Oneida Community

A 19th-century utopian community known for its radical practices, including complex marriage and communal child-rearing.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Perfectionist
Founder: John Humphrey Noyes
Founded: 1848
Ended: 1881
Location: Oneida, New York, United States
Other Names: Oneida Perfectionists, Oneida Community of Perfectionists

The Oneida Community, also referred to as the Perfectionists or Bible Communists, was a utopian religious group that emerged from a Society of Inquiry established by John Humphrey Noyes and his followers in Putney, Vermont, in 1841. This society evolved into a fully socialized community, aiming to live as one family, share all property, work, and love, thus creating a model of perfectionism on Earth. Noyes, after a religious conversion in 1831, left his law studies for theological education but was later denied ordination due to his unorthodox views, particularly on perfectionism and the belief that Christ’s second coming had already occurred.

One of the most distinctive and controversial aspects of the Oneida Community was its practice of “complex marriage,” where all community members were considered married to each other, rejecting monogamy and the exclusive attachment between a man and a woman. This system allowed any member to have consensual sexual relations with any other member. To control population growth and manage parenthood, the community practiced a form of birth control known as “male continence,” which involved sexual intercourse without ejaculation. The community also had a unique approach to child-rearing, where children were raised communally rather than by their biological parents.

The Oneida Community was also advanced in its economic ventures. Initially struggling with farming and logging, the community’s fortunes changed with the introduction of a steel trap invented by a new member. The manufacture and sale of these traps, along with other industrial enterprises such as silverware and silk embroidery, allowed the community to thrive economically.

Over time, the community faced internal challenges, particularly regarding its sexual practices and leadership. In 1879, facing increasing external pressure and controversy, notably from a campaign led by Professor John Mears and the imminent arrest of Noyes for statutory rape charges, Noyes fled to Canada. Following his departure, the community abandoned complex marriage and reorganized into a joint-stock company, Oneida Community, Ltd., one of the world’s largest designers and producers of tableware and cutlery​​​​​​, marking the end of the communal living experiment.

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