Labor at the Wisconsin Phalanx

The labor system of Ceresco was set up under the principles laid down by Fourier himself. The goal was to produce as much as possible while rewarding citizens for their efficiency. Although the principle of sharing was a major concept at the phalanx, capitalist ideas were the core of the economy. Crucial to Fourier’s labor system was the division of laborers three classes of workers.

Labor Classes

The necessity class was responsible for tough outdoor labor like digging wells and masonry. It was referred to as the class of necessity because many felt its labor was essential for Ceresco to be built. They enjoyed highest share of community goods of all phalanx workers for their contribution.

The next group was the class of usefullness. Many citizens in this group held mechanical jobs, such as carpentry or blacksmithing. Others were involved in agriculture and farming. Teaching was a paid position, but it appears that members of this class often taught while holding other positions. They were also responsible for keeping phalanx records up to date.

The class of attractiveness was widely responsible for domestic labor. Their assignments included cooking, cleaning, gardening and washing clothes. Females mostly filled positions in this class because the all-male council saw the jobs as "women's work." As much as Fourier believed in equality, gender norms of the time kept women in household roles.

These groups of labor were not ideal for people who grew tired of performing the same work everyday. While some members may have crossed over from one class to another, but the highest rank was difficult to break into. Certain individuals were expected to stay in the same job and this lack of opportunity caused discontent.

One of the largest labor issues at the phalanx was finding work for everyone. Although the phalanx turned a profit as high as $8,136 in 1845 (mainly out of the milling), it did not have excess capital to provide jobs for many members of the necessity class. Sometimes there was such little need for mechanical workers that only one person would be in the saw or grist mills. Therefore, members began looking for jobs outside of Ceresco in neighboring villages, like Ripon. These were usually craftsmen who were not needed because heavy labor subsided when less construction was needed.

The lack of capital to pay many workers the wages they hoped for likely played a role in the Ceresco's end. Even though the phalanx seemed to be turning a profit, it might have occurred because they they did not have to pay everyone for labor. When members learned of positions outside of the phalanx, they probably saw less reason to stay.

The following image links to letters written by William Stillwell of Ceresco to his wife at home in New York. It provides you with a brief depiction on what labor he took part in, how long some activities took and the wages he earned.

June 30, 1846
William H. Stillwell Letters
Oshkosh SC 96
UW Oshkosh Archives and
Area Research Center

click image to see .pdf version

The following link has references to many aspects of phalanx life. It has been placed under labor due to its specific reverence to servitude. Find the reference at the end of the article and analyze why someone would make a statement like it.

January 21,1845
Wisconsin Argus
click image to see .pdf version

 

Table of Contents

1. Development
2. Geography and Physical Description
3. Rules and Regulations
4. Labor
5. Women of Ceresco
6. Religion at the Phalanx
7. Demise of the Wisconsin Phalanx

Other Resources

Recommendations for Ceresco Research Questions and Projects

Annotated Bibliography