Outliers & The Man from Wales

“To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate”.

(The Social System, 1826) From the Foundation Axioms of Owen’s “Society for Promoting National Regeneration”


In statistics, an outlier is simply an observation that is situated a significant distance from the expected range of values.  When you apply the term outlier to an individual, this definition comes alive with expressions such as: maverick, eccentric, nonconformist, and outsider.  We like to belong to a group, a community, an organization, working together in harmony with others for a common cause. Very few would choose to stand apart from the group, to be an outlier.  It is the outliers, however, that make us re-examine prevailing standards and trends, motivating us to set course in a new direction.

Robert Owen was an outlier, a change agent, by words and actions.  Born on May 14, 1771, in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, he became a social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He believed that when people cared about each other it would generate extraordinary outcomes for society

At the young age of 29, Robert was part-owner of a Manchester cotton mill.  While on a visit to Glasgow, he fell in love with Caroline Dale, the daughter of David Dale, proprietor of the New Lanark cotton mills in Scotland.  These mills had been opened in 1785 by David Dale and Sir Richard Arkwright.  After his marriage to Caroline, Robert became manager and part-owner of New Lanark

Robert’s priority was the workers whose livelihoods depended upon employment within his mills.  He enhanced their housing and sanitation, provided medical supervision, and set up a cooperative shop that sold provisions near cost.  His greatest dream was to educate children.  He established the first infant school in Great Britain based on his deeply held belief that improved circumstances would act as a beacon of hope.

“Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men…They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty.”

Robert Owen, (1771-1858) Book of the New Moral World: Sixth Part, 1841

Robert’s life was dedicated to building a fairer society where all could live without fear of hunger or want, secure in the knowledge that their children would be educated and that their efforts would be valued.  Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels paid tribute to Robert, as the man who gave them the basis for their theories. Even in today’s world, Robert Owen’s ideas remain remarkably relevant.

It has been said that when Robert Owen was on his deathbed, a minister asked if he regretted wasting his life on fruitless projects.  His response was simply:

“My life was not useless; I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time.”