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The Oneida Community, founded near Syracuse, New York in 1848, advocated a set of social and religious practices that were collectively referred to as "Bible Communism." In addition to mandatory adherence to rules regarding exclusion of private property and communal responsibility, members of the Community were expected to abide by principles that directly affected their personal lives: the practices of complex marriage, mutual criticism and communal child-rearing. Although many outside the community perceived these practices as immoral and unacceptable for women, those within the community found the new practices personally liberating.
To discuss the relationship between men and women at the Oneida Community, as well as their relationship to community founder John Humphrey Noyes; to explore whether or not the community's redefinition of gender roles afforded women a degree of autonomy.
Read Tirzah Miller's diary and discuss the relationship between men and women at Oneida, as well as their relationship to John Humphrey Noyes. How did Tirzah feel about John Humphrey Noyes? What was the "ideal" relationship between lovers at Oneida? How did Noyes control reproduction? Did Tirzah believe she had control of her own fate -- romantic, sexual, or reproductive? What can the diary tell us about relationships between men and women at the Community?
Have students read a letter from Harriet Worden to John H. Noyes, and a letter from Jesse Catherine Kinsley to her daughter. What did the two women think about the position of women in the Oneida Community? Do you see any of Tirzah Miller's feelings reflected in either of these pieces? Can you speculate about the reasons that might have led to the Community's dissolution in 1880?
3-5 page writing assignment:
Have students read "A Mother's Confession," "Mother's Assistants," and "The Perplexed Housekeeper." Ask students to address the following questions: What critiques of conventional society do these authors offer? How did practices at the Oneida Community aim to address these concerns?
For Further Exploration
To explore further the Oneida Community's social practices, see the lesson about the practice of birth control in the Community.
A fascinating discussion relative to the issue of patriarchy and its relationship to the Community's reproductive regulation can be found in Louis J. Kern's book, An Ordered Love, chapters 12 and 13. The book also offers a comparative analysis of two other utopian societies: the Shakers and the Mormons.