History 12 Reading Guide

Oneida:  Practice And Experience

  • Marlyn Klee-Hartzell, "The Oneida Community Family," Communal Societies 16 (1996), 15-22.  (e-reserve)
  • Ellen Wayland-Smith, "The Status and Self-Perception of Women in the Oneida Community," Communal Societies 8 (1988), 18-53.  (e-reserve)

Further reading:

  • Constance Noyes Robertson, Oneida Community:  An Autobiography, 1851-1876 (1970), Ch. 9-10, 265-310.
  • Gayle V. Fischer, "Dressing to Please God:  Pants-Wearing Women in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Religious Communities," Communal Societies 15 (1995), 55-74.


These two readings focus on family life as it was practiced at Oneida, and on women's status and experience in this alternative community. In both articles, the authors compare and contrast Noyes's vision of family and community and the realities of its implementation at Oneida.

  • For women and for men, how did Noyes's theories and doctrines intersect with the experiences of members who tried to live Perfectionism. Where did they experience a close fit between his theories and their practices? What means did members use to reconcile the conflicts between Noyes's vision and their own impulses?
    • What points of similarity and difference do you find between the published accounts of doctrine and practice and the descriptions and reflections in the private letters and journals that Wayland-Smith cites?
  • How do Klee-Hartzell's and Wayland-Smith's interpretations complement—and contradict—each other?
  • What conclusions do each of the authors draw about Noyes as a theorist and as a community leader?
  • What characteristics of Oneida are familiar, within the larger communal society context that we have been developing?  What characteristics are peculiar to this particular community?  What is the significance of these comparisons and contrasts?  Consider the issues of:
    • renunciation
    • status of women
    • hierarchy and leadership
    • relation to the world
  • What mechanisms of commitment ensured the 33-year success of the community?