Thursday, November 12, 2009

Free Love at East Middleborough, 1922

Communists, birth control advocates, labor organizers, socialists, nudists. These were just the folks to set conservative Middleborough agog in 1922, particularly when rumors surfaced that the East Middleborough farm owned by Charles A. Garland of Boston was a seat of communal living by left-leaning advocates of free love and what were regarded by many as other social vices and dubious political theories.

Garland, largely unknown today, was the object of much media attention at the time, both for his unconventional views as well as his ultimate legacy, the American Fund for Public Service (1922-41) which has been alternately lauded as financier of organizations promoting social and economic justice in America and vilified as a Communist front organization. Not surprisingly, Garland himself proved an equally controversial personage, and the mixture of power, sex, wealth, and politics which surrounded his story fascinated the public during the mid-1920s, including Middleborough residents with a more direct connection.

Garland was born the grandson of Boston millionaire James Albert Garland who had been a vice-president of the First National Bank of New York and an organizer of the Northern Pacific Railroad. James Garland was later noted as a collector of ancient glass and porcelain and upon his death in 1900, his estate was valued at between $7 and $8.5 million. Garland’s son and Charles Garland’s father, James A. Garland 2d, was a graduate of Harvard, a noted yachtsman and sportsman, editor of the New England Magazine and author of The Private Stable: Its Establishment, Management and Appointments (Boston, 1899), a seminal work in its field.

Charles Garland, known to many as “Barl”, was liberally educated in England and at Harvard University, where according to a later Time magazine article he “acquired more ideas than he knew what to do with" [Time, June 30, 1941]. Among those ideas appear to have been social justice, naturism, and free love. (For his part, Garland always disputed that such ideas had been acquired at the Ivy League college, maintaining that he was a Christian socialist who had developed his views through the teachings of Christ and readings of Tolstoy and H. G. Wells) [New York Times, November 28, 1920].
"It is not mine. I never did anything to earn it."
While Garland’s father James had no compunction about making use of the family wealth for personal gratification (he had a summer estate on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay and was described in his September, 1906, obituary in the New York Times as a “well known yachtsman and clubman”), Charles had a particular aversion to what he characterized as “unearned wealth”. “It is not mine. I never did anything to earn it”, he said of his inheritance[Harpers, February 1921]. Accordingly, in 1920, at a time when the Garland estate remained the fourth largest shareholder in the First National Bank of New York, Charles Garland refused formally to accept his $1,000,000 share of his father’s estate - one of the first public indications of Charles Garland’s radicalism. (Charles’ younger brother, Hamilton, likewise refused his legacy, before ultimately reconsidering and accepting it).

Refusing his inheritance was an action indicative of Garland's increasingly unconventional personality, which was of a free-thinking and independent nature. Local news correspondent James Creedon later described Garland as “a man of much independence.” Creedon noted that Garland “usually walked when he wanted to get anywhere. Folks who offered him a ride in the early autos of the day, as they saw him plodding along the roads, were always thanked for their offer, with a statement he preferred to walk" [Brockton Enterprise, July 30, 1953]. Despite holding what were decidedly anti-capitalist views, Garland in mid-1919 wed a scion of Yankee propriety, Mary Wrenn, daughter and heiress of Philip W. Wrenn, former president of the Boston Stock Exchange.

In late 1921, Garland who was residing with his wife at Bay End Farm on Buzzards Bay purchased the 30 acre East Middleborough poultry farm owned since 1904 by Joseph April. Consisting of a dwelling house, barn and several chicken houses, the farm was located in a secluded area east of Wall Street between Plymouth and Stone Streets partially on the property now occupied by the Capeway Rovers. In time, the chicken houses “were fitted up for use and occupancy of guests” [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953].
Garland increasingly became fascinated with rural agrarian life, and the farm appears to have been an attempt on his part to establish a simple life for himself, unconnected with and unconcerned by wealth. "I believe that every man, after providing for such simple needs as shelter, food, clothes, and the satisfaction of the instinct for beauty, should give willingly his surplus to those who need it. When need is satisfied, we will have abolished war, prisons, injustice, rebellion, and our other social sufferings", Garland believed [quoted in Samson:2-3]. “One of Garland's ideas was that people ought to live together in simple peasant communes, sharing love and money” and as a consequence, the East Middleborough farm came to be tenanted by “girls in gay embroidered dress, young intellectuals in sturdy work clothes, living as free spirits, the most exotic peasantry that ever came out of the better Eastern colleges" [Time, June 30, 1941]. For her part, Garland’s wife, Mary, is said to have opposed living at the Middleborough farm, and as a consequence a “little white house” was acquired for her in Dedham.

"I believe that every man, after providing for such simple needs as shelter, food, clothes, and the satisfaction of the instinct for beauty, should give willingly his surplus to those who need it."
The East Middleborough farm (frequently reported in newspapers of the time as having been situated in North Carver) remained known as April Farm and it became the center of many of the allegations regarding Garland’s private life. One report indicated that naturism or nudism was practiced at the farm. As recalled in 1953, “At that time the newcomers were away ahead of their day, in that they believed in getting back to nature, according to report, and part of that getting back was to live without the encumbrance of too much clothing” [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953]. More seriously, the farm was also believed to be a “love colony” where adultery and free love reigned, and Garland’s own actions at the time only served to reinforce this view.

About the time of the purchase of the East Middleborough property, Garland is said to have fallen in love with Lillian Conrad, an art student and his mother’s former private secretary, a development which understandably contributed to the collapse of his marriage. While Miss Conrad was entertained at April Farm, the exact nature of the relationship between the Garlands and Miss Conrad is not clear. In early 1922, however, Garland admitted frankly, “My wife has sufficient grounds for divorce”, and Mary Garland is said to have quitted April Farm for good at this time [New York Times, January 24, 1922].

On Sunday, January 22, 1922, Miss Conrad herself also fled the East Middleborough farm, later reports alleging that it had been in repudiation of Garland’s unconventional ideas. While Garland immediately followed Conrad to Boston, he denied to the press that he was fleeing after her despite the fact that he had allegedly avowed to friends at the time that he loved Conrad and wished to marry her. Once at Boston, Miss Conrad was “rescued by the Tideover League” and “placed in the home of a ‘cultured Boston family,” from where she could once more lead “a pure life” according to the press jargon of the day. In the meantime the story garnered much media attention resulting in the denouncement of Garland “from Boston's pulpits as a degenerate” [Samson:3].
"When need is satisfied, we will have abolished war, prisons, injustice, rebellions and our other social sufferings."

The goings on at East Middleborough naturally did not fail to escape local attention. As Gloria Barrett Samson later wrote, “While his refusal of wealth seemed aberrant, his concurrent public repudiation of enforced monogamy and his statement that conventional churches were "full of hypocrisy" received equal attention and widespread disfavor" [Samson: 2].

Middleborough Police Chief Sisson was explicit about his intentions should Garland chose to flout the law and local convention. “Garland will not be allowed to go on with any such thing as a ‘free love’ union in this town. If a man lives with a woman without being married and transgresses the law he will be dealt with as the law directs. The fact hat he has beliefs that are different from those of the lawmakers will have no bearing on the case. The fact that Garland is a millionaire will not excuse him either. Garland will be dealt with as though he were an ordinary man. I shall keep an eye on him and his place, and if there is anything wrong I shall not hesitate. We can’t have such things going on in this town" [New York Times, January 27, 1922]. Garland later defended his lifestyle: "As to unmarried people living together, this is a matter of individual inclination, and not understood by the common run of social fabric."

Meanwhile, rumors had been circulating that male and female acquaintances of Garland’s intended residing at the farm during the summer of 1922. In response to a question as to what Sisson would do should Garland attempt to establish “a colony” of like-minded individuals on the farm, the chief was unequivocal: “If there is anything wrong – any law broken – I shall take action at once" [New York Times, January 27, 1922]. For his part, Garland denied the reports. When confronted with public reaction towards his views, Garland simply dismissed them. “I refuse to answer the criticisms of these people because they are based solely on a misunderstanding of the problem" [ibid.]. He would later argue that “the relations of men and women were a personal matter and that it was not for government to regulate then, unless the persons concerned disturb the peace and health of the community." Nonetheless, the pervasive attitude at the time was that just such activities were detrimental to the moral climate of the community in which they occurred. Throughout the 1920s, there were incidences in Middleborough, as elsewhere, of unwed couples being prosecuted for what was termed “lewd and lascivious cohabitation”, so it’s not surprising, given his notoriety that Garland would come under scrutiny by local law enforcement officials, both in Middleborough and neighboring Carver.

"My wife has sufficient grounds for divorce."

Despite this controversy and the relatively high profile which Garland had at the time, the Middleboro Gazette, remained surprisingly mute on the topic. Perhaps on the premise that if it didn’t report it, it didn’t happen, the Gazette remained virtually silent on the affair. In contrast, sensational articles appeared in regional newspapers such as the Brockton Enterprise, and even the staid New York Times reported Garland’s presumed foibles and eccentricities.

Complicating matters for Garland personally was the fact that his wife, Mary, was pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time. The baby, a son, was delivered at Massachusetts General Hospital, in April, and some hoped that the birth of a son would help promote a reconciliation between the Garlands. It did, but only temporarily. The marriage appears to have been on shaky ground by late 1922. On September 12, 1922, when Mary applied for a passport, she listed her residence as Dedham and that of her husband as North Carver (the nearest post office to his East Middleborough Farm), indicating that they were then living apart for much of the time. Mary took the couple’s two children to Europe, departing aboard the S. S. France on October 11, 1922, and touring France, England, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland, before returning aboard the S. S. Paris out of Le Havre on April 14, 1923. Mary arrived in New York April 21, 1923, and returned home to Bay End Farm at Buzzards Bay. No doubt prompting Mary’s return was the fact that she was seven months pregnant at the time with her third child, Christopher.

In the midst of this personal turmoil, Garland at the behest of influential members of the American political left such as Upton Sinclair, took his $800,000 inheritance and with it helped establish the American Fund for Public Service, an organization intended to financially support the advancement of the public welfare in America. At the time the fund was established, Garland stated:

I am trying to use the inherited wealth toward social issues for the following reasons: I believe that every person is an integral part of society, and that the interests of one individual cannot be divorced from the interests of the other members of society without all having to pay the price for it in the end. From this it follows that I must strive to use whatever resources I have to the advantage of all. [New York Times, July 24, 1922]

While organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union benefited from the largesse of the “Garland Fund”, more radical organizations also received funding. This fact, coupled with the support given the fund by communists, socialists and anarchists led to the American Fund for Public Service being branded as a Communist front organization. The hostility demonstrated by the political right towards Garland and his fund was probably not confined solely to Garland’s political views. Undoubtedly, some of the exposés of Garland's private life were politically-motivated attempts to discredit him and his organization by appealing to the conservative moral sensibilities prevalent at the time. Ironically, while it had been Garland’s intention that the fund would expend his unwanted legacy on promoting social justice within America and would do so in such a way as to deliberately and quickly deplete itself (thereby ridding him of the unwanted money once and for all), as fate would have it investments made by the fund allowed it to perpetuate itself for nearly twenty years before it was ultimately depleted.

"... Every person is an integral part of society, ... the interests of one individual cannot be divorced from the interests of the other members of society without all having to pay the price for it in the end."
Though Garland owned the East Middleborough farm until 1931 (when he sold it to Louis E. Clark), he appears to have abandoned it shortly after 1922 for a similar one in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, just outside Allentown. That farm, too, became known as April Farm, taking its name from the one at East Middleborough. Garland’s similar communal April Farm “love colony” at Coopersburg, however, would prove to be Garland’s undoing. At its height, it appears to have had only 15 members – six men, six women and three children. Following the death of his daughter Barbetta which he had fathered by Bettina Hovey, one of the women in the colony, Garland was indicted by the Lehigh County Grand Jury on April 5, 1925, was convicted of adultery and served a prison sentence. His wife, Mary (Wreen) Garland from whom he had been long separated, divorced him the following year.

By late 1931, Garland had rewed, and had disposed of the East Middleborough farm. Ten years later, when the American Fund for Public Service had finally become defunct, Garland was reported as living quickly in a New York City suburb when he related simply “I don’t give money away anymore” [Time, June 30, 1941]. By 1953 he had largely dropped out of sight. “What has become of Garland, or his money, if any is left, is not clear now” wrote a local Brockton correspondent at the time [Brockton Enterprise, June 30, 1953]. The only thing that appeared clear was his controversial, though now largely forgotten, legacy.

"I don't give money away anymore."

Map of Middleborough showing the location of Charles A. Garland's "April Farm".

Brockton Enterprise, “Recall Days of Garland”, July 30, 1953
Harpers, 142, February 1921.
Klein, Henry H. Dynastic America and Those Who Own It. New York: Henry H. Klein, 1921.
Middleboro Gazette, “Middleboro”, October 28, 1921, p. 7; “Tax Collector’s Sale of Real Estate”, February 23, 1934, p. 6

New York Times, "James A. Garland Dead", September 14, 1906; "On Refusing a Million", November 28, 1920; "Garland in Boston, Seeks Miss Conrad", January 24, 1922; "Will Watch Events at Garland Farm", January 27, 1922; "Son for Charles Garland", April 26, 1922; "Heir to a Million Gives Up $800,000", July 24, 1922
Plymouth County Registry of Deeds
Samson, Gloria Garrett. The American Fund for Public Service: Charles Garland and Radical Philanthropy, 1922-1941. Greenwood Press, 1996.
Time. “Milestones”, August 23, 1926.
Time. “Radicals: Mr. Garland’s Millions”, June 30, 1941.


Welsh mansion said...

Interesting. Good work.

Kofi Ingersoll said...

Charles Garland was James Garlands son, not his brother. Charles was my great uncle and James my great grandfather. Thanks for this informative article, I had no idea all that happened in Middleboro

Mike said...

Thanks Kofi for the correction. It’s been duly noted, and the post has been amended. James A. Garland 2d’s biographical information can be found in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Volume 38 (1907) . Garland died tragically young of pneumonia. An account of his illness, the fatal prognosis and his death can be found in the New York Times for July 31, 1906 and September 14, 1906

Doug Capra said...

Another interesting source can be found in the January 8, 1921 issue of Literary Digest, p. 49, 48,49.

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