Homer Lane and the Little Commonwealth

home laneHomer Lane and the Little Commonwealth. A. S. Neill described him as ‘the most influential factor’ in his life. We look briefly at his life and work.

Homer Lane (1875-1925) was Superintendent of the Little Commonwealth, a co-educational community in Dorset run for children and young people ranging from a few months to 19 years. Those over 13 years old were there because they were categorize as delinquent. An American by birth, he had early experience as an organiser of the Ford Republic in Detroit Wills. At the Little Commonwealth from 1913 to 1918 (at Evershot, Dorset) he pioneered what later we came to know as ‘group therapy’ and ‘shared responsibility’. His educational approach involved ‘the path of freedom instead of imposed authority, of self-expression instead of a pouring-in of knowledge, of evoking and exploiting the child’s natural sense of wonder and curiosity instead of a repetitious hammering home of dull facts’ (Wills 1964: 20). Unfortunately, his work in Dorset came to a rather abrupt end after two of the young female ‘citizens’ claimed that Lane ‘had immoral relations with them’ (Wills 1964: 163). As well as having an interest in offenders and expressive forms of education, Lane also worked as a psychotherapist (this also brought him into legal trouble).

Read an extract from a lecture by Homer Lane  on the Little Commonwealth

Further reading and references

Lane, H. (1928) Talks to Parents and Teachers, London: George Allen and Unwin.

Wills, W. D. (1964) Homer Lane. A biography, London: George Allen and Unwin.

© Mark K. Smith 1999