The Oneida Community
Oneida was one of the most successful utopian communes in history. For approximately 30 years, they lived in a gigantic group marriage (over 200 people at the end) with shared property. They called themselves Perfectionists and they proceeded to substitute for the small unit of home and family and individual possessions, the larger unit of group-family and group-family life.
Avoiding the "back to the land" fantasies which were so prevalent in 1800's (and 1960's!) communes, and which typically resulted in city people trying to be farmers and failing miserably, they founded businesses including a spoon factory which evolved (after their breakup) into the Oneida Silversmiths atware company.
The Oneida Community was founded by John Humphrey Noyes in upstate New York in 1848. Noyes believed that man was able to live without sin in his life if he were in the perfect environment. He set out to create this utopia near the Oneida Creek in the state of New York.
The Oneida Community never become very large. In January of 1849 the community had 87 members; 172 members by February of 1850, and by February of 1851 the number rose to approximately 205 members. The records show that in 1875 there were 298 members, and by 1878, the year of the breakup, there were 306 members.
John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists
THE ONEIDA COMMUNITY by Randall Hillebrand
Oneida Ltd: A proud tradition since 1880
Doctrines, Main Beliefs, Practices
ECONOMIC COMMUNISM - From their community's birth right up to it's death the members rejected all forms of personal wealth and private property.
EQUALITY OF THE SEXES - The Oneida Community believed in equality of the sexes.
SEPARATION - The members did separate into a community, but their main separation was to be a sexual one.
COMPLEX MARRIAGE - This is where every man and every woman is married to each other. They could engage in sexual intercourse, but could not be attached to each other. Noyes was the first to use the term "free love" and strongly encouraged the practice. The idea was to engage in sexual relations with as many different partners as possible in order to keep two members from falling in love. Monogamous marriage was harmful because it excluded others from sharing in connubial affection. Monogamous marriage was abolished, and children were raised communally from their second year until age 12. Excessive love between children and their biological parents was discourages because it took way from the group feeling. The children were also taught a trade so that the community could end up self-dependent.
MALE CONTINENCE - This was a form of birth control where during and after sexual intercourse the man could not ejaculate. The couple would engage in sexual activities without the male ever ejaculating, either during intercourse or after withdrawal. Men were encouraged to use coitus reservatus unless the woman they were having sex with was post menopausal. By permitting men to achieve ejaculation only with post menopausal women the Perfectionists not only were employing a novel level of birth control, but were also using an effective method of providing older women with sexual partners.
ASCENDING FELLOWSHIP - This is where the young virgins in the community were brought into the practice of Complex Marriage. The older godly members who were in a special group and were called Central Members would pick a virgin to be spiritually responsible for. This took place when the young people were about fourteen years old. The female members performing the ceremony were usually post-menopausal. This was to assure that pregnancy would not occur during the time which young men would learn male continence. This practice was instilled to prevent younger members from creating special love and to broaden their interactions within the group.
STIRPICULTURE - If a child was desired-and allowed- a Eugenics program was used so that only the best children would be bred. These concepts of creating a perfect world had not been expounded since Plato's Republic. Stripiculture is derived from the principle of eugenics, attempts to improve hereditary qualities through selective breeding. Noyes encouraged the most spiritually ascended followers to mate with each other in order to produce the most spiritual offspring. The mating of certain individuals tended to create special love between members and caused tension among members.
MUTUAL CRITICISM - In Mutual Criticism, each member of the community that was being reprimanded was taken in front of either a committee or sometimes the whole community to be criticized for their action. Meetings would be held in which all members, including the spiritual ascendants could be criticized by anyone in the community. The criticisms were usually directed toward the "member's bad traits (those thoughts or acts that detracted from family unity), and an individual could be put through a shameful, humiliating experience. Only Noyes himself was not subjected to mutual criticism because he believed a group should not criticize its leader.
CONFESSION - The members of the community, according to Noyes, were sinless after conversion, so no confession would be needed.
REGENERATION - That Christ's death was not for the sins of man, but was the first blow to Satan. But that by believing in the death of Christ, one was released from sin, because Christ destroyed the central cause of sin. By believing then, one is regenerated (Whitworth 101-102).
REVELATION - Noyes never said that he received special revelation, though he did have some twisted interpretations. Noyes once wrote an article in "The Berean" and emphasized the credibility of scripture and denounced those who denied the validity and relevance of scripture.
MILLENNIAL KINGDOM - That the Millennial Kingdom had been introduced in A.D. 70 at which time Noyes thought Christ had made His Second Coming (Hudson 186).
SOURCES AND LINKS:
This piece – the second half of an article written by Randall Hillebrand – gives an excellent overview of the Oneida Community, from its history and inception to the eventual breakup. The article also details the group's major beliefs and principles.
Research at Syracuse University
Various original texts and photos are available here:
The Oneida Bibliography, maintained by Syracuse University, is an extensive bibliographical collection of Oneida Community materials. It has links and information to various publications ranging from books, pamphlets, and even articles by John Humphrey Noyes himself. It is a great starting point for finding the wealth of information available on the Community. The Foreward for this site, written by Nelson Blake, gives a good history of the movement.
Religious experience of John Humphrey Noyes : founder of the Oneida Community
Oneida Community Photos
This site, maintained at Howard University, is similar to the above bibliography. A short, basic introduction is followed by a typical listing of print sources relating to the Community. Also contains some interesting links to other University collections, etc.
This is the official site of Oneida, Limited, the corporation that was formed after the breakup of the community. Although this site has no real historical significance, it is a reminder of what the Oneida Community has become in today's modern age.
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