Tirzah’s 1869 Diary

Tirzah Miller In Her Room

Tirzah’s back.

She started writing again in her 1869 diary on March 6, after an absence of two months (Tirzah’s Posts ~ 1869)

Tirzah returned to the Oneida Community in the spring of 1868 to work on The Circular (the Community’s periodical) in the rooms that we now occupy in the Tontine.  She edited it for a short time.  Her latest diary entry begins like many from this period in her life ~ “Last night I slept with J.H.N., and he talked with me for more than an hour.”  J.H.N. is her uncle, John Humphrey Noyes.  She would often record in her diary about their sexual encounters, not with lurid details, but recounting what Noyes had to say to her, to teach her as she navigated the complexities of life in the Oneida Community.

John Humphry Noyes 1860s

In her entry for March 6, 1869, Noyes was agitated about German and Boston writers who were infecting literature with “German atheism,” unlike the English authors who had an “honest intention to entertain people.”  Noyes cited Shakespeare as an example.  Noyes was determined that Tirzah and his sister, Harriet Skinner, “read magazines, and find out all (they) could about the leading novel literature, with analysis and criticism in view.”  He wanted Tirzah and Harriet to become literary critics and attack “these Boston and German writers (who) try to influence their readers with their atheism and hatred of revivals”.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

He predicted that Tirzah would become a better critic than Margaret Fuller, the American journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate who was friends with one of the “Boston writers” Ralph Waldo Emerson, and edited his journal, The Dial.  Emerson was a severe critic of utopian experiments like the Oneida Community.  He once wrote ~ “What a fertility of projects for the salvation of the world!  Not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.  One apostle thought all men should go to farming and another that no man should buy or sell; another that the mischief was in his diet, that we eat and drink damnation.  Others attacked the system of agriculture, the use of animal manure in farming, and the tyranny of man over brute nature.  Others attacked the institution of marriage as the fountain of social evils.”  It was to combat the influence of such writers as Emerson that Noyes instructed Tirzah to become a literary critic.

But for Tirzah to become Noyes’ agent in the literary wars he imagined instigating, she would have to put off becoming a mother in the eugenics program.  Tirzah’s response was typical of her loyalty to her belief in Noyes ~ “I told him I was in no hurry to have a child, and had had a kind of impression that I should not for two years.  He said he thought that was probable.”

Charlotte Noyes Miller

Despite what she predicted, Tirzah would have a child the following year, December 13, 1870.  She would give birth to George Wallingford Noyes.  The father was another uncle, George Washington Noyes, John’s younger brother.  The pregnancy caused some problems for Tirzah within the Community, since it was not sanctioned.  Her mother, Charlotte Noyes Miller, would write to her brother ~ “Dear John, I am tempted to criticize and blame George about the affair with Tirzah.  When I first heard of it, I asked, ‘Does John like it?’  I saw that he had not consulted with you or really with anyone.  I have felt bad that in such a serious move he did not consult my wishes and feelings.”

George would refer to her pregnancy as “free stirpiculture” and write to Tirzah ~ “I will say that I hold myself amenable to any censure from Mr. Noyes or others at O.C.  I desire nothing but the fullest light.  I told mother Noyes about it some weeks ago.  Please show this, if you think best, to Mr. Noyes.  I would write to him the whole story if he wishes it.”

George Washington Noyes had had a major influence on Tirzah while she lived in the Wallingford Connecticut community between 1864-68.  It was under his guidance that Tirzah began to work on the Community’s periodical, and as she wrote upon returning to Oneida in 1868 ~ “I owe to my acquaintance with Uncle George during the past three years a thousand blessings.  From him I learned that it is truly the glory of a woman to love and be receptive to good men; he taught me that pride is despicable; he led me to the knowledge and love of God.”

George Washington Noyes

George Washington Noyes would not live to see the birth of his son, George.  He died from malaria on July 23, 1870 at the age of 47, five months before the birth.

Tirzah’s diary is an intimate portrait of life in the Oneida Community from the perspective of a woman who was sexually active and was at the center of the major events in the history of the Community.  It is a window into the price that individuals, especially women paid to live up to the principles of her uncle, John Humphrey Noyes.

For Tirzah, it came down to a struggle between desire and duty, as she said later in her diary ~ “I sometimes wish I could be less under the scrutiny of Mr. Noyes’s almost omniscient eye, but when, after trying to hide myself, he reaches out for me, and hunts me up, my heart goes toward him with that passionate devotion, inspired not only by his being the one man on earth whom I absolutely trust, but also by the fact that he is the only father I have known since childhood.”

She would write in her diary almost continually up to the Break-up of the Community in 1880.

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3 Comments

  1. March 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Earlier in the colony’s history they had a burning of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther- a book they consider immoral and dangerous for young people to read.
    Robert Fogarty

  2. Eliot Smith Orton said,

    May 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I adore these insights into Community life. Thank you for including them and making them available to descendants, especially those like me who are hooked on history in general and especially Community history.

    • Gina Lee Ramirez said,

      March 15, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      Yes and I feel the same way. I love reading about my families history, there is so much to learn.


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