The Oneida Community

"The Perfect Society"

By Nina Dingel


During the 1790's, the Second Great Awakening swept through the United States. Its message that anyone could be saved through faith led to the formation of new denominations and converted many people. Like the First Great Awakening, it was brought about by feelings that importance of traditions and religion were eroding.

John Humphrey Noyes, born in 1811, became involved in this movement. He became a minister firmly devoted to the idea of Perfectionism. Perfectionism is defined as "the belief that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable." He believed that perfection could be accomplished by an inner sense of salvation. Noyes and his followers believed heaven could be created on Earth if they could duplicate Heaven through living holy lives. This led to the establishment of the Oneida Community in Oneida, New York, where the members were spiritually, economically, and materialistically communist.

Important Leaders

The founder of the Oneida Community was John Humphrey Noyes. In 1831, he became one of many affected by the Second Great Awakening in the United States. His religious conversion led him to a deep belief in Perfectionism, the belief that all members of the community had a chance to become a perfect being without sin. He believed that God demanded this perfection, which was attainable through an inner sense of salvation.

He and his family founded a community based on their beliefs in Oneida, New York.

Major Beliefs and Practices

The main and most infamous practice of the Oneida Community was complex marriage. This idea was based on Christ's teaching that there would be no marriage in Heaven. Consequently, the Oneida Community believed that all men were married to all women. No two people could be exclusively together. This was extremely controversial in society outside of the community.

Members also partook in male continence, which was a type of birth control. Male continence involved "sexual congress without the man ever ejaculating, either during intercourse or after withdrawal." Noyes' need to control pregnancy in the community led to this practice. This way, he could choose the "most qualified" members to parent children. Another influential factor in the implementation of this practice was Noyes' wife's experience. She endured five difficult childbirths, four of which resulted in the deaths of the children. Noyes believed that unwanted pregnancies were a waste and wanted to prevent anymore future hardships concerning childbirths.

Another teaching practiced was called ascending fellowship. Ascending fellowship's purpose was to introduce the virgins in the community into the complex marriage arrangement. It also worked to discourage exclusive affections.

Mutual Criticism was the fourth main practice. Under this practice, a committee or the whole community would evaluate (usually negatively) members; this stemmed from the idea that through criticizing each other, members were able to better and perfect themselves.

Oneida Community