Oneida: ‘The Free-Love Utopia’ That Chased Immorality. The Oneida Community was a perfectionist religious communal society founded by John Humphrey Noyes and his followers in 1848 near Oneida, New York. The community believed that Jesus had already returned in AD 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves, and be free of sin and perfect in this world, not just in Heaven (a belief called Perfectionism). The Oneida Community practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), Male sexual continence, complex marriage, and mutual criticism.
There were smaller Noyesian communities in Wallingford, Connecticut, Newark, New Jersey, Putney, and Cambridge, Vermont. The community’s original 87 members grew to 172 by February 1850, 208 by 1852, and 306 by 1878. The branches were closed in 1854 except for the Wallingford branch, which operated until the 1878 Tornado devastated it. The Oneida Community dissolved in 1881, and eventually became the Silverware company Oneida Limited.
Oneida: ‘The Free-Love Utopia’ That Chased Immorality
The Oneida Community set up rules and ideology that makes their system to regulate all the activities in the community. The community had a structure that enables them to achieve their aims. The Community Structure.
Even though the community only reached a maximum population of about 300, it had a complex bureaucracy of 27 standing committees and 48 administrative sections. The manufacturing of silverware, the sole remaining industry, began in 1877, relatively late in the life of the community, and still exists. Secondary industries included the manufacture of leather travel bags, the weaving of palm frond hats, the construction of rustic garden furniture, game traps, and tourism.
Also, all community members were expected to work, each according to his or her abilities. Women tended to do many of the domestic duties. Although more skilled jobs tended to remain with an individual member (the financial manager, for example, held his post throughout the life of the community), community members rotated through the more unskilled jobs, working in the house, the fields, or the various industries. As Oneida thrived, it began to hire outsiders to work in these positions as well. They were a major employer in the area, with approximately 200 employees by 1870.
Complex Marriage System
The Oneida community strongly believed in a system of free love. This was a term which Noyes coined, which was known as complex marriage, where any member was free to have sex with any other who consented. This system forbids Possessiveness and exclusive relationships. They were frowned upon Unlike 20th-century social movements such as the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. The Oneidans did not seek consequence-free sex for pleasure but believed that, because the natural outcome of intercourse was pregnancy, raising children should be a communal responsibility. Women over the age of 40 were to act as sexual “mentors” to adolescent boys because these relationships had a minimal chance of conceiving.
Furthermore, these women became religious role models for young men. Likewise, older men often introduced young women to sex. Noyes often used his own judgment in determining the partnerships that would form, and he would often encourage relationships between the non-devout and the devout in the community, in the hope that the attitudes and behaviors of the devout would influence the attitudes of the non-devout.
According to Wikipedia, In 1993 the archives of the community were made available to scholars for the first time. Contained within the archives was the journal of Tirzah Miller Noyes’ niece, who wrote extensively about her romantic and sexual relations with other members of Oneida.
Mutual Criticism – Oneida: ‘The Free-Love Utopia’ That Chased Immorality
Every member of the community was subject to criticism by the committee or the community as a whole, during a general meeting. The goal was to eliminate undesirable character traits. Various contemporary sources contend that Noyes himself was the subject of criticism, although less often and of probably less severe criticism than the rest of the community. Charles Nordhoff said he had witnessed the criticism of a member he referred to as “Charles”, writing the following account of the incident:
Charles sat speechless, looking before him; but as the accusations multiplied, his face grew paler, and drops of perspiration began to stand on his forehead. The remarks I have reported took up about half an hour; and now, each one in the circle having spoken, Mr. Noyes summed up. He said that Charles had some serious faults; that he had watched him with some care; and that he thought the young man was earnestly trying to cure himself. He spoke in general praise of his ability, his good character, and of certain temptations he had resisted in the course of his life.
He thought he saw signs that Charles was making a real and earnest attempt to conquer his faults; and as one evidence of this, he remarked that Charles had lately come to him to consult him upon a difficult case in which he had had a severe struggle, but had in the end succeeded in doing right. “In the course of what we call sericulture”, said Noyes, “Charles, as you know, is in the situation of one who is by and by to become a father. Under these circumstances, he has fallen under the too common temptation of selfish love, and a desire to wait upon and cultivate an exclusive intimacy with the woman who was to bear a child through him.
This is an insidious temptation, very apt to attack people under such circumstances; but it must nevertheless be struggled against.” Charles, he went on to say, had come to him for advice in this case, and he (Noyes) had at first refused to tell him anything, but had asked him what he thought he ought to do; that after some conversation, Charles had determined, and he agreed with him, that he ought to isolate himself entirely from the woman and let another man take his place at her side; and this Charles had accordingly done, with a most praiseworthy spirit of self-sacrifice. Charles had indeed still further taken up his cross, as he had noticed with pleasure, by going to sleep with the smaller children, to take charge of them during the night. Taking all this in view, he thought Charles was in a fair way to become a better man and had manifested a sincere desire to improve and to rid himself of all selfish faults.
To control reproduction within the Oneida community, a system of male continence or coitus reservatus was enacted by John Humprey Noyes decided that sexual intercourse served two distinct purposes. In Male Continence, Noyes argues that the method simply “proposes the subordination of the flesh to the spirit, teaching men to seek principally the elevated spiritual pleasures of sexual connection”. The primary purpose of male continence was social satisfaction, “to allow the sexes to communicate and express affection for one another”. The second purpose was procreation. Of around two hundred adults using male continence as birth control, there were twelve unplanned.
They loved this method of male continence over other methods of birth control because they found it to be natural, healthy, and favorable for the development of intimate relationships. Women found increased sexual satisfaction in the practice, and Oneida is regarded as highly unusual in the value they placed on women’s sexual satisfaction. If a male failed he faced public disapproval or private rejection.
It is unclear whether the practice of male continence led to significant problems. Sociologist Lawrence Foster sees hints in Noyes’ letters indicating that masturbation and anti-social withdrawal from community life may have been issues. Oneida’s practice of male continence did not lead to impotence
Stirpiculture was a proto-eugenics program of selectively controlled reproduction within the Community devised by Noyes and implemented in 1869.
The complex system free love systems practiced at Oneida further acknowledged female status. Through the complex marriage arrangement, women and men had equal freedom in sexual expression and commitment. Indeed, sexual practices at Oneida accepted female sexuality. A woman’s right to satisfying sexual experiences was recognized, and women were encouraged to have orgasms. However, a woman’s right of refusing a sexual overture was limited depending on the status of the man who made the advance.
Ellen Wayland-Smith, author of “The Status and Self-Perception of Women in the Oneida Community”, said that men and women had roughly equal status in the community. She points out that while both sexes were ultimately subject to Noyes’ vision and will, women did not suffer any undue oppression. Interactions with society
The community experienced freedom from wider society. The previously mentioned unorthodox marital, sexual, and religious practices caused them to face some criticism. However, between the community’s beginning in the 1850s until the 1870s, their interactions with wider society were mostly favorable. These are the best-known instances of conflict and peace resolution.