Other Notable Deaths


July 28, 2008


Founder of utopian commune

American soil has proved to be fertile ground for utopian communities. Since the days of Brook Farm, they have come and gone - most of them quickly. Twin Oaks, an experimental community near Charlottesville, Va., inspired by the behaviorist ideas of psychologist B.F. Skinner, still survives after nearly 40 years. Katherine Kinkade, one of its founders, died there July 3.

The cause was breast cancer, said her daughter, Josie Kinkade.

Inspired by the ideal society described in Mr. Skinner's book Walden Two, Ms. Kinkade, who was known as Kat, joined seven other fellow believers in 1967 and took over a former tobacco farm to realize her vision of a perfect egalitarian society.

It was not easy. The farm's well ran dry, cows starved over the winter and rammed-earth bricks did not generate the kind of revenue that the founders had hoped for. Pot-smoking hippies who drifted into the commune found themselves at odds with work-ethic missionaries like Ms. Kinkade, whose blunt practicality and executive talent - rare qualities in the counterculture - helped the stumbling colony achieve not just self-sufficiency but something resembling prosperity.

"She was the Hillary Clinton of Twin Oaks," her daughter said.

In 1964, while living in Los Angeles and working in a dead-end secretarial job, she read Walden Two. Mr. Skinner's novel, about people living in an egalitarian society, strikes many readers as bloodless and forbidding, but Ms. Kinkade responded ecstatically. She wrote to the author asking whether such a community existed and whether she could join.

She received no reply, concluded that there was no such community and decided to create one.

Ms. Kinkade found a house in Washington, D.C., whose residents were trying to put Walden Tw o into practice and had been living there for two years when a wealthy devotee of Mr. Skinner lent the residents money to buy a 123-acre tobacco farm.

"They really thought that the rest of the world would see their community and follow its example," Josie Kinkade said. "Today I think Twin Oaks sees itself more as an eco-village, living lightly on the land."

In addition to producing hammocks, an important generator of revenue for the community, Twin Oaks makes foods like tofu in three flavors and vegetarian sausage.

Ms. Kinkade helped found two other communes, East Wind, in Columbia, Mo.; and Acorn, a few miles away from Twin Oaks in Louisa County. Both survive.

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