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Kaweah Cooperative Colony papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1304

Scope and Contents

The Kaweah Cooperative Colony Papers document the internal politics and business practices of a nineteenth-century utopian community. The papers are alphabetically and then chronologically arranged by material type. They span the dates 1886-1890.

Inspired by Edmund Bellamy's novel Looking Backward and the Nationalist movement, the Kaweah Cooperative Colony was organized in 1886. Located on the Kaweah River, Tulare County, California, it began as a tent settlement operated on the principle of equal work and equal compensation for men and women. The colony's board of directors developed a table of organization and carefully divided the work responsibilities. The settlement's growth, however, was hampered by internal disagreements over the directors' authority, the colony's priorities, and rules for membership. While formulating a plan of organization, the colony lost a local timber contract; and due to inefficient financial management, a primary project, building a road, was cancelled.

Correspondence reveals the tensions and differing opinions among the directors of the colony, addresses the loss of timber contracts, and covers disagreements over the directors' authority. The major figures represented in the correspondence are the president, William J. Cuthbertson; general secretary, J. J. Martin; and members of the board of directors P. N. Kuss, J. C. Wright, P. B. Hirsch, J. G. Wright, and Robert Linbridge.

Expenditures, receipts, and legal papers combine to give a financial overview of the colony. Its timecheck economy was similar to a token economy, in which the members received chits for work time, redeemable for goods within the colony. The financial accounts provide insights into the colony's internal workings and financial relationship with the outside world.

Issue number 20 of The Commonwealth, the colony's newsletter, gives a full account of the development and purpose of the colony along with a brief history of the Nationalist movement. The meeting records outline the directors' decisions, but provide only limited information. The tables of organization, on the other hand, provide extensive data about the colonists' views for organizing the colony. The papers include three folders of photographs of the colony, group pictures, and scenes of Tulare County taken by C. C. Curtis of nearby Esperanza.


  • 1886-1890


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Kaweah Cooperative Colony Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Kaweah Cooperative Colony Papers were purchased from Argus Books in 1978 with proceeds from the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana.


0.25 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, business and legal papers, meeting records, and photographs documenting the existence of the Kaweah Cooperative Colony.
Guide to the Kaweah Cooperative Colony Papers
Under Revision
by Heather L. Holeman
October 1986
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.