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Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community

Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community
Author: Spencer Klaw
ISBN 13: 9780140239300
ISBN 10: 140239308
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 1994-10-01
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
List Price: $18.00

Spencer Klaw's Without Sin chronicles the rise and fall of nineteenth-century America's most successful experiment in Utopian living: the Oneida Community in upstate New York. Founded in 1848 by a small band of Christian Perfectionists under the leadership of John Humphrey Noyes, the Community flourished for more than thirty years. Before it was finally destroyed by a fierce internal dispute - as well as external attacks by a legion of self-appointed "guardians of public morals" - Oneida could boast some three hundred practicing members who, following the tenets of Noyes's "Bible Communism," collectively owned and operated a number of profitable factories and mills and drew thousands of curious visitors to see how they lived. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of life at Oneida was the highly unorthodox sexual regimen prescribed by its founder, who believed that in a community of true Christians, God did not intend love between men and women to be confined to the narrow channels of conventional matrimony. In the Oneidan system of "complex marriage," every woman in the Community was considered to be married to every man, resulting in a virtually constant exchange of sexual partners. Oneidan men were required to practice a special technique of birth control, freeing the women from the burden of bearing unwanted children. Child-rearing, like most work at Oneida, was shared by the Community's men and women. According to Noyes's view, work, like sex, was intended to be joyous: Oneidans were encouraged to change jobs often to prevent boredom, and whenever possible hard and monotonous work was transformed into a game or social occasion. Working for more than a decade from the letters and diaries - many previously unpublished - of Oneida's own members, Spencer Klaw has rescued a largely forgotten chapter in American history, reminding us of one of the most successful attempts ever made to build a society in which men and women could live together harmoniously sharing

Publishers Weekly

From 1848 to 1880 a unique experiment in cooperative living took place in Oneida, N.Y. This was a utopian socialistic society founded by John Humphrey Noyes, a follower of Christian Perfectionism, a belief in moral perfection and in separation from the world of sinners. Drawing on documents left by some of the original 200-plus members, Klaw ( The Great American Medicine Show ) provides an informative account of the commune. In his striving for the perfection of life without sin, Noyes imposed ``complex marriage'' at Oneida, a system that provided men and women with multiple sex partners and prohibited monogamy because ``it impeded the free flow of Christian love.'' Conception of children was forbidden unless Noyes approved of the genetic attributes of the prospective parents. Members pooled their labor and had cooperative ownership of the animal trap and silverware business that supported them. After Noyes fled to Canada in 1879 in fear of prosecution for unorthodox sex practices, residents gradually adopted more traditional social arrangements. (Sept.)