Students from the seminar on Religious Communal Societies in United States History recently visited the Oneida Community Mansion House, giving new depth to their study of the 19th century religious group.
The Oneida Community was a communalist religious group that originated in Vermont during the 1830s under the leadership of John Humphrey Noyes, a charismatic minister. In 1848 the group settled in Oneida, NY, and started constructing a communal compound. The Mansion House standing today was built in 1862 after the burgeoning community’s membership outgrew earlier dwellings. Modeled after an Italian villa, the sprawling building is beautiful with a rich history and is a national historic landmark.
In addition to its communalism, the Oneida Community was most well-known for practicing a system of regulated non-exclusive sexual relationships known as “complex marriage” as well as a eugenics scheme referred to as “stirpiculture.”
Students in the Communal Societies seminar studied the Oneida Community during the weeks leading up to the visit; reading and discussing the writings of Noyes and other community members. During the visit students toured the Mansion House and the cemetery. Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of Special Collections and Archives in Burke Library, who co-teaches the course with Professor Douglas Ambrose commented, “the chance to be in the space that the Perfectionists called home for nearly 40 years provides students with a visual context for the pioneering social experiment that was the Oneida Community.”
Highlights of the tour included the “Big Hall,” a theater-like meeting room where Community members met almost every night, and the library—which Goodwillie noted was, “one of the largest from a nineteenth century community still in-situ,” and as such provided fascinating insights into the intellectual curiosity and engagement of the Community.
Molly Jessup of the Mansion House staff provided a thorough and informative tour for the group.