The Oneida Community


Transcendentalism is a form of American Romanticism that emerged in the mid-19th century. Transcendentalists believed in living a life based on "reason" which they defined as natural instincts, insights, and emotions, and eschewing "understanding", or the rigid intellect contained by the constructs of society. Because they believed it impossible to succeed in society due to their radical beliefs, many of these men started experimental communes attempting to achieve Transcendentalist utopia. While the Transcendentalists were Noyes' companions in creating utopian communes, he himself was a perfectionist, meaning he believed he could never escape sin completely.

Problems and Goals:

John Humphrey Noyes, founder of Oneida, found it necessary to create the community in order to escape public shunning for his controversial practices. The chief practice of this is the elimination of monogamous and "special" relationships, called complex marriage. In Oneida, everyone was supposed to love everyone else equally, and the holy practices of love and sex would not be confined. Noyes described sex as a holy communion between a woman, a man, and god. His goal was to achieve an economically supported community in which everyone loved equally, and in which more "spiritually advanced" members (typically old men) who hardly ever sinned were able to pass on their wisdom to others to advance the godliness of the whole community.

John Humphrey Noyes, ca. 1850s.

Leaders and Followers:

The sole leader was John Humphrey Noyes, who created the community in 1847. He was succeeded by his son, Theodore Noyes.

His followers were often called Bible communists. The largest population the Community reached was 300.

Oneida Community- Group Number 1
South View of Main Dwelling, 1870.


Because Noyes' ideas were so radical, redefining familial and gender roles, it wasn't easy to convince people to join. However, Similar to a cult leader, Noyes was domineering and charismatic, and was able to dazzle people with Utopian hope and convert them to his ways using moral suasion. As far as achieving his goals inside the community through coercion, Noyes formed a committee of elders who often had to approve sexual meetings and other personal details. For the ones who weren't approved, they were traditionally proposed by the man to the woman through a third party, making sex a community operation. Later in the Community history, Noyes even instituted a system of Stirpiculture, where they chose community members to be selectively bred to create more perfect humans.

Beautiful Genetic Creations as a Result of Stirpiculture, 1887


Although the Community sustained itself for Noyes' lifetime, his son Theodore lacked his charisma and leadership talent, and divisions within the community regarding sexual and cultural practices led to a ban of complex marriage in 1879. Oneida continued as a silverware company until 1915.

My Assessment:

I would describe Oneida as totally and completely Radical due to their polygamous system and their practice of annihilating typical family bonds and raising children as a community. However, Noyes did understand the need for a community to have sound financial support, so their silverware company could be described as economically moderate or conservative.


Foster, Lawrence.Free Love and Feminism: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer, 1981), pp. 165-183Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of the Early American RepublicArticle DOI: 10.2307/3123007Article Stable URL: (September 14, 2014)

Hawley, Victor and Robert S. Fogarty. Special Love/Special Sex: An Oneida Community Diary.Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 1994

John Humphrey Noyes, Ca. 1850s. Digital image. Syracuse University Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Kern, Louis. An ordered love : Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias : the Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. 1981.

Mandelker, Ira. Religion, Society, and Utopia in 19th Century America. University of IllinoisPress, 2003.

Oneida Community- Group no. 1. Digital image. Syracuse University Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Robertson, Constance Noyes. Oneida Community : an Autobiography, 1851-1876. Syracuse,Syracuse University Press. 1981.

South View of Main Dwelling, 1870. Digital image. Syracuse University Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Stirpicults 1887. Digital Image. Tontine 255 Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

wynntsalagi's channel. "What's it worth? Oneida Community Silversmiths Sweet Briar." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. .

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