Our History

New Harmony’s Working Men’s Institute is rooted in Robert Owen’s utopian experiment here in the 1820s. This experiment was based on the belief that men and women are essentially rational individuals and can bring about lasting social harmony if properly taught and encouraged. Many idealists were drawn to Owen’s New Harmony by the opportunity to create a better world, and among the most ambitious of these was geologist William Maclure.

Maclure, a business partner with Robert Owen, was devoted to the idea of self-instruction for the common man as a means of positive change in society. His own schooling had left him very disappointed in both his teachers and traditional academic offerings. Formal education, he believed, benefited only the few at the expense of the many, and was not valuable for day-to-day living. He wanted the common working men to be able to teach themselves useful arts and sciences without outside interference. Maclure championed the establishment of public institutions for the dissemination of useful knowledge to “those who labor with their hands.” In these places the common working man could, by his own hard work, attain the knowledge that would free him from ignorance, dependency and fear.

Maclure established the New Harmony Working Men’s Institute in 1838. The concept proved popular and 143 other WMIs appeared throughout Indiana. Another 16 were established in Illinois. New Harmony’s WMI was the first one established and is the only one remaining.

The Working Men’s Institute continues to evolve in ways that help us fulfill our founder’s mission. Come for a visit and see for yourself what a valuable resource we have here in the heart of New Harmony.

Our Founder

William Maclure was born in Scotland in 1763. A highly successful mercantile career allowed him to retire at the age of 34 and devote his life to extensive travel. Maclure also pursued philanthropic and scientific interests, chiefly geology.

In 1807 he conducted the first geological survey of the United States. This resulted in Maclure’s 1809 Geological Map, the first geological map of the United States . As a result of this map, he is known as “The Father of American Geology.” Maclure also became the President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1817, and served in that position for 22 years.

In 1826, Maclure joined social reformer Robert Owen in the utopian experiment at New Harmony, Indiana. There he guided the new community’s educational institutions and established the journal, Disseminator of Useful Knowledge. Although poor health caused him to move to Mexico in 1828, Maclure maintained his connections to New Harmony through correspondence with his associates. Maclure died in Mexico in 1840.

Board of Trustees

Fred Frayser

Nathan Maudlin
Vice President

Tamara Allison

Christine Crews

Connie Weinzapfel

Educating Our Community with Your Support

Your contribution enables the Working Men’s Institute to continue serving the public. Thank you for your generosity!