A Debate Over “Free Love” at Liberal Ended in Expulsion of Some Free Love Proponents

Sexual promiscuity is the first thing that springs to the minds of some regarding the term “free love”, but the Free Love movement of the 19th century was closely tied with feminism, having everything to do with individualism and the rights of women and children (for instance, those born out of wedlock). One needs to recall that only in the late 1800’s did states begin to recognize spousal abuse as a crime.

Not every camp associated with “free love” in the 19th century was “free love”. The Oneida Community is often raised as an example of a free love community when instead members signed over rights of self-determination to Noyes, and sex and childbirth were highly regulated activities in which the women, especially those of childbearing years, had little voice, if any.

In This Strange Town – Liberal, Missouri, J. P. Moore, addressing the Free Love movement in Liberal, distinguished free love from common-law marriage, defining it as “the promiscuous intermingling of the sexes without any marital restrictions–basically, without any form of marriage–every woman every man’s wife and every man every woman’s husband. This is the primitive law of the herd.”

Was there an element at Liberal who wanted polyandry to be at least an open option for those who wished to live in this manner, or did they desire it to be the rule of the community? We don’t know, we’re not supplied with that information. Regardless the discussion, the violence that ensued was, of course, unwarranted.

* * * * *

LIBERTY Issued Fortnightly at One Dollar a Year: Single Copies Five Cents
Benj. R. Tucker – Editor and Publisher
A. P. Kelly – Associate Editor

Office of Publication 16 P. O. Square

Boston, Mass July 17 1886

Fighting for Free Speech in Liberal

“Equity” is the name of a new fortnightly journal published in that misnamed town, Liberal, Missouri, by Henry P. and Georgia Replogle. It is a tiny sheet, but a brave one. Announcing its object as “emancipation from sex, wages, monopolistic, and custom slavery, and State superstition,” its tone thus far seems pretty genuinely Anarchistic. One thing appears certain, — that it is waging a courageous battle for free speech in one of the most despotic and authoritarian communities in America.

G. H. Walser, the founder of the town of Liberal, is evidently as thorough-going a tyrant as can be found anywhere. Beginning, as Owen proposes to begin at Sinaloa, by forbidding his fellow townsmen to establish churches or saloons, he has now reached the point where he is ready to supervise their morals in other respects. The name of the town has naturally attracted from time to time many really liberal people, most of whom have speedily gone away again. But there have always been enough of them on hand to constitute a thorn in the side of the tyrant Walser. The thorn just now seems to be Replogles. It appears that they and a few of their friends are out-and-out free lovers, and are damaging the reputation of Liberal for purity by advocating their doctrine in “Equity.” Tyrant Walser thinks this will never do. So, with the aid of his hall devoted to “Universal Mental Liberty” and his paper also misnamed the “Liberal,” he has begun a campaign to drive out the offenders. His first step was to import still another misnomer, a “freethought lecturer,” whose other name is C. W. Stewart. The auxiliary delivered a lecture on morality at Liberal, which Walser reported as follows in the”Liberal”:

“The speaker handled that social evil called free love without gloves. He divested the hydra monster of its gaudy vestment, ripped open its rotten carcass, and exposed its foul hideousness in all its forms to public gaze that it might be seen as it really was.

“This lecture seemed to be called on the account of the frequent attempts of would-be reformers to subordinate the people of Liberal to polyandry (illegible), lust and debauchery, all under the sweet-scented name of free love.

“After the lecture was over, those of the audience who endorsed the sentiments uttered by Mr. Stewart were requested to rise to their feet. At once the vast audience with but few exceptions rose. The reverse side was then put, and those not agreeing with the sentiments of the speaker were a scene which was heartrending indeed. A brazen young man, whose aged mother was in the audience, and who has bright, pure, and intelligent sisters, who would naturally expect a brother’s protection and a brother’s defence of their honor, arose and placed himself among those whose lustful gratification was held paramount to the purity of mother, sister, wife or daughter. A shriek was wrung from that old mother’s heart which evinced a sense of pain a thousand times worse than would be the fact should death strike the liveliest flower from the family. The scene was so painful that tears flowed from the strongest eyes in sympathy for the poor mother, with a corresponding feeling of disgust for the brazen wretch who stood unmoved, as dead to shame, before his mother’s sinking, bleeding, broken heart.”

This pathetic picture has another side. The following plain statement of facts taken from “Equity” forms a striking contrast to those mock heroics.

“On Sunday evening, June 27, C. W. Stewart gave a lecture in the Opera House of this place on sexual morality, in which he found occasion to recommend shot gun and boot logic for those who should attempt to teach his family other than that he had been preaching. G. H. Walser then arose, and, endorsing all of Stewart’s mobocratic speech, added that this objectionable element referred to by Stewart should be led to the outskirts of the town and invited to leave, and other expressions in the same strain. He then called a rising vote of the assembly endorsing Stewart’s speech. The most of the people arose. He then called for those who did not endorse it. Four only arose, — Owram, Thayer, Youmans, and myself, objecting each of us to some of his expressions. Numbers cried out against any of the four being heard, but finally all were. Walser ordered me to “shut up” repeatedly, though he was not chairman.

On Tuesday morning, about two a.m., as a result of Walser’s violence-inciting speeches, a mob came to my door and demanded to see Mr. Youmans. When he asked what was wanted, they demanded an explanation of his conduct at the hall on Sunday evening. On being adversely answered, these midnight executors of Walser, Stewart & Co. gave Mr. Youmans twenty-four hours to leave, stoned the house, fired several shot into it, and left a long dirk at the gate of the yard.

These are the agents and agencies for spreading freethought and ‘Universal Mental Liberty,’ the motto inscribed on the hall. I would prefer that Walser, Stewart, & Co., lead their own reformatory schemes at midnight themselves.”

Tyrant Walser, who fathered this outbreak of mob law, is violently opposed to Anarchy under the pretense that it means mob law in place of ‘law and order.’ He has not yet to learn that the difference between Archy and Anarchy is not entirely included in the distinction between mob and police. Mobs are often intensely Archistic, while the police of a voluntary association might be purely Anarchistic. The vital difference is to be looked for in the purposes for which either uses its strength. If the purpose is invasion, the force is Archistic; if the purpose is protection and defence, the force is Anarchistic. Walser and his mob are unquestionably invaders and Archists of a very offensive type.

I was considering the advisability of prodding my old friend, Jay Chaapel, who has lately been editing the “Liberal” for Walser, for aiding and abetting his master in such outrageous conduct; but I am relieved by the arrival of a later number of the paper, in which Mr. Chaapel severs his connection with it. Knowing his past record, I could not believe that he would stultify himself by allowing himself to be used for such purposes. I hope the Replogles will keep up their gallant fight, and that real Liberals and Anarchists will support them in it by subscribing for “Equity,” which costs but fifty cents a year.

It is also to be noted that “Lucifer” is threatened with prosecution in consequence of its use of plain language in discussing sexual questions. There are evidently clearer instances of the denial of free speech than anything that has happened at Chicago, but I fail to hear a lisp about them from any of the men who are so excited because I am not as frantic as themselves concerning the fate of the men on trial in that city. In denouncing the ravings of the authorities and the press over the throwing of the bomb, I recently had occasion to say: “One would think that the throwing of this bomb was the first act of violence ever committed under the sun.” It now seems appropriate to remark that there are some people who imagine that there are no offenders against free speech outside of the Chicago police force.

* * * * *

I’ve checked the 1900 census of Barton County, Missouri for the names Youmans, Thayer, Owran, Replogle and Jay Chaapel and I’ve not found them. As stated in the article above, Youmans was tossed out of town. As we’ll see below, the Replogles moved as well. Jay Chaapel, having severed his connection with Walser, would have been soon out of town also.

Orrin Harmon made brief mention of Youmans in his The Story of Liberal, Missouri:

Soon after the founding of the town steps were taken toward providing instruction for the young. The first educational institution was the “Instruction School.” One Professor Youmans was superintendent.

The University of Michigan Library has papers of Jay Chaapel in their archives:

Chaapel family.
Papers, 1852-1942, bulk 1874-1899. 60 items.
List of correspondents available.

Consist primarily of writings by Jay Chaapel (1829-1902)—freethinker, spiritualist, lecturer, and editor—on a variety of topics: Shaker communities in New England, including a biographical essay on Ann Lee; descriptions of places in Maine, ca. 1898; the death of John Brown as remembered by Elizabeth Richards Tilton, whose husband Theodore Tilton had assisted with the burial; and thoughts on spiritualism, love and marriage, women’s rights, people, and events. There are holograph copies of writings by others, including extracts from 16 letters, 1793-95, of Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay, accompanied by extensive biographical notes on Wollstonecraft. Correspondence includes an 1879 letter from an elderly Shaker sister criticizing the celibate life, three letters from Jay Chaapel to his first wife, Calphurnia Crofut, a few letters of other family members, including his children (Harry, Ralph, and Belle Chaapel), and one letter from Jacob Sechler Coxey to Belle Chaapel concerning the death of John Basil Barnhill.

Wendy McElroy notes in her An Overview of Individualist Anarchism, 1881-1908,

Georgia and Henry Replogle’s Equity (1886-1887), was a fortnightly journal from the experimental town of Liberal, Missouri, which had been founded by freethinkers to demonstrate the virtues of churchlessness. Equity stated its purpose to be the “emancipation from sex, wage, monopolistic and custom slavery, and state superstition.” Tucker described it as “a tiny sheet, but a brave one.”(31) Apparently, the tiny sheet was too brave. A mob forced the Replogles to leave town.

In Anarchism: its philosophy and scientific basis as defined by some of its Apostles, by Albert Richard Parsons, published in 1887 by the Parsons, I find the following at the rear, listing Georgia Replogle as a contributor then living in California:

The Alarm
Founded by Albert R. Parsons
A Journal of Anarchism

Dyer D. Lum – – Editor

Special Contributors

Lizze M. Swank, Illinois
Georgia Replogle, California
C. L. James, Wisconsin
Jos. Labadie, Michigan
G. C. Clemens, Kansas
Gertrude B. Kelly, New York
John F. Kelly, New York
Geo. Schumm, Minnesota
Albert Currlin, Missouri
W. C. Owen, Oregon

In the publication (its foreward is written by Albert Parsons from Cell 29 in a Chicago jail) we find repeated examples of how the more things change the more they remain the same:

Ever since the organization of the Government of the United States there has existed among the people a small, but earnest minority, known as “Abolitionists,” because they advanced the abstract right of ” all men” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But the Abolitionists were an insignificant minority. Their demands were never heeded until the requirements of modern capitalism began to require an extension of the system of wage labor in preference to the system of chattel-slave labor. Capital invested in wage labor and capital invested in chattel slave labor were hostile in their interests. The slave-holding interests were more sensitive and apprehensive of injury and were in consequence easily mobilized on the political battle-field. From the organization of the Government up to the slave-holders’ rebellion in 1861 the propertied interests in chattel-slaves had practical control and directioa (Google text weirdness there) of the affairs of Government.

CHAPTER II.

Capitalism—Its Development In The United States.—Continued.

With the termination of the war of 1861 began the second epoch of capitalism in the United States. The ex-chattel slave was enfranchised, —made a political sovereign. He was now a “freeman” without an inch of soil, a cent of money, a stitch of clothes or a morsel of food. He was free to compete with his fellow wage-worker for an opportunity to serve capital. The conditions of his freedom consisted in the right to work on the terms dictated by his employer, or—starve. There no longer existed any sectional conflicts or other conflicts of a disturbing political nature. All men were now “free and equal before the law.” A period of unprecedented activity in capitalistic circles set in. Steam and electricity applied to machinery was employed in almost every department of industry, and compared with former times fabulous wealth was created.

Political parties, no longer divided in interest upon property questions, all legislation was centered upon a development of the resources of the country. To this end vast tracts of goverment land, amounting to many million acres, equalling in extent seven states the size of Illinois were donated as subsidies to the projectors of railways. The national debt, incurred to prosecute the rebellion, and amounting to three billion dollars was capitalized, by creating interest upon the bonds. Hundreds of millions were given as bonuses to proposed railways, steamship lines, etc. A protective tariff law was enacted which for the past twenty years has imposed a tax upon the people amounting to one billion dollars annually. A National Banking system was established which gave control of finance to a banking monopoly. By means of these and other laws capitalist combinations, monopolies, syndicates, and trusts were created and fostered, until they obtained absolute control of the principle avenues of industry, commerce and trade. Arbitrary prices are fixed by these combinations and the consumers—mainly the poor—are compelled by their necessities to pay whatever price is exacted. Thus during the past twenty-five years,—since the abolition of the chattel-slave labor system—twenty-five thousand millionaires have been created, who by their combinations control and virtually own the fifty billion dollars estimate wealth of the United States, while on the other hand twenty million wage workers have been created whose poverty forces them into a ceaseless competition with each other for opportunity to earn the bare necessities of existence. What had, therefore, required generations to accomplish in Great Britain and the continent, was achieved during the past twenty-five years in the United States, to wit: The practical destruction of the middle-class (small dealers, farmers, manufacturers, etc.), and the division of society into two classes—the wage worker and capitalist. While the fabulous fortunes resulting from legislation enacted in the name of the people were being acquired, the people were not conscious of the evil effects which would flow from those laws. Not until the evil effects were felt were they aware of the slavery to which they had been lawfully reduced. The first great pinch of the laws was felt throughout the whole country in the financial panic of 1873-77, resulting in the latter year in wide-spread strikes of the unemployed and poorly paid wage class. In response to the demand for information upon economic matters, Bureaus of Labor were established in many States, as also for the general government at Washington. These statistics related to operations and effects of capitalism in the chief departments of industry and trade. The absorption of the smaller industries etc., etc., into the great corporations, syndicates, etc., was very rapid. The National commercial agency (Bradstreet’s) furnished statistics showing unprecedented bankruptcies.

From 1890 to 1898, Henry and Georgia Replogle were in Oakland, California publishing, “Egoism”, which ran the first few chapters of James L. Walker’s The Philosophy of Egoism.

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One Response to “A Debate Over “Free Love” at Liberal Ended in Expulsion of Some Free Love Proponents”
  1. D'lorah Hunt says:

    Joseph Owram of Liberal, Missouri is my great-great grandfather. It appears his name was misspelled as “Owran” which was probably why you had difficulty finding him. Per Ted Cox in “Murray Loop”, the Owrams moved to Liberal in the fall of 1884. On page 120 he states “The Owrams had lived in Liberal for less than two years when sixty-year-old Joseph died suddenly in 1886.”

    His daughter Minnie, my great-grandmother, was 18 at the time. In 1897 Minnie and her mother Jennie moved to Toledo, Oregon.

    With news of this controversy in Liberal I am more curious than ever regarding the circumstances of Joseph Owram’s death.

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