Fruitlands: Inspiration Overseas

The story of Fruitlands begins in England. James Pierrepont Greaves was an English education reformer. In 1837, Greaves received a copy of Elizabeth Peabody’s Record of a School and Amos Bronson Alcott’s Conversations with Children on the Gospels. These books were written about the Temple School which Alcott and Peabody ran in Boston. Based off ideas from these texts, Greaves created a school named “Alcott House” that he invited Alcott to visit.

Profile images of Amos Bronson Alcott (b.1799- d. 1888) and one of his daughters, Louisa May Alcott (b.1832- d. 1888), photographed by A.W. Hosmer (b. 1851- d. 1903).
Amos Bronson Alcott (Photograph by A.W. Hosmer) (The Paul Brooks Collection)

In 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson paid for Bronson Alcott to visit England. Unfortunately, Alcott left for England unaware that Greaves had recently died. Instead of visiting with Greaves when he arrived, Alcott met Charles Lane and Henry Gardiner Wright. Both men were supporters of Greaves’ work. Wright was now running Alcott House in place of Greaves.

While staying at Alcott House, Bronson wrote to his cousin,

“… I find the principles of human culture, which have so long interested me, carried into practical operation by wise and devoted friends of education. The school was opened five years ago and has been thus far quite successful. It consists of thirty or more children, and some of them not more than three years of age, — all fed and lodged at the House… Plain bread with vegetables and fruits is their food, and water their only drink… They seem very happy and not less in the school-room than elsewhere.”

Alcott wanted to bring the essence of Alcott House back to his family. In this vein, he returned to Concord with about a thousand books from the late James Greaves’ library. Either Thoreau or Emerson wrote an advertisement for this “small, but valuable library” in The Dial. Alcott also brought Charles Lane, his son William Lane, and Henry Gardiner Wright with him to America to help realize his dream.

Bronson declared, “It is not in Old, but in the New England that God’s Garden is to be planted, and the fruits matured for the sustenance of the swarming nations.”