History 12 Reading Guide

John Humphrey Noyes And Oneida

  • Charles Nordhoff, "The Oneida and Wallingford Perfectionists," American Utopias, 259-301.
  • Lawrence Foster, "Free Love and Community:  John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 253-278.


  • John Humphrey Noyes, "The Oneida Community" (1848), from John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms (1870), in The Annals of America, vol. 7, 403-409.  (e-reserve)


  • In what ways does the Oneida community seem "familiar"? With which communities does it share similar aspects? To what extent was this an era phenomenon? To what extent was this a consequence of a charismatic religious leader who was also a theorist? What commitment mechanisms held the community together?
  • The community abandoned its practice of complex marriage in 1879, five years after Nordhoff visited, and it abandoned communism in 1881, seven years after his visit. Did he suspect any of these future developments in 1874?
  • How did Foster and Nordhoff present the Oneida system of complex marriage in the larger context of their accounts of the community? Why? What cross (like the Shaker's cross of celibacy) did the Perfectionists bear?
  • Compare Nordhoff's account of the Oneida community with his previous accounts: What kinds of opinions and assessments did he offer of the Oneida community? Why? What impressed him? What did he respect? What surprised him? What concerned him? How did he present issues of gender?