Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 April 2022
In 1924, a wealthy New York philanthropist, Dorothy Straight (née Elmhirst), married a Yorkshire-born agricultural economist, Leonard Elmhirst. The First World War had made both of them question the self-oriented, market-driven doctrine of laissez-faire liberalism that underpinned the Western world. ‘I found that the bottom of life had dropped out,’ Leonard Elmhirst wrote, ‘and that the old beliefs could not stand the test’. Both wanted to dedicate themselves to creating a community apart from mainstream society, where a better mode of holistically integrated, democratic living could be pioneered. In 1925 they bought a run-down estate in South Devon, Dartington Hall, and began a social, cultural and education experiment that they hoped would ‘set the pace’ for Britain and the rest of the world. They devoted the rest of their lives to this project, which became one of the best-known and most influential of the many small-scale interwar utopian experiments.