Oneida Society

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The Oneida Society (Oneida Community) was a utopian commune founded by John H. Noyes in 1848 near Oneida, New York. The community followed the beliefs of Noyes including which he called Perfectionism. This incorporated Communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), Complex Marriage, Male Continence, Mutual Criticism and Ascending Fellowship. There were initially some forty-five members to the community. The community grew slowly at first(72 members by February of 1850, 205 by February of 1851, and 306 members by 1878) but had a complex bureaucracy of twenty-one committees and forty-eight administration departments. There were smaller communities in Wallingford, Newark, Putney, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Manlius, New York for a short time.


The Community

Males and females had equality and equal voice in the governance of the community. A community nursery provided care for infants and children so that both parents could work. Females adopted a style of dress, believed to have been copied from the Iroquois, consisting in a short skirt over trousers (bloomers). This allowed them much greater freedom of movement than contemporary women's styles.

Even though the community reached a maximum population of about three hundred, it had twenty-seven standing committees and forty-eight administrative sections.

An account of the Oneida Society is found in Sarah Vowell's book, Assassination Vacation. It focuses on Charles Guiteau's involvement in the community. Guiteau later assassinated President James Garfield.

Complex Marriage

In theory, every male was married to every female. In practice, this meant that most adults had sexual access to a partner. Partners were not to have an exclusive relationship. Older widows, often post-menopausal, were encouraged to introduce teenage males to sex, providing both with legitimate partners that rarely resulted in pregnancies. Furthermore, these women became religious role models for the young men. Noyes often used his own judgment in determining the partnerships which would form and would often encourage relationships between the weak and the devout in the community, in the hopes that the attitudes and behaviors of the devout would influence the weak.

Male Continence

Males were encouraged to avoid orgasms during intercourse with their partners, as a sign of grace. This meant that many sexual acts did not cause impregnation of the female partner. This practice was based on the idea that "wasting" a man's semen was bad, and that difficult pregnancies for women should be avoided. The Oneida Community had a low fecundity rate. Compare with Tantric sex.

Mutual Criticism

Every member of the community was subject to criticism by the many committees or the community as a whole. The goal was to eliminate bad character traits. Only Noyes himself was exempt from this criticism because he considered himself to be on a higher moral level than the rest of the members of the community.

Ascending Fellowship

The more senior members, male and female, had the right of first marriage to virgins of the opposite sex, both for spiritual and sexual indoctrination. Subordinate males and females had little choice but to accept the marital arrangements.


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Stirpiculture was not in practice at the founding of the Oneida Community, but was introduced in 1867. It introduced a system where prospective parents had to be approved by the Stirpiculture Committee. They had to be "morally perfect", so as to create even more perfect children. It was at this time that individual rooms were introduced to the Oneida Community complex.

The Decline

The community lasted until John Humphrey Noyes attempted to pass on the community to his son, Theodore Noyes. This move was unsuccessful because Theodore Noyes was not a Christian and lacked his father's talent for leadership. In addition, their neighbors objected to various features of the community, such as the marital arrangements. Within the commune, there was a debate about when children should be initiated into sexual relations, and by whom. Noyes (who was very old at the time) thought he should be the person to intitiate sexual intercourse with girls as young as fourteen. The objections of parents was another reason for the disintegration of the community. Complex Marriage was abandoned in 1879 following external pressures and the community soon after broke apart, some of the members reorganizing themselves as a joint-stock company. Marital partners regularized their status with the partners they were cohabiting with at the time of the re-organization. The joint-stock corporation is still in existence as of 2005 and is a major producer of cutlery under the brand name Oneida Limited.

In September 2004 Oneida Limited announced that it would cease all manufacturing operations in the beginning of 2005 (ending a 124 year tradition), but continue as a marketer for products made overseas. The company has slowly been selling off its manufacturing facilities.

From 1929 Betty Crocker coupons have been redeemable for some patterns of Oneida flatware.


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