America’s first experiment in free love

I remember reading about the famous Oneida Community when I was in high school—but boy, it was a lot more far out than we were told. Founded in upstate New York in the 1840s by John Humphrey Noyes, Oneida was a place where “free love” (an expression he coined) would rule, and there would be no possession in sexual relations. In fact, as Mark Richardson tells us, sexual love at Oneida was not free, but tightly managed, with 27 standing committees overseeing the personal lives and relationships of 300 members, and with young girls assigned to be the bedmates of the older men including Noyes.

A couple of highlights from Richardson’s piece:

[W]hen the women were finally allowed to have children, they then started to want to marry for the purposes of security. There is possibly an insight into the nature of women here. When women are young and childless they are possibly more accepting of acting from sexual impulse alone. But when they have young children, the instinct for the security provided by a husband is at its strongest. Women at this point in their life can develop the qualities associated with the “loving wife and mother”.

Perhaps that’s one reason I’m troubled by the advent in Australia of paid maternity schemes. At just the time that a woman might look to her husband for security and develop the qualities in herself that are likely to ground a lifelong marriage, the government steps in to provide security instead.

Of Noyes’s failed effort to replace traditional marriage with a sexual utopia:

Whatever its faults, traditional marriage is more egalitarian than the alternatives (allowing everyone a strong chance to partner, to have a sexual relationship and to bear children); it avoids generational conflict (in which fathers and sons are set against each other in competition for women); it is pro-natalist (as the emphasis is not on keeping all women available for sexual purposes); it provides protection for women from more primitive customs of pairing girls with much older men; and it also forms an independent unit of society that helps to prevent total power over individuals by those governing society.

In a recent blog entry, I said about some contemporary social phenomenon that “Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave.” But really, Jefferson, who died in 1826, has been rolling over in his grave at least since the 1840s.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 23, 2010 05:01 PM | Send

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