the Fairhope community. The spirit of cooperation and community which evolved is explored and stands revealed in sharp relief against the mechanistic backdrop of "Gilded Age" industrialism.