Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Discovering Robert Dale Owen

Just for fun — I'm a barrel of laughs at social gatherings — I went to Newspapers.com to find its oldest clipping that references my new town of Florence, Arizona. It came at the bottom of Page 1 of the August 21, 1869, edition of The Weekly Arizona Miner of Prescott, Arizona, and you can see it in its entirety above.

And who is this progressive-sounding Robert Dale Owen that L. Anthony of Florence writes of? Owen is a political figure about whom I was not aware, and a fascinating one at that.

Per Wikipedia, Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877) "was a Scottish-born Welsh social reformer who immigrated to the United States in 1825." After becoming a U.S. citzen, he became involved in Indiana state politics and later represented Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives for four years. His legacy includes:

  • He helped oversee the peaceful commune of New Harmony, Indiana, which was first settled in 1814 by members of the Harmony Society who had come west from Harmony, Pennsylvania
  • He was a strong advocate for women's rights, laying the groundwork for provisions in the Indiana state constitution related to women's property rights, voting rights and freedom in divorce. (Some of this was done in conjunction with Sarah T. Bolton.)
  • In 1862, he wrote a series of letters "that favored the abolition of slavery and supported general emancipation, as well as a suggestion that the federal government should provide assistance to freedmen."
  • As an Indiana state legislator, he helped build the framework for a taxpayer-supported system of free public schools.
  • In Congress, he introduced the bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution.
  • He wrote a book titled The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next. He was a Spiritualist who raised questions about the authenticity of the Bible.
Owen is one of the peripheral figures in Garrett Epps' book Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America. When I looked this book up, I discovered I had already marked it on Goodreads as something to check out. The Washington Post's 2006 review mentions Owen and his involvement with the 14th Amendment.

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