Robert Dale Owen

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Robert Dale Owen
Robert Dale Owen from Who-When-What Book, 1900
Born (1801-11-07)November 7, 1801
Died June 24, 1877(1877-06-24) (aged 75)
Spouse(s) Mary Jane Robinson
Children Florence
Julian Dale
Parent(s) Robert Owen and Caroline Dale
Daguerreotype of Robert Dale Owen c. 1840s

Robert Dale Owen (November 7, 1801 – June 24, 1877) was a Scottish-born American social reformer who was a longtime exponent in the United States of the socialist doctrines of his father, Robert Owen, as well as a politician in the Democratic Party. He served in Congress, where he successfully pushed through the Smithsonian Institution bill and served on the first Board of Regents.


Robert Dale Owen was married to Mary Jane Robinson, together they had six children. Two of which died at an early age.[1]


Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Owen emigrated to the United States in 1825, and helped his father create the community of New Harmony, Indiana. After the community dissolved, Owen returned briefly to Europe, then moved to New York City and became the editor of the Free Enquirer, a socialistic and anti-Christian weekly, which he ran with Frances Wright from 1828 to 1832.[2] Owen's Moral Physiology, published in 1830 or 1831, was the first book to advocate birth control in the United States (specifically, coitus interruptus). Along with Fanny Wright, he was an intellectual leader of the Working Men's Party. In contrast to many other Democrats of the era, Owen and Wright were opposed to slavery, though their artisan radicalism distanced them from the leading abolitionists of the time. (Lott, 129)

He returned 1833 to New Harmony, Indiana, and served in the Indiana House of Representatives twice (1835–1838; 1851–1853). There he distinguished himself by securing appropriations for the public school system.[2] After two unsuccessful campaigns, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1842, and served from 1843 to 1847. While in Washington, he drafted the bill for the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. He was on the first Board of Regents and chaired the Building Committee, which oversaw the construction of the Smithsonian Institution Building. Owen's committee selected James Renwick, Jr. as architect, Gilbert Cameron as the contractor, and the Seneca Quarry for its distinct red sandstone. In 1849, he published Hints on Public Architecture to argue the case for public buildings such as the Smithsonian Castle.[3]

Owen was elected a member of the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1850, and was instrumental in securing to widows and married women control of their property, and the adoption of a common free school system. He later succeeded in passing a state law giving greater freedom in divorce.

In 1853, Franklin Pierce appointed Owen as United States minister to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at Naples.[4] After leaving that post in 1858, Owen retired from political life, but remained an active intellectual.

During the Civil War, he served in the Ordnance Commission and the Freedmen's Bureau.[2] He wrote an open letter to President Lincoln on September 7, 1862, urging him to end slavery on moral grounds. A few days later the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the Cabinet. In March 1865, he submitted a radical initial draft of the Fourteenth Amendment that was eventually modified into the final draft.

He was a strong believer in Spiritualism and was the author of two well-known books on the subject: Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859) and The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next (1872).

Owen died at his summer home in Lake George, New York, and was buried in New Harmony, Indiana. The town of Dale, Indiana was named after him. In 1911, the women of Indiana dedicated a memorial to Robert Dale Owen[5] on the lawn of the Indiana Statehouse.[6]


Discussion on the existence of God, and the authenticity of the Bible
Author Origen Bacheler, Robert Dale Owen
Published New York: A.J. Matsell
Publication date
Original text
Discussion on the existence of God, and the authenticity of the Bible at HathiTrust
  • 1833: The authenticity of the Bible ;

    For a century and a half, then, after Jesus' death, we have no means whatever of substantiating even the existence of the Gospels, as now bound up in the New Testament. There is a perfect blank of 140 years; and a most serious one it is.[7]

See also[edit]


  • Moral Physiology; or, A Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question (1830/1)
  • Labor: Its History and its Prospects (1848)
  • The Policy of Emancipation (1863)
  • The Wrong of Slavery (1864)
  • Beyond the Breakers (1870)
  • Threading My Way (1874)


  1. ^ "The Family History of Robert Owen". Indiana University. 1923. The children of Robert Dale Owen who reached maturity are Florence, Julian Dale, Ernest, and Rosamond, the latter being the only one of these now alive. 
  2. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Owen, Robert Dale". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. 
  3. ^ Peck, Garrett (2013). The Smithsonian Castle and the Seneca Quarry. The History Press. pp. 43–53. 
  4. ^ "Robert Dale Owen". U. S. Diplomatic History. U. S. Department of State. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  5. ^ Burford, William (1920). Yearbook of the State of Indiana for the Year 1919. Indiana: Legislative Bureau Division of Accounting and Statistics and The State Board of Accounts. 
  6. ^ "The Indiana Statehouse: A Self-Guided Tour" (pdf). Indiana Department of Administration. Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  7. ^ Bacheler, Origen; Owen, Robert Dale (1833). The authenticity of the Bible. A.J. Matsell. p. 247. For a century and a half, then, after Jesus' death, we have no means whatever of substantiating even the existence of the Gospels, as now bound up in the New Testament. There is a perfect blank of 140 years; and a most serious one it is. (Image of p. 247 at Google Books) 


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George H. Proffit
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Indiana's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Elisha Embree
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Edward Joy Morris
United States Ambassador (as Chargé d'Affaires and Minister Resident) to the Two Sicilies
Succeeded by
Joseph Ripley Chandler