Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews


Spirit Fruit: A Gentle Utopia. By H. Roger Grant. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois

University Press, 1988. xiv + 203p.; illustrations, notes, bibliography,

index. $22.50.)

The Reluctant Radicals: Jacob L. Beilhart and The Spirit Fruit Society. By

James L. Murphy. (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1989.

xii + 263p.; illustrations, notes, appendixes, bibliography, index. $32.50.)

Each of these books provides a detailed picture of the Spirit Fruit commu-

nity which was founded and led by Jacob Beilhart, a religious seeker who

hoped it would enable him and his followers to live a totally unselfish life.

Before his community was established and incorporated under Ohio law in

1901, Beilhart was influenced by the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists,

Christian Scientists, Theosophists, and Spiritualists, as well as promoters of

sexual freedom. Though Beilhart rejected the idea that Spirit Fruit was a

religion, many of the community's practices resembled the Christian Perfec-

tionism which John Humphrey Noyes had incorporated into his Oneida

Community. Spirit Fruiters, however, had much more private space than did

the Oneida communitarians. Moreover, they did not agree on all matters, they

kept their own property, and largely chose their own work assignments. The

Spirit Fruit community consisted of an original ten members, and because

there was much coming and going, the total population was never much larger

than that. For a person with such determined ideas and leadership talent, Jacob

Beilhart was amazingly tolerant of dissent. Unlike many other community

founders, he never assumed the role of dictator.

Beilhart envisioned Spirit Fruit, or Universal Life, as an advanced state of

being available only to a select minority. Since its teaching and practices

contradicted much of organized Christianity, Beilhart frequently critized the

clergy and denied that his beliefs constituted a religion. Yet he never denied

spirituality, which was the very heart of his teaching. His was a philosophy of

"live and let live," so long as no one infringed on the rights of others. He also

practiced a kind of nonresistance. When an irate father arrived with law

officers to remove his daughter from the community, Beilhart made no attempt

to stop them. To Spirit Fruiters the individual was paramount. Although he

strongly denied any affinity with the anarchism of Emma Goldman, Beilhart's

philosophy could properly be described as anarchism of the individualist,

nonviolent variety, similar to that of Josiah Warren. Apparently, all the

communitarians thoroughly understood Beilhart's teachings, for when he died

suddenly in 1908-at age 41 of complications of appendicitis-the community

continued without interruption for another twenty years.

Although Beilhart's philosophy is now virtually forgotten, both authors

evaluate Spirit Fruit as a successful venture. Indeed, it was a way of life highly

satisfactory to those who chose it. Members, who were self-chosen, often

brought special skills to the community, all were willing to work hard, and

there were few personality problems. They were all "nice people," said one of

Jacob's followers, and only one really disruptive member joined near the end

of the community's life. Beilhart, who was always referred to as Jacob, often

spoke publicly about his philosophy of life and published two periodicals for

the same purpose. Not surprisingly, Jacob's views, especially those concerning