Birthday: May 14, 1771
Died At Age: 87
Sun Sign: Taurus
Born in: Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales
Spouse/Ex-: Caroline Dale
father: Robert Owen
mother: Miss Williams
children: Anne Caroline, David Dale, Jackson Dale, Jane Dale, Mary, Richard Dale, Robert Dale, William
Died on: November 17, 1858
place of death: Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales
Who was Robert Owen?
Robert Owen, one of the founding fathers of utopian socialism, was a man much ahead of his times. He was a successful textile mill owner who was as much concerned—or maybe even more—about the quality of life his employees and the community members led than the profits he made. From a young age he was a bright boy who was good in studies and loved to read. He was forced to work in a textile mill from an early age and grew up observing the lifestyle of the working class. A hard working and ambitious young man, he became a mill manager by the time he was 21. He became a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and was greatly influenced by the ideals of the philosophers and reformers. Eventually he became the manager and co-owner of the New Lanark mill, a highly successful mill in Glasgow. As the manager of such a large organization he was determined to bring about an improvement in the quality of life of its employees. He implemented several revolutionary reforms which included prohibition of child labor, provision of health care and education to the workers’ children, and creating a better society. He was an early proponent of social reforms for the working class and was considered an enlightened employer.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as the sixth of seven children to a small businessman, also named Robert Owen. His mother was called Anne Williams.
He went to school only for a few years before being sent to work at a draper’s shop.
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He moved to Manchester and found employment at Satterfield’s Drapery. He was very efficient and displayed considerable managerial talents. He became a mill manager at the Chorlton Twist Mills by the time he was 21.
In 1793, he became a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society where progressive ideas of reform and enlightenment were discussed. At about the same time he also joined the Manchester Board of Health for promoting health and working conditions of factory workers.
Over the course of his work he became acquainted with a lot of textile businessmen including David Dale, the owner of Chorton Twist Company in New Lanark. He married Dale’s daughter and became a partner in the mill.
He bought the mill from Dale in 1799. The mill was commercially performing well, but Owen believed that true success lay not just in making more profits but also in making the lifestyle of the mill workers better.
When Owen took over the business, the general conditions of the employees were very poor. He opened a store from where they could buy good quality provisions as prior to his arrival the employees were forced to buy low quality rations.
He was especially concerned about the children. He forbade very small children from working and founded the concept of infant childcare. He also ensured that the older children went to school and received quality education.
He implemented many reforms in his factory premises, many of which required considerable financial investments. He sold his business to like-minded individuals, Jeremy Bentham and William Allen in order to focus more on his philanthropy.
He wanted to spread knowledge about the way children were treated in his factory so that others could also follow them. He wrote several books on education and social reforms including ‘The Formation of Character’ (1813) and ‘A New View of Society’ (1814).
He wanted his ideas and plans to be implemented on a large scale and thus sent detailed proposals to Parliament about his notions on factory reforms in 1815. He appeared before Robert Peel and his House of Commons committee in April 1816.
His work at the factory and his efforts for improving the life of the working class influenced the parliament to implement the Factory Act of 1819. He became a popular figure of social reform and New Lanark became a magnet for attracting social reformers, statesmen and royal personnel.
Under his supervision, New Lanark gained international recognition for its social reforms. It had a creche for working mothers, free health care, education for children, evening classes for adults, among several other initiatives. There were arrangements for leisure activities also.
He formed the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1835 which was an early attempt to form a national union confederation in the United Kingdom. He served as the preliminary father of the organization.
He was a co-founder of utopian socialism along with Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. He envisioned an ideal society which incorporated social democratic movements with materialistic social conditions. He played a key role in influencing future socialists like Karl Marx.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Caroline Dale, the daughter of David Dale from whom he bought the New Lanark textile mills. The couple had eight children of whom seven survived to adulthood.
He died on 17 November, 1858 at the age of 87.