Twenty-one years ago I made an effort to start a little Utopia for everyday use, and naturally my thinking on the subject is dominated by that experience. I will begin by telling you some of the things I learned at Helicon Hall.
Among the joys we realized was the opportunity of being alone when you wanted to be alone, and of having friends when you wanted friends. We cannot arrange matters that way in our present world, try as hard aa we will. Our work and study hours get interrupted by telephone calls and knocks on the door — we can’t let everybody know our habits and whims and when we want company we have to make journeys in taxis and street cars, and we have to stay even though we find we are bored. But in our little Utopia we had our friends close at hand, and any time we felt like playing billiards we could always be sure of finding some one else in the same mood. On the other hand, if we wanted to be alone, we had our own rooms to which we might retire, with the certainty that no one would come there except by special invitation.
In the next place, we made at least a beginning at solving the "servant problem" in our Utopia. Nowadays, as I hear the ladies discussing it, I realize how large the problem bulks. Some of our married friends are doing their own housework and giving up their intellectual lives because they are so tired of trying to adjust themselves to a stream of untrained and untrainable "domestics" in their homes. There is no need to go into details, because all wives know and all husbands hear. And we really started to solve that problem in Utopia; we got far enough at least to know that we were on the right track.
Just the other day I read a statement in print that I had founded a colony in which everybody took turns at housework. That is the common impression, and it is not true. We had a quota of regular servants at Helicon Hall; the only difference was that we did not treat them as social inferiors, but admitted them on terms of social equality and even gave them a vote as to how the colony should be run. Among many complaints which I heard on many subjects I cannot recall having heard that any one of our "colony workers" ever abused the consideration we showed. They were always quiet and courteous, and possessed by the spirit of jolly and simple democracy that is a feature of my private Utopia.
There was a pretty Irish girl who had been the maid of all work at my Princeton farm before the colony days; it was a great adventure to her to be transported to Utopia and dance on Saturday evenings with a professor of philosophy from Columbia University. It did not do the professor any harm, I am sure, or keep him from becoming a well-known writer. There was an elderly widow who did housework for the board of herself and a little son. There was an Irishman who had done kitchen work in the homes of the rich, a very humble individual and a devout Catholic, and what he made of our bunch of Socialists and Anarchists and assorted libertarians I never inquired, but he recognized kindness and consideration when he met it, exactly as other humans do. Our little Utopia was big enough so that no one had to tread on any other’s toes, and when our "servants" included such individuals Sinclair Lewis and Allan Updegraff, we could not seriously feel that our intellectual tone was being lowered.