Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Liberal

I've mentioned in previous posts a couple of the communities founded in the Ozarks by Alcander Longley on the principle of practical communism during the late 1800s, and I've also mentioned at least a couple of towns that were founded as mineral water resorts during the same period. The late 1800s were a time of great social and religious experimentation in the United States, and I'm fascinated by the communities that sprang up across the country based on one utopian principle or another. Liberal, founded in 1880 by George H. Walser in Barton County, Mo., was one such town.
People nowadays don't give the name "Liberal" a second thought, but the town was given its name for a reason. Walser, a Union Army veteran, wanted his town to be a haven for freethinkers and other skeptics, where they would not be bothered by Christian neighbors. The idea seemed to work for awhile. Walser started a school at Liberal based on free thought, and he even named the town's streets after intellectuals like Thomas Paine. It wasn't long, though, before Christians, spiritualists, advocates of free love, and others who were devoted to something besides liberalism started to infiltrate the group. For a few years, there was a lot of friction between "the saints and the sinners," and for awhile in the 1890s spiritualism seemed to dominate in Liberal. Over time, though, the Christians gained the upper hand, and by the time Walser died in 1910, the town boasted several churches and was little different from any other small town. Today, about the only vestiges of liberalism in Liberal are the street signs with interesting names like Darwin and Ingersoll.

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