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.


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

The Sin of Eve

Harriet Worden

On December 2, 1868, Harriot Worden wrote in her daily journal that Tirzah Miller submitted herself to criticism at the evening meeting.  Tirzah confessed that while she had “freed herself from special love long since, she herself was a tempter to others.”  Harriot sees something of herself in Tirzah.  She remarks in her journal, “Oh, my God, give me strength to see, conquer it and hate it. It is this that separates me from righteousness.”

We know from a close reading of Tirzah’s diary that she and Harriet Worden would later become rivals for the love of two men, Edward Inslee and Henry Hunter.  But at this moment, at least from Harriet’s perspective, they were sisters in sin.  Harriet’s explanation, and certainly Noyes’ belief, was that women were the tempters of men, enticing them to sin by desiring exclusive sexual relations.

Harriet traces this flawed character to the original woman, Eve.  It is hard to know whether Harriet held this same view of her sex in later life, as she continually challenged the patronizing attitude of Noyes and the elders of the Community towards the women’s ability to assume leadership roles.

She would later write sarcastically, “If it were right to envy, I should envy the men.  They are so wise and strong, and so confident in their wisdom and strength.  They form such great plans, and are able to talk about them in such a large, disinterested way, that their opinions pass for what they are worth each time.  But woman is such a creature pf feeling she can scarcely give her views entirely free from personalities, and hence her judgment is received doubtfully.”

Tirzah Miller

As for the cause of Tirzah’s confession, she is silent in her own diary for all of November and most of December 1868.  She did write about visits in the spring and summer by George Noyes, her uncle.  He confessed to her that they could not be lovers any longer “until I don’t trouble him in the least.”  Tirzah wrote that Georeg was “fascinated by me, so he was unable to see my faults.”  Tirzah will later have an unauthorized child with her uncle.  Tirzah may have been referring to her relationship with George Noyes or with a tendency on her part to enjoy being a much sought after sexual partner in the Community.  In the following years, she would write extensively about her temptress ways, seeking guidance from John Humphrey Noyes to rid herself of the sins of Eve, with varying success.