The Oneida Community: A Utopian Commune That Worked

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My interest in communal living is long-standing, and was perhaps pricked long ago in the mid-80s when I read a book now unjustly out of print, the improbably named Blossom Elfman’s The Strawberry Fields of Heaven.

Here’s a brief review.

Strawberry Fields was about a family that attempted to integrate itself into the Oneida Community, a utopian commune founded in Oneida, NY in 1848. The people of the Oneida Community believed in communal property, “complex marriage” (group marriage and group parenting) and “male continence,” a mix of birth control, tantric sex and male sexual self-control explained here.

The women of the Oneida Society were some of the first white American women to adopt the custom of wearing pants, a style borrowed from the Iroquois.

The Oneida experiment was one of the most lasting of its kind, existing for more than 30 years and growing from 87 members at the start to more than 300 at its peak, with some children born and raised to adulthood within the society.

Ever heard of Oneida silverware? The cutlery firm, still in existence, was a money-making arm of the commune, one that continued as a limited partnership after the community dissolved.

Read more about Oneida here.

Note to all persons following my attempts at cohousing in Asheville — I personally am imaging something more along the lines of Sunday group dinners and stuff like that. Tantric sex is probably out as a group practice.

3 responses to “The Oneida Community: A Utopian Commune That Worked

  1. I had no idea my silverware was connected to an old utopian commune. Weird.

  2. Blossom Elfman! Oh, what a wonderful name!

    But, gosh, I’ll never look at my cutlery the same way again. This is fascinating reading. Their commune certainly had some radical and worthwhile ideas, but I still can’t quite grasp their idea (in the article you linked to) of “male continence” leading to spiritual enlightenment. And I’ve got to say, after reading about their leader, some aspects of their community sounded more like a cult than a commune. But, anyway, a great Friday Fact.

  3. I have quite a lot about the history of Oneida, both the community and the silver company in a new page at my blog: http://silverseason.wordpress.com/american-silverplate/oneida-community-collectibles/

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