Henry Olerich (1851-1927), a little-known utopian writer, saw his most famous book, A Cityless & Countryless World, published in 1893. It advocated the redistribution of population into planned communities of about one thousand people each as the solution to many rural and urban problems. During his residence in Omaha, Nebraska, from 1902 to 1927, Olerich wrote other utopian works that illustrate the attitudes and ideas of utopian reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Olerich advocated government ownership and operation of railroads and public utilities, woman’s suffrage, the eight-hour working day, spelling and dress revisions, direct democracy, and vegetarianism. He never sought public office or campaigned for candidates sympathetic to his views, believing that the utopian novel and essay were better vehicles for promoting social change. Shortly before the publication of his Modern Paradise in 1915, Olerich proposed the creation of a utopian colony on a five-thousand-acre tract in eastern Nebraska. Although details of the proposed colony remain obscure, it is unlikely that this social experiment ever progressed much beyond the planning stage.
Learn more about Olerich and his utopian novels and ideas from a Timeline column and an online exhibit on the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website. The Summer 1975 issue of Nebraska History magazine, on sale at the Society’s Landmark Stores, includes an entire article on Olerich’s life and work. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications