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The defeat of William Jennings Bryan’s presidential campaign left his populist, liberal, and radical supports without a common cause or agenda. The Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth (BCC) was one of several radical groups that splintered off from Bryan’s Populist Party. Leaders Norman Wallace Lermond and Ed Pelton of Maine decided that the best way to convert the United States to a socialist system would be to start a network of communes in a sparsely populated state and gain control of the state government through elections. Once it was proved that general prosperity was possible in one location under a socialist system, it was believed that the entire country would soon follow suit. Leaders in the radical community endorsed these plans. Because of its ample natural resources, fair climate, and population sympathetic to liberal causes, Washington was chosen as the site for this experiment. The Equality Colony was founded in September 1897 near the town of Edison in Skagit County. The BCC opened its national headquarters in Edison the following year.
Though some local papers had been friendly toward the colonists, other reports had been less favorable. In order to communicate better with the outside world and with members of the BCC outside of Washington, the group decided to publish Industrial Freedom in Edison. Lermond purchased a double cylinder press in late April 1898. George E. Boomer, a former staff member of the socialist weekly Appeal to Reason, arrived in Edison to work as pressman. Seven thousand copies of the first issue of the Industrial Freedom were printed on May 7, 1898. William McDevitt served as editor-in-chief. Boomer contributed columns under the pseudonym "Uncle Sam," and Bige Eddy of Olympia, Washington, wrote "Musing of a Mossback." Subscriptions were sold by traveling agitator Louis Klamoth and official correspondent William C. B. Randolph. The content of Industrial Freedom included "Colony Notes" (news of events at Equality), but the true aim of the paper was to educate the public and advance the interests of the BCC. The editors borrowed some content from other socialist papers. In June 1899 the post office changed the rate of postage for Industrial Freedom from second to third class, increasing the cost of distribution. At this time the paper changed its name to Freedom until the problem was resolved in April 1900. On March 1, 1901 the paper became a monthly, rather than weekly, publication.
Although, the Equality Colony started strong, it ultimately did not prove viable, and the state of Washington did not become a socialist utopia. As economic conditions in the United States improved, skilled workers were lured away from the colony by the promise of higher wages. By 1903, the Industrial Freedom had ceased publication, and the colony officially disbanded in 1907.
Provided by: Washington State Library; Olympia, WA