This Week in the Oneida Community ~ February 7-13, 1869

Mansion House Big Hall 1875

Harriet Worden’s journal for 1869 is a remarkable window into a critical time in the history of the Oneida Community.  We have been posting daily entries from her journal in 1869 corresponding to the same date in 2011.  You can read these accounts of daily life in the Community by searching the pages section of the blog for Harriet Worden’s Journal ~ Harriet’s Posts 1869.

The past week, February 7-13, 1869, as reported in Harriet’s journal was full of events that give us a sense of the vitality of the Community and reveal decisions that were made in this period that would have a major impact on the viability of the Oneida Community.  Here are few snapshots of this particular week in the winter of 1869, but we urge you to read the entries themselves.

Frank Wayland Smith

On February 7, Harriet reported on what she called a “pleasant entertainment.”  At 7PM every night the members of the Oneida Community would gather in the Big Hall in the Mansion Hall.  They rarely missed this opportunity to gather together as a family.  This evening featured a violin performance by Frank Wayland-Smith of Paganini’s “Carnival of Venice.”  Frank Wayland-Smith is one of our cast of characters in the OC Media project.  The audience loved it so much that he played it again.  Here is what Frank Wayland-Smith played, and you can hear why it was such a favorite.  The Carnival of Venice.

The music was followed by the recitation of an amusing elocution exercise called “The Frenchman and the Rats” performed by James B. Herrick, the former minister and future husband Tirzah Miller after the Break-up of the Community.  Harriet wrote that he entered into it “like a true Frenchman, and amused us all exceedingly.”  Another member, Henry W. Burnham,  sang “Man the Life Boat.”   But it was the next performance, introduced by George Cragin,  that was the hit of the evening.  We won’t spoil it for you except to say that the performance sounded to us like a 19th Century mix of Samuel Beckett, vaudeville, strip tease and Cirque du Soleil.

John Humphrey Noyes

February 8, Harriet Worden recorded a talk by the Community’s leader, John Humphrey Noyes, about the responsibility of America’s manufacturers to encourage the propagation of moral children to counter the threat of being overrun by the Irish.  The skit the night before featuring two Irish workers that were working on the railroad line passing through Community property must have been fresh in the Community’s minds.  And, as a major manufacturer of animal traps in the U.S., Noyes must have thought of the eugenics program that he was just launching as an example to other manufacturers.

February 10, the subject of the nightly meeting was the selective breeding of superior children.  But it was not just the subject of the a lecture, but the selection of the parents was put to a vote of all assembled!

February 11, Harriet reported that happy news that Elizabeth Mallory, one of the Community women that was participating in the eugenics program, was thought to be pregnant.  We know from a letter written by Tirzah Miller later in the month to her uncle, George Washington Noyes, that the father was thought to be Erastus Hamilton, a senior leader of the Community.

Tirzah Miller 1873

Tirzah wrote to her uncle of her great relief.  She said that Erastus Hamilton signified his desire to John Humphrey Noyes several years ago to have a child by me, so there has been a sort of engagement of that kind between us of somewhat long standing.  I had felt so delighted with the idea of holding ourselves completely at the disposal of God and the Community about such matters,  that I took my release from that engagement as a great and unexpected gift from God.

Now I am free for anything Mr. Noyes wants.  He has asked me several times of late “who I am going to have for the father of my child — who I want,”&c.  But I tell him, I don’t expect to choose for myself.” The answer to Noyes’ question would be a constant dilemma not only for Tirzah and Noyes, but for the entire Community in the years ahead.

February 12’s journal entry was full of news of reports by Noyes’ son, Theodore, on doubts he had about Elizabeth Mallory’s pregnancy (he proved correct) and his recent trip to buy new equipment  “for furthering the silk trade” for the Community, as well as a report on a lecture by James Herrick on Darwinism.

Theodore Noyes

Harriet also reported on Noyes’ chronic throat pain, which would be one of the reasons he would withdraw from direct leadership of the Community years later in favor of his son Theodore.  It was a decision that would create a deep divide in the Community and serve as a major cause of the Break-up.

February 13 Harriet reported this eventful week ending on a sunny day that “spoiled the sledding.”

The evening meeting saw some of the children engaged in mutual criticism, including Harriet Worden’s six-year old son, Ormond.

These were just some of the events and personalities recorded by Harriet in her remarkable journal for a week in February 1869.

OC Children 1866

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