Attempted Utopian Society Oneida Part 1

About the attempted utopian society Oneida founded by John Humphrey Noyes, history, population, economic and social structure.

Name of Utopia: ONEIDA

Founder: John Humphrey Noyes (1811-1886). Noyes was part of a movement called Perfectionism which he explained by comparing it with 2 of the great issues of the day, slavery and temperance: "As the doctrine of temperance is total abstinence from alcoholic drinks, and the doctrine of antislavery is immediate abolition of human bondage, so the doctrine of Perfectionism is immediate and total cessation from sin." He believed the most effective means to achieve this cessation from sin was through communal, communistic living.

Where and When: In 1835, Noyes began an Adult Bible School in Putney, Vt., where, as he described it, "the school advanced from a community of faith, to a community of property, to a community of households, to a community of affections." By late 1847, Noyes's New England neighbors were sufficiently scandalized by the "community of affections" to cause an investigation to be launched. Charges of adultery were brought against Noyes and some of his followers, who jumped bail and fled to Oneida, N.Y., where in 1848 they began their communal experiment in earnest. They remained there until 1879, when the experiment ended.

Political and Social Structure: Noyes's followers believed him to be "the permanent medium of the spirit of Christ" and as such he enjoyed dictatorial power in Oneida. According to Noyes's interpretation of the New Testament the church of the 1st century practiced communism, and he felt that if people were to achieve perfection they would again have to live in a communist community. As a result, members of the community owned nothing privately; everything was shared communally.

The community's activities were organized into 48 departments, which were supervised by 21 committees, all of which Noyes controlled. One of the community's more interesting social functions, and central features, was the practice of holding criticism sessions. Usually presided over by Noyes, these sessions were meant to check abuses in the practice of complex marriage.

Property and Distribution of Goods: All property and goods were commonly owned, and shared. In fact, one house, called the Mansion House, served as the main living quarters for Oneida members. The structure was 60' long, 35' wide, 3 stories high, contained a habitable garret, and 3 large basement rooms. The 1st floor held the kitchen and dining room, the 2nd an all-purpose room, and the remainder of the house was divided into small bedrooms and sitting rooms.

The community was self-supporting, largely because one of its members had invented an animal trap, considered the finest of its kind at that time, and gave the proceeds to the community. This freed Oneida from the economic hardships that many other communal experiments faced, and permitted it the luxury of pursuing its religious goals.

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