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book reviews277 He presents all this and more in an informative, carefully researched, and clearly written narrative. Merton L. Duxon Ohio State University Oneida Community: An Autobiography, 1851-1876. Edited, with an Introduction and Prefaces, by Constance Noyes Robertson. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1970. Pp. xviii, 364. $11.50.) The publication of this volume is opportune, coming as it does at a time when experiments in communal living are in a state of resurgence and there is lively interest in such subjects as women's liberation, day-care centers, unisex, and sensitivity training. The experience of the Oneida Community, which tiirived in central New York during the third quarter of the nineteenth century under the leadership of John Humphrey Noyes, is relevant to these and other current social phenomena, indicating that many ostensibly avant-garde ideas are in fact deeply rooted in the American past. Constance Noyes Robertson, a lineal descendant of the remarkable reformer who founded the Oneida venture, has assembled a variety of selections from primary sources connected with its development and arranged them under such headings as "How They Lived and Worked," "What They Thought," "How They Played," and "Complex Marriage," with brief comments preceding each section. The book makes no new contribution to existing knowledge, for most of the unprinted materials pertaining to the early history of the experiment were destroyed after the death of George Wallingford Noyes in 1941 and die journals and other publications drawn upon here are reasonably well known to specialists in the evolution of American utopianism . Nevertheless, it is good to have this judiciously chosen and well organized compilation, particularly because little has been written on the subject since the appearance in 1935 of Robert Allerton Parker's A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community. The doctrines underlying the Oneida project and the results to which they led can be readily followed under the format which Mrs. Robertson has chosen. Taking quite literally the perfectionist ideas that were widespread in American religion at the time of Charles Grandison Finney , Noyes held that it was possible to attain sinlessness in this world and claimed on February 24, 1834 (the anniversary of which was celebrated in the Oneida Community as the "High Tide of the Spirit") that he had actually reached such a state. Furthermore, he believed that the sanctified Christian had passed through a form of deat├Či which enabled him to take part without guilt in certain relationships forbidden to those who had not progressed spiritually to this point. Combining these tenets with a concept of "Bible Communism," involving the unselfish sharing of earthly possessions and rewards, he developed a social and economic system whose adherents practiced, among other things, plural marriage. Sexual relations under this system were of two types: the 278civil war history merely amative, wherein the avoidance of a male climax resulted in no progeny, and the propagative, entered into for the purpose of deliberate procreation. Both types were closely regulated by the Community, especially the latter, for Noyes advocated the systematic improvement of the human species through "Stirpiculture," a form of selective breeding. Although Oneidans insisted that they did not endorse "free love" or promiscuous sex, their ideas and practices aroused periodic attempts at interference by outsiders. Partly for this reason, and also because of dissension from within, the Community gave up its most distinctive customs by die late 1870's and became a joint-stock company which still exists today as a well-known manufacturer of silverplate. The notoriety of the sexual and eugenic experiments carried on at Oneida has tended partially to obscure other aspects of its corporate life, and it is one of the merits of Mrs. Robertson's book that she includes a great deal of information on a wide range of facets which permit the reader to place plural marriage and Stirpiculture in their proper perspective . Noyes and his followers preached female equality and believed that their system, which allowed women a veto in the matter of physical relationships, actually gave members of that sex greater dignity and freedom than monogamous marriage as normally practiced. Children were taken from the custody of their natural parents at an early age...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 277-279
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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