Source, Story: History
: Teaching U.S. History in the Archives

A Home at 88 Main Street: 1970s Counterculture in Massachusetts

88 Main Street

In the mid-1970s, the Brotherhood of the Spirit was one of the largest communes in the eastern United States. The origins of the commune can be traced to a core group of young people who congregated at the home of Beth Hapgood at 88 Main Street in Northfield, Massachusetts. Hapgood later recalled that, in the late 1960s, “as my own children began to move outward into their own lives, more and more students, drop-outs, and many, many others appeared at my office or home door.”

By 1968, the property at 88 Main was too much for Hapgood to manage. In the meantime, the Brotherhood's membership had exploded. The commune needed more space to house its members. On the understanding that she and her children would be allowed to remain in the house temporarily, Hapgood deeded 88 Main Street to the Brotherhood. But the Brotherhood's members did not honor the verbal agreement. By late November, Hapgood had been run out off the property by commune members who descended “like a swarm of locusts.”

Beth Hapgood donated her copious papers to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2005. This collection of memoir, oral history, photographs, and newspaper articles are drawn from the Beth Hapgood Collection, and from other archival materials at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that document the commune. These videos, oral histories, photographs and newspaper articles present the early history of the Brotherhood of the Spirit from two perspectives: that of the commune's members, and that of Beth Hapgood. Together, they illustrate the exuberance and destructiveness of 1970s counter culture.

Finding aid for the Beth Hapgood Papers

Lesson plan (pdf)

Brotherhood of the Spirit

Meditation at Hapgood’ s home at 88 Main St in 1969. Hapgood is pictured sitting behind the group at the table 1969 digital object
Hapgood stands with three members of the Brotherhood in 1969 1969 digital object
This article from an unidentified newspaper reports on Hapgood's (then married to Bob Backman) gift of 88 Main Street to the Brotherhood in November 1970 digital object
This fifteen-minute documentary about the Brotherhood of the Spirit was produced at UMass Amherst in the early 1970s. It provides a largely laudable picture of life at the commune
This article appeared in the commune's self-published magazine, Free Spirit Press. The magazine's cover describes the Brotherhood of the Spirit as “the most successful commune in the United States.” digital object
This photograph of commune members was taken in December 1970, at the Brotherhood's property in Warwick, Massachusetts 1970 digital object
In 1989, Hapgood was interviewed by Robin Paris. The audio and transcript excerpts from this oral history include a description of Hapgoods' life in the 1950s at 88 Main Street. 1989 digital object
Hapgood writes most candidly about the experience of leaving 88 Main in this excerpt from her history of the house, 88 Main Street: Crossing the Threshold. digital object