Robert OwenMany ideas expressed by Robert Owen (1771-1858) remain amazingly relevant and topical today. The international cultural influence of his campaign for a better and fairer society is one of the criteria by which New Lanark was assessed by UNESCO as being worthy of World Heritage Status. A selection of extracts from Owen’s published works follows.
A New Society for the New Millennium?
Robert Owen often talked of the new Millennium; a time, he hoped, when society would be greatly improved. When he opened the Institute for the Formation of Character on New Year’s Day 1816, he gave an Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, in which he outlined his hopes for the Millennium, his plans, and his notion that education was the means of achieving a better and fairer society.
The Address included these memorable words:
"What ideas individuals may attach to the term "Millennium" I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold: and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal".
Owen’s campaign for Education as a means of eradicating society’s problems, and making people happier and more fulfilled, was prominent throughout his working life:
"To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate".
(The Social System, 1826)
"The three lower rooms (in the Institute) will be open for the use of the adult part of the population, who are to be provided with every accommodation requisite to enable them to read, write, account, sew or play, converse or walk about. Two evenings in the week will be appropriated to dancing and music, but on these occasions, every accommodation will be prepared for those who prefer to study or to follow any of the occupations pursued on the other evenings".
(Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, 1816)
“Where are these rational practices to be taught and acquired? Not within the four walls of a bare building, in which formality predominates ………. But in the nursery, play-ground, fields, gardens, workshops, manufactures, museums and class-rooms. …The facts collected from all these sources will be concentrated, explained, discussed, made obvious to all, and shown in their direct application to practice in all the business of life”.
(Book of the New Moral World 3rd Part 1842)
Social Inclusion and Early Intervention
Social Inclusion and Early Intervention have both been key aspects of the government’s social policy in the 1990s and early 21st century. Robert Owen was including them in his plans for The Institute back in 1816 when he stated that the building would accommodate more than just the children of New Lanark, and that anyone in Lanark or the surrounding neighbourhood who could not afford to educate their children, could send them to it, where:
"They would receive the same care and attention as those who belong to the establishment. Nor will there be any distinction made between the children of those parents who are deemed the worst, and of those who may be esteemed the best members of society: indeed I would prefer to receive the offspring of the worst, if they shall be sent at an early age; because they really require more of our care and pity and by well-training these, society will be more essentially benefited than if the like attention were paid to those whose parents are educating them in comparatively good habits".
(Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, 1ST Jan 1816)
"One of the apartments (in the Institute) will also be occasionally appropriated for the purpose of giving useful instruction to the older classes of the inhabitants. For believe me, my friends, you are yet very deficient with regard to the best modes of training your children, or of arranging your domestic concerns".
(Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, 1816)
Owen’s extremely advanced system of factory management, which he pioneered at the New Lanark Mills gained him credibility, not only as a successful businessman, but also as a benevolent employer. He proved that commercial success could be achieved without exploitation of those employed; his approach to social and economic organisation was extended beyond the mill floor into every aspect of village life.
"The working classes may be injuriously degraded and oppressed in three ways:
1st - When they are neglected in infancy
2nd - When they are overworked by their employer, and are thus rendered incompetent from ignorance to make a good use of high wages when they can procure them.
3rd - When they are paid low wages for their labour ".
(On the employment of children in manufactories, 1818)
“The lowest stage of humanity is at New Lanark when the individual must labour for a small pittance of wages from others”.
(From a Paper Dedicated to the Governments of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and the United States of America, London 1841)
"Eight hours' daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep".
(From the Foundation Axioms of Owen's "Society for Promoting National Regeneration", 1833)
"Train any population rationally, and they will be rational. Furnish honest and useful employments to those so trained, and such employments they will greatly prefer to dishonest or injurious occupations. It is beyond all calculation the interest of every government to provide that training and that employment; and to provide both is easily practicable".
(A New View of Society - Essays 1813-1816)
Child Care / Workplace Nurseries
"The Institution has been devised to afford the means of receiving your children at an early age, almost as soon as they can walk. By this means many of you, mothers and families, will be able to earn a better maintenance or support for your children; you will have less care and anxiety about them, while the children will be prevented from acquiring any bad habits. and gradually prepared to learn the best”.
(Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark, 1816)
Robert Owen’s views had particular appeal for women. At a time when men were hostile to women’s rights, he courted controversy by denouncing marriage, as it then existed, as a form of slavery for women.
“Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men…. They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty”.
(Book of the New Moral World: Sixth Part, 1841)
Rules for the Inhabitants of New Lanark
Robert Owen drew up a list of rules for the inhabitants of New Lanark. These encouraged community responsibility, religious tolerance, and other good habits amongst the villagers.
"Parents shall be answerable for the conduct of their children, and householders for their lodgers".
"None of the inhabitants of same village shall injure any of the fences
about it, or upon the farm, whether stone, dyke, railings, or hedges; nor any
of the houses, ground, or plantings, nor any of the company's property, of whatever
nature it may be; but, on the contrary, when they see children or others committing
such damage, they shall immediately cause them to desist from it, or if that shall not be in their power, give notice at the principal counting-house of
the offences, and who are the offenders".
"As there are a very great variety of religious sects in the world (and which are probably adapted to different constitutions under different circumstances, seeing there are many good and conscientious characters in each), it is particularly recommended, as a means of uniting the inhabitants of the village into one family, that while each faithfully adheres to the principles which he most approves, at the same time all shall think charitably of their neighbours respecting their religious opinions, and not presumptuously suppose that theirs alone are right".
(all of above from the Rules and Regulations for the Inhabitants of New Lanark, 1800)
Health, Preventive Medicine & Health Education
"The advanced members of the medical profession know that the health of society is not to be obtained or maintained by medicines; - that it is far better, far more easy and far wiser, to adopt substantive measures to prevent disease of body or mind, than to allow substantive measure to remain continually to generate causes to produce physical and mental disorders".
(Book of the New Moral World, 3rd Part, 1842)
"It is the interest of the individual and of all society, that he should be made, at the earliest period, to understand his own construction, the proper use of its parts, and how to keep them at all times in a state of health; and especially that he should be taught to observe the varied effects of different kinds of food, and different quantities, upon his own constitution~ He should be taught the general and individual laws of health, thus early, that he may know how to prevent the approach of disease. And the knowledge of the particular diet best suited to his constitution, is one of the most essential laws of health".
(Book of the New Moral World, 3rd part, 1842)
"To preserve permanent good health, the state of mind must be taken into consideration".
(Book of the New Moral World, 3rd Part. 1842)
Care for the elderly and infirm
“In advanced age, and in cases of disability from accident, natural infirmity or any other cause, the individual shall be supported by the colony, and receive every comfort which kindness can administer”.
(The Social System – Constitution, Laws, and Regulations of a Community 1826)
“They will be surrounded by gardens, have abundance of space in all directions to keep the air healthy and pleasant. They will have walks and plantations before them”.
“To obtain and preserve health in the best state to ensure happiness, pure air is necessary. It is at once obvious that large cities and extensive manufactories are not well calculated to permit pure air to be enjoyed by those who live in the one, or who are employed in the other The advantage of pure, and the disadvantage of impure air are experienced each time we breathe, and all who understand the causes of disease know that an impure atmosphere is most unfavourable to the enjoyment of health, and an efficient cause to shorten human existence within the natural life of man. It is therefore most desirable that decisive measures should be devised and generally adopted to ensure to all a pure atmosphere, in which to live during their lives".
(Book of the New Moral World - 1842)
Campaign for Universal Harmony
"Is it not the interest of the human race, that every one should be so taught and placed, that he would find his highest enjoyment to arise from the continued practice of doing all in his power to promote the well-being, and happiness, of every man, woman, and child, without regard to their sect, party, country or colour"
(From a Paper Dedicated to the Governments of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and the United States of America, published by Robert Owen, 1841. This is the 17th of 20 Questions to the Human Race)
"It is therefore, the interest of all, that every one, from birth, should be well educated, physically and mentally that society may be improved in its character, - that everyone should be beneficially employed, physically and mentally, that the greatest amount of wealth may be created, and knowledge attained, that everyone should be placed in the midst at those external circumstances, that will produce the greatest number of pleasurable sensations, through the longest life, that man may be made truly intelligent, moral and happy, and be, thus, prepared to enter upon the coming Millennium".
(A Development of the Principles & Plans on which to establish self-supporting Home Colonies, 1841)
For further information about Robert Owen, the following publications are recommended.
The following are standard works on Robert Owen. Some are out of print, but should be available through your library service.
Life of Robert Owen (2 vols) F Podmore (Allen & Unwin, 1906)
Life of Robert Owen G D H Cole (MacMillan, 1930)
Robert Owen of New Lanark Margaret Cole (MacMillan 1953)
Robert Owen, Prince of Cotton Spinners ed. J Butt (David & Charles, 1971) ISBN 07153 51648
Robert Owen , Prophet of the Poor ed. S Pollard (MacMillan 1971) ISBN 333 00926 6
Robert Owen on Education H Silver (Cambridge 1969)
Threading My Way Robert Dale Owen (Owen’s eldest son) (Kelley, New York, now reprinted)
The Works of Robert Owen 4 volumes, edited by Gregory Claeys (Pickering & Chatto,1993) ISBN 1 85196088 0
A New View of Society & Other Writings Robert Owen 1813 (Penguin Classics, 1991)
Especially useful and available from New Lanark Trading are:
Historic New Lanark Donnachie & Hewitt (Edinburgh University Press,1993) ISBN 0 74860420 0
The Story of New Lanark New Lanark Conservation Trust (revised 1993) ISBN 0 9522531 0 0
The Story of Robert Owen New Lanark Conservation Trust (published 1997) ISBN 0 9522531 5 1
Robert Owen: Social Visionary Ian Donnachie (, 2005) ISBN 1 86232 131 0
Robert Owen and New Lanark. CD ROM containing two CDs. Detailed narrative text on Social History of New Lanark and Restoration of the buildings, complemented by photographs, maps, drawings etc. (SCRAN Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network, 2001)
David Dale & Robert Owen Studies CD ROM containing essays and texts on Dale & a new Bibliography of Robert Owen containing over 720 titles. (Officina Educational Publications, 2000)
Books available by mail order from New Lanark Trading (e.mail firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 01555 661345)
A list of publications, teaching resources and information sheets is available
by Mail Order. See the education area of the New Lanark website at www.newlanark.org/education
or contact the Education Officer, New Lanark Trust, New Lanark
Mills, Lanark ML11 9DB,
tel: +44 (0)1555 661345
fax: +44 (0)1555 665738