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Robert Dale Owen

Owen, Robert Dale, 1801–77, American social reformer, b. Scotland; son of Robert Owen. He studied at his father's New Lanark school and in Switzerland. In 1825 he went to New Harmony, Ind. There he met Frances Wright, with whom he established (1829) in New York City the Free Enquirer, a paper opposing organized religion and urging wide social changes. In this and in his Moral Physiology (1830) he publicly advocated birth control for the first time in the United States.

Owen later became active in Indiana and U.S. politics. As a member of Congress (1843–47) he was instrumental in the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. When the Indiana constitution was revised in 1850, Owen secured an extension of property rights for married women and state provision for public schools. He served (1853–58) as U.S. minister to Naples, where he became a spiritualist. After his return to the United States he strongly advocated the emancipation of slaves and helped investigate the condition of the freedmen. His writings include An Outline of the System of Education at New Lanark (1824), Hints on Public Architecture (1849), The Wrong of Slavery (1864), The Debatable Land between This World and the Next (1872), a novel, a play, and numerous pamphlets.

See the autobiography of his early years, Threading My Way (1874); biographies by R. W. Leopold (1940, repr. 1969) and E. Pancoast and A. E. Lincoln (1940).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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