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Overview

During the 1800s, a surprising 60 to 70 communes sprang up in America. Most were insignificant and soon disbanded, but a few, like the Oneida Community, were successful in sustaining their experiments over a period of years. And those that flourished--often due in large part to the strength of their charismatic leaders and founders--left behind a record of their activities for today's researchers.

The Oneida Community and its founder, John Humphrey Noyes, bequeathed a rich legacy of materials for students in religion, sociology, and American intellectual thought. The books, pamphlets, and serials in this microfilm collection provide information on the philosophies, beliefs, and practices that made Noyes and his community both successful and controversial in their day. Topics include:

 

  • Bible communism
  • scientific propagation
  • Christian perfectionism
  • complex marriage

Founded in 1841 by Noyes, the group began as one of the most revolutionary ventures in communal life during its day. While Oneida reached a population of only 300 during its prime, the community prospered despite legal and religious opposition engendered by its liberal sexual practices. Its successful manufacturing enterprises included making traps, silk thread, and carpet, plus its still-famous silverware. The practices and principles of this community formed the basis for many modern communes.

Divided into two sections, the collection features 60 books and pamphlets including works by Noyes on American socialism and male continence. The serials sections contains publications by the Oneida Community, including The Perfectionist, Circular, and the Daily Journal of Oneida Community.

Students in religious studies can explore the non-conformist doctrines of the group and compare them with other groups of both the 19th and 20th centuries. Sociologists find insights into Noyes's theory behind family structure and can analyze differences between theory and the practical results in a human community. Historians discover valuable information on the social and intellectual climate of the 19th century through these documents.

With the decline of Noyes's health came the decline of the community, and by 1881 it dispersed. Yet, the Oneida Community left behind a permanent record of its ideals and philosophy that continue to have an impact on today's communal experiments in the U.S.

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