Eugenics and Special Love

Oneida Community Children

In Harriet Worden’s February 27, 1869 entry in her journal (Harriet’s Posts ~ 1869), she reported news about “stirpiculture” ~ what John Humphrey Noyes called the eugenics program.

Harriet Worden wrote, “The most notable event of today is no event but simply the astonishing proposal of Mr. Noyes that John Homer Barron & Ann Eliza Van Velzer should have a child.  It was proposed for the purpose of helping Ann Eliza & John Cragin to clear themselves of special love ~ Mr. N. thinks it will be an effectual cure.”

Special love was defined as an exclusive, possessive emotional or sexual relationship that was considered by Noyes to be a source of sin.  Individuals who were unable to avoid special attachments, including with their children, were subjected to formal criticisms sometimes before the entire Community.  If the special love continued, the members were separated.  They would be banned from contact with each other at Oneida, or if that did not “cure” the problem, one of the special lovers or “sticky” parents would be sent to the colony at Wallingford Connecticut, sometimes for years.  Tirzah Miller was exiled to Wallingford in 1864 to end a special love, possibly with Frank Wayland-Smith.  She returned to Oneida in 1868, when it was decided to move production of the Community paper, The Circular, from Wallingford to Oneida.

The three members mentioned by Harriet Worden in her journal ~ Homer Barron, Ann Eliza Van Velzer and John Cragin ~ were members of the “Second Generation.”  They were in their twenties and mid-thirties.  It was this generation that was the focus of much hope as well as concern by Noyes and the elder leaders.  They would be the ones to carry the Community forward.

Ellen Nash & George Miller in the Quadrangle

The Second Generation grew up in the Community, but had not been inspired by the fervor of the religious revivals of the 1830s that influenced so many of their parents and prepared them to accept Noyes’ ideas of creating a “Heaven on Earth” in Oneida, New York.

Many of the young men of this generation were educated outside the Community and were thus exposed to new ideas.  But it was the tendency of the young to desire sexual relationships among their own age group that threatened to undermine to principles of the Community.  The Oneida Community demanded of its members that everyone be included in the sexual life of the Community. Ascending relationships were encouraged, whereby the young would benefit from having sexual relationships with older, more spiritually advanced members.

Noyes’ initiation of the eugenics program was an opportunity for the Community to grow its membership from within.  It was also a way of overcoming emotional attachments between special lovers by substituting another partner to conceive a child for the Community’s purpose not for personal love .  As Noyes told Tirzah Miller:  “What is salvation from sin?  Why, it is being saved from our passions, and amativeness is the king passion.”  And it was amativeness that John Cragin and Ann Eliza could not discipline, so Noyes decided to intervene.

This is the second entry in Harriet Worden’s journal in February referring to a proposal by Noyes to initiate the pairing of couples to produce superior children by the “scientific” selection of parents.  On February 10, 1869, a vote was taken at the evening meeting about who would be the mother of a child with John Lord.  Georgina Sears was voted to be the “perfect” candidate.

The conduct of the eugenics program in the first years seemed rather ad hoc.  Later a formal committee was formed to select the best matches ~ physically, emotionally and spiritually.  But even when the committee was carrying out its responsibilities, John Humphrey Noyes could still “suggest” an inspired pairing for other than scientific purposes.  In 1873, he paired his niece, Tirzah Miller, with Edward Inslee to keep him from leaving the Community.  It was a decision that would backfire on Noyes after Tirzah and Edward fell in love, creating years of emotional drama for the entire Community.

Harriet Worden tells us that Noyes’ proposal caused “Homer Barron some severe trial at first; also Mrs. Barron (Homer’s mother).  Homer is going to have a good spirit about it now.”

Ann Eliza Van Velzer

Ruth Barron was born to Homer Barron and Ann Eliza Van Velzer on June 15, 1870, over a year after Noyes’ proposal.  She was the 48th child born in the Community and the 6th child born during the eugenics program.

Ruth Barron was Ann Eliza Van Velzer’s second Community child.  Ann also gave birth to Wilfred Sears in 1861, fathered by John Sears.  She never married and died at the age of 63 in 1899.

John Holton Cragin

John Cragin may have had one Community child, Katie Howard, but her parentage is unclear.  He had two children with Lily Hobart ~ John Hobart Cragin and Carlotta Cragin (Kinsley).  He married Lily Hobart just before the break-up of the Community.  He died in 1899 at the age of 54.

John Homer Barron

Homer Barron fathered another eugenics child in 1878, Benjamin Barron, with a daughter of John Humphrey Noyes, Constance Bradley.  He struggled with his own special love for Tirzah Miller in the 1870s.  For a year Tirzah and Homer unsuccessfully attempted to conceive a eugenics child.  Homer was highly critical of Tirzah’s love for Edward Inslee.  At the break-up, Homer married Helen Miller, Tirzah’s sister.  He adopted her daughter, Miriam Trowbridge Noyes, another daughter of John Humphrey Noyes.  He and Helen had another daughter, Norma, in 1882.  Homer died in 1924 at the age of 89.

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