...in 1913, a 13-week strike at the Draper Corporation in Hopedale ended in failure, and the workers returned to their jobs. This was a time of labor unrest throughout the country, but the Draper family was shocked that their workers would strike. The corporation provided them with decent housing, modern utilities, even recreational facilities. Ebenezer Draper originally came to Hopedale in the 1840s. He was a major investor in and a resident of the utopian community that thrived there for over a decade. When the community failed in 1856, Ebenezer and his brother converted it into a successful manufacturing venture. The Drapers continued the tradition of social reform by making Hopedale a model company town. Today it is part of the Blackstone National Heritage Corridor.
In 1840 Adin Ballou, a reform-minded minister in Worcester County's Blackstone Valley, proposed to establish a utopian community by the banks of the Mill River. He envisioned a "village of practical Christians, dwelling together by families in love and peace, insuring themselves the comforts of life by agricultural and mechanical industry." They would not just improve themselves; they would, he wrote, direct "the entire residue of their intellectual, moral and physical resources to the Christianization and general welfare of the race."
Like so many men and women in antebellum Massachusetts, Adin Ballou was actively involved in a wide range of reforms, including temperance, woman's rights, abolition, and a form of pacifism called Christian Nonresistance. He called on all Christians to commit themselves to working for social change.
In the late 1830s, Ballou became convinced that it was impossible to live as a truly reformed Christian without separating from "the governments of the world." Since all governments used force to maintain order and thus were all inherently contaminated by violence, Christian Non-Resistants needed to withdraw from the civil order and live apart in order to create an entirely new kind of society.
Massachusetts was home to a number of such idealistic experiments. Hopedale was born of the same religious and philosophical urges that brought people to the utopian communities at Brook Farm and Fruitlands and that filled the Shaker villages in Harvard, Shirley, and Hancock.
Although Ballou and his fellow Practical Christians embraced a form of socialism, they decided to structure their community as a joint stock company, where those who could afford it purchased shares in the venture. One of these was Ebenezer Draper, a successful manufacturer who was also a Practical Christian. A friend of Ballou's, he invested a substantial sum and eventually owned nearly three-quarters of the shares. With resources provided by Draper and others, the community acquired a 258-acre farm and the rights to an old dam on the Mill River. The place had long been known simply as the Dale; now it became known as Hopedale.
In April of 1842, Ballou and 40 other utopians moved into the old farmhouse and set to work. They planted crops and built a dam and mechanic shop, a church hall, school, and homes. With a thriving farm and a shop equipped with "a variety of labor-saving machinery for . . . carpentering, joinery, box-making and kindred callings," the community prospered. By 1852 over 200 people were living at Hopedale, which was known as a center of reform activism.
The residents of Hopedale were ardent abolitionists. Crowds of over 1,000 attended anti-slavery meetings there. The community was also in the forefront of the woman's rights movement, giving women the right to vote on internal matters. When the first National Women's Rights Convention met in Worcester in 1850, there were more delegates from Hopedale than any place except Worcester itself. The 25 women went clad in bloomers; their leader, Abby Price, gave one of the major speeches.
In 1856, persuaded by his brother that the community was being mismanaged, Ebenezer Draper withdrew his money, and the utopian experiment collapsed. The venture was converted into a private company. Adin Ballou felt "like one prematurely consigned to a tomb." He continued as pastor of the Hopedale church and spent the rest of his life writing the history of Hopedale.
The end of one social experiment made possible the beginning of another. The Draper brothers began by making doors, window sashes, and blinds but discovered early on that their most profitable business was manufacturing cotton looms. By 1892 the Draper Corporation was the largest producer of textile machinery in the United States. It was also by far the largest employer in Hopedale. At its peak, the Draper Corporation Mill employed over 4,000 workers.
The Drapers maintained their interest in reform and created a model, self-contained company town. They built high-quality worker housing in garden settings that preserved the views and provided the town with schools, libraries, parks, playgrounds, bandstands, paved roads, sidewalks, sewer, water, and gas systems.
The Draper family was shocked, then, when in 1913, during a period of labor unrest, their workers went on strike. Two thousand workers walked out, demanding higher wages and a nine-hour day. Eben S. Draper, former governor of Massachusetts and president of the firm, insisted that outside radicals had instigated the strike. Indeed, the socialist Industrial Workers of the World did lead the protest, with assistance from anarchists such as Nicola Sacco.
Striking workers staged protest marches, rallies, and mass meetings. Some events turned violent; when police responded with gunfire, one striker was killed. As the months wore on and Draper refused to negotiate, the workers began trickling back to the plant. On July 5, 1913, all of the employees returned to work. They had gained nothing, and the Draper Corporation never experienced another strike.
The Draper family did not retaliate but continued its benevolent paternalism, making Hopedale one of the most successful planned communities of the early twentieth century. By the 1930s, however, the textile industry throughout New England had begun to decline. Hopedale was no exception. World War II stimulated demand and sustained the business for a while, but the long-term trend was downward. The Hopedale plant, now owned by North American Rockwell, was closed in 1980.
Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography
History of the Hopedale Community, by Adin Ballou (reprinted by Porcupine Press, 1973).
Images of America: Hopedale, by Elaine Malloy, Daniel Malloy, and Alan J. Ryan (Arcadia, 2002).
"Violent Draper Strike Rocked Hopedale 55 Years Ago," Milford Daily News, April 1, 1968.