Attempted Utopian Society Oneida Part 2

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

Name of Utopia: ONEIDA

Family/Marriage/Sex: What made Oneida one of the most revolutionary Utopias in history was the Oneidan practice of complex marriage. Complex marriage meant that every male in the community was married to every female, and vice versa. This is not to be confused with the practice of free love, an experiment conducted at a number of Utopian communities, or with Mormonism, where only men were allowed the luxury of several partners. Complex marriage was different for a number of reasons, and Noyes was responsible for all of them.

First, unlike the free love communities, Noyes carefully supervised and controlled the sexual activity of his followers. His supervision went so far, in fact, that the Oneidans actually conducted eugenic experiments, the 1st ever tried on humans.

Noyes developed the philosophy because he felt the monogamous family bred selfishness, and if the experiment in "Bible Communism" was to be a success, monogamy would have to be abolished--hence, the complex marriage. He explained this to his followers by saying that the Second Coming had occurred, in 70 A.D., and that it was no longer necessary for men to live according to the moral laws which govern them in a state of sin, but that they should be free to enjoy the "liberty of the Gospel."

Place of Women: Though Noyes believed women inferior to men, he did feel that they should be spared the agonies of childbirth (possibly because his own wife suffered 4 stillbirths in 6 years), and that birth control should be practiced. To this end he developed the theory of male continence. This meant that male control of ejaculation became a form of worship in the community, making the female's orgasm the primary concern of every sexual encounter.

The older, "more perfect" men introduced virgins into the system of complex marriage at the age of 13. It was believed that these young women might better learn and enjoy sexual relations with the more experienced men; by the same token, young virgin men were introduced into the system by older, more experienced women. The Oneidans felt that this system would also provide a source of sexual partners for the older, perhaps less sexually desirable in the community.

Education and Culture: Children were placed in a laboratory nursery where they could be raised in accordance with Noyes's ideas of Perfectionism. Three men and 15 women cared for them, in a rather traditional manner considering the surroundings. Mothers were permitted to visit their children for only 2 hours a week, and were warned against forming strong attachments.

Why the Experiment Ended: What began as an internal squabble over Noyes's autocratic rule ended with his being charged with statutory rape because of his practice of introducing underage girls into the complex marriage of the community. Noyes was forced to flee to Canada, and without his guiding presence in the community it was only a question of time before the experiment failed. A year after his departure the communistic system was dropped, and the community incorporated itself.

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