History of Utopian Founder John Humphrey Noyes Part 2

About utopian founder John Humphrey Noyes, history and biography of the creator of the utopia the Oneida Community.





The Oneida Community, a marriage of 300 people, was located on 40 acres of burned-over land in central New York. The group lived communally, sharing everything.

Oneida salesmen went out into the world selling canned fruit and vegetables, straw hats, mop sticks, animal traps, and the silverware for which they became famous. When they returned from the road, they were given a spiritual debriefing, complete with Turkish bath. Those who stayed home worked together. Sometimes they would gather in a group on the lawn and sew traveling bags to be sold, while one of their number read aloud to them.

It was the custom among them for the older women to teach the young men male continence, since by doing so, they didn't risk pregnancy if the men lost control. Virgin girls, some as young as 10, were introduced to sex by older men as "first husbands," a role played more often than not by Noyes himself.

Exclusive attachments were taboo; in a large ledger, a committee kept track of who was sleeping with whom. All had the right to refuse intercourse. One recruit, who wouldn't take no for an answer, was thrown out a window into a snowdrift.

In 1869 Noyes introduced a eugenics program, which he called "stirpiculture," from strip, the Latin word for "stem" or "stock." Certain genetically well-endowed men were selected to sire children. Noyes was father to 9 of the 58 "strips" born in the next decade. (Victoria Woodhull, when she ran for president of the U.S. a second time, in 1872, advocated stirpiculture.)

Children lived in the Children's House, where they were taught to share everything. (Once the little girls became too possessive of their dolls and were forced to throw their favorites into a stove.)

"Krinopathy" groups, much like modern-day encounter groups, were held to inform members of their failings. "I was metaphorically stood on my head and allowed to drain until all the self righteousness had dripped out of me," one member reported, after a krinopathy session.

Eventually the community ran into both internal and external difficulties. At Noyes's suggestion, they dissolved their complex marriage. After that, the "we-spirit" dissolved also, to the point where one of them said it was difficult to borrow a hammer.

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