Community Children

Stirpicults 1887

While we were completing our proposal to the NEH requesting funding for the production of the Oneida Community Digital Media Project, we came across the charming photo above.

It was taken in the late 1880s of a group of young men and women that were born as a result of the Oneida Community’s eugenics program, which John Humphrey Noyes called “Stirpiculture” ~ the only large-scale experiment in selected human breeding ever attempted in the United States.

Anthony Wonderley, the curator of the Oneida Community Mansion House, provided us with the photo and identified the individuals in it.

Seated (left to right): Holton Noyes, Gertrude Noyes, John H. Noyes II, Josephine Kinsley, Irene Newhouse, George Wallingford Noyes

Standing: Althea Reeve, Rutherford Towner, Eleanor Kellogg, Richard Wayland-Smith, Corinna (Ackley) Kinsley, Pierrepont Noyes, Burton Dunn

These remarkable young people were part of the third generation of the Oneida Community.  58 children were born during the  eugenics program that Noyes began in 1869, and ended when he fled for Canada in 1879 , driven out by both the threat of arrest for adultery and the internal conflict within the Community, in part brought on by Noyes’ imposition of the Stirpiculture program.

John Humphrey Noyes was the father of 5 of the young people pictured above:  John H. Noyes II, Pierrepont Noyes, Holton Noyes, Gertrude Noyes and Irene Newhouse.

His brother,  George Washington Noyes, fathered two: Richard Wayland-Smith and George Wallingford Noyes.

John Humphrey Noyes’ sons, Theodore and Victor father two: Rutherford Towner and Corinna (Ackley) Kinsley, respectively.

9 out of the 13 are from the Noyes’ blood line. The names don’t always reflect the paternal identity, since at the Break-up of the Community in 1881, many children were adopted and assumed their adopted father’s name.

Three couples would later marry in the 1890s: Pierrepont Noyes and his cousin, Corinna (Ackley) Kinsley; George Wallingford Noyes and his cousin, Irene Newhouse; and Holton Noyes and Josephine Kinsley (no relations).

What is also fascinating about this photograph is that it is a portrait of the future.  Here are many of the leaders that saved the joint stock company that emerged from the Oneida Community ~ Oneida Community Limited, later renamed, Oneida Ltd.

Pierrepont "Pip" Noyes

In 1904, Pierrepont Noyes, known as Pip when he was a little boy growing up in the Mansion House, called on his generation to rescue the Company that was being driven into bankruptcy by its leadership comprised of Community members, so hopelessly lost in the new business environment of the 20th Century that they regularly consulted with the spirit of John Humphrey Noyes who died in 1886.

Many in the group photograph above responded to Pip’s summons and eventually became the leaders of what became the world’s largest manufacturer of silverware or flatware:  Pierrepont lead the company for 20 years.  George W. Noyes retired as a VP in 1920 to write a history of the Community.  John H. Noyes II became the Secretary of the Company, and Dr. Burton Dunn became the Director of Advertising, pioneering the use of images of women in advertising.

Onieda Community Limited Board 1907

Look for the young faces from the 1887 photo in the formal portrait of the Oneida Community Limited in 1907 shown here.

The history of the silverware company is a story of the attempt by the grown children of the Community, the Stirpicults, to create a new “heaven on earth” through the operations of the company that emerged from their ancestors’ labor ~ Oneida Ltd,  in a new city of their creation ~ Sherrill, NY.

And the next chapter in our media project.


And so winds up 1868! Come on New Year!!!

With these words ~  “And so winds up 1868!  Come on New Year!!!” ~ Harriet Worden concluded her 1868 Journal, and we log the final entry for 1868 in Harriet’s Posts ~ 1868 in sync with 2010.  Tomorrow we will post the start of Harriet’s posts for 1869.

It has been an interesting daily ritual, reading Harriet’s entries on the corresponding day in 1868.  For instance, comparing the weather they were having in 1868 to ours in 2010; they had more snow.  We have enjoyed following the daily comings and goings of Community members as they moved from apartment to apartment, job to job, shifting from living in the Mansion House to the satellite Community at Willow Place, a mile a way.  And in the case of poor Uncle Horace (Burt) who wandered off from the Community one day, Harriet reported, “Mr. Burt had a letter from Uncle Horace this evening. It was dated at Schenectady. Said he left without purse or script – without two coats & two pairs of shoes. Whither bound or what his plans are not plain. He is far from being in his right mind.”

Harriet’s accounts of the nightly meetings and entertainments provided a window into the creative, resourceful and often amusing ways and lives of Community members.  They gave lectures on Entomology, Chemistry, Babylon, Egypt, The Greeks and Persians, and the history of Roman times and Constantinople, and a course of lectures for the children on the “Providence of God.”

Harriet Worden with Guitar

They had “scandalous” dances that showed, for some, too much of a “woman’s bottom,” and an amazing  variety of musical performances  and dramatic interpretations, including promenades, skits mimicking “a goodly number of Oneida Community personages,” and even a “practical illustration of Shaker life.”   A mock-funeral for their bag business ended this way ~ making fun of the size of their Oneida Community handbook, and celebrating with a surprise magic act, their new project – Stirpiculture ~ selecting parents to give birth to the next generation of Oneida Community children.  Harriet wrote,

“Then followed a little scene in which Mr. Kelly as an agent offers the “handbook” of two thousand pages to his customers.  He goes out and in comes John Lord & George Allen; each carrying a large leather bag & to all appearances very heavy – and upon setting them down out comes, what do you think – two children, Harold & Temple!  They each exclaimed, “Hurrah for Scientific Propagation!”  and the curtain fell.”

These were just some of the informative and entertaining performances the Community presented at their regular 7PM meetings.

With their habit of keeping records of everything, the last days of the year were devoted to taking inventory.  Harriet reported that John Humphrey Noyes requested on December 8 that the Community “take an inventory of the labor of each individual during past year.”  During the last days of December, Community members took stock of what they had labored at and what they had achieved.  On the final evening meeting of the year, Theodore Noyes read the inventory.  Unfortunately, we do not have that report, but the Oneida Community archives at Syracuse University contain various inventories of their possessions, food stocks, business income and expenses, itemized costs for sustaining each member at Oneida, Wallingford, and Willow Place, and a record of each Community member, listing their name, age, height, weight, birth place and date,  the age and date when they joined, and how much property they brought into the Community.  The Oneida Community considered themselves to be living under scientific principles, and to do so they needed data.

And so Vicki and I are taking an inventory of our labor for the past year.  We began the year in Montreal, living under the shadow of the great Basilica, L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal; me working on completing the animated documentary on the explorations of Samuel de Champlain – Dead Reckoning ~ Champlain in America, and Vicki keeping her American intellectual property clients happy from Canada.  In January, we decided to investigate living in the Mansion House and producing a media project on the Oneida Community.  In early April, we moved back to Cumberland Head on Lake Champlain as I began work on the Cirque du Soleil PBS special, Flowers in the Desert. Within weeks of returning to the US, we visited the Mansion House and fell in love with our future home, Tontine 255.  Since the end of June, we have been living in the Mansion House, in an apartment furnished with furniture from throughout the great house and dishes and silverware from Oneida Ltd.  And except for three months when I was up to my eye balls with work producing Flowers, we have been consumed with the lives of the three hundred or so religious pioneers in the 19th Century.  We have made many wonderful new 21st Century friends here among the people who work for or live in the Mansion House.  Vicki has been exploring the cooking and baking philosophy of the Oneida Community described so well by Harriet Skinner. And early next year, she will be publishing a new version of this wonderful glimpse into the food produced and consumed in the Oneida Community.

Oneida Community Web Doc

January 12th is the deadline for our proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities for support for the Oneida Community Media Project.  We didn’t think we would make this deadline due to the amount of time taken up with the Cirque project, but it looks like we will make the deadline!  I have nearly completed the proposal requesting support for an innovative interactive media project that will include: a documentary broadcast on public television; the same film streamed on the internet with interactive features available to allow a viewer to access additional historical information, context, analysis and commentary by our scholars; and an interactive web documentary that will allow the viewer to discover multiple narratives, historical information, tour the Mansion House in a virtual environment, trace the history of the Community through an interactive timeline and map, view Mansion House exhibits online, and discuss ideas with our panel of scholars.

And so winds up 2010!  Come on New Year!!!

Merry Christmas From The Mansion House

Winter South Tower

Beginning of the Children’s Hour

Children's Hour

On this day in 1868, Harriet Worden recorded the origins of the custom of including the children in the evening meetings in the Oneida Community.

You can read her post from December 19, 1868, by going to Harriet’s Posts – 1868 in the index of the pages, to the right of the main blog post.  We update each day Harriet’s posts from her journal for the day in 1868 corresponding to our own date.

The children were raised communally in the Oneida Community.  They lived  first in a separate house (The Nursery),  and then in 1869, in the entire south wing of the Mansion House, known as the Children’s House.

Children's House

With the initiation of the eugenics program in 1868 (the only large scale attempt at selected breeding of human beings in US history), the Oneida Community expected to produce a large brood of superior children.  In fact, 58 children were born during the eugenics experiment.

As a rule, the children were excluded from the Community’s evening meetings.  But on this day in December 1868, John Humphrey Noyes changed that policy.  Here is what Harriet Worden had to say:

Father Noyes has made some remarks today about making a complete home. And his proposal is to bring all our children over to this house every evening at 7 o’clock, and letting them soak in the family spirit (the great Community heart) for an hour. He says he shall always be present and the whole family can have a chance to see the children. The parents to mix in with the rest, but must not step in between the children and the Community.

Noyes usually did not attend the evening meetings. Due to his chronic throat problems, he preferred to hold court in the Upper Sitting Room during the day and to speak softly to a small gathering about his ideas for revitalizing the Community spirit.  His words were always noted and reported in the evening meetings, which usually prompted a Community discussion.

Upper Sitting Room

As Harriet Worden reported,  he promised to attend the evening meetings when the children were present.  But he  cautioned the parents of the children to delight in the presence of the children, but not to interfere with their relationship with everyone in the Community.

In upcoming days in Harriet’s journal, she will describe many appearances and performances by the children and the delight by all members in the presence of the children of the Community meetings.  Many of these events took place not in the Big Hall where the  7PM meetings took place, but in the Upper Sitting Room where Noyes presided, below his bedroom in the North Tower.

Fruits of Fall

Last night I made poached pears with chocolate sauce and  though the dessert was delicious I have to agree with Harriet Skinner that “it is a poor pear that can be improved by any cooking.”

It is not surprising that in Oneida Community Cooking Harriet lists no recipes for pears, but pays great attention to apples as in:  Apple Pudding. ~  Pare and quarter apples enough for two layers on the bottom of your pudding dish – which we will suppose to be a yellow nappy (a round, shallow cooking or serving dish with a flat bottom and sloping sides) – the bottom about the size of a breakfast plate.  The apples should be sour and juicy, and the quarters should be nicely packed in, one by one.  Add a table-spoonful of water, half a cup of sugar and a little piece of butter; a little salt; spice to your taste.  Make a paste exactly like what you make for strawberry shortcake, spread it on the apples and bake.  When done, cut around the crust and turn the pudding over, apple upward, on to a plate.  Eat with wine sauce, or with sugar and cream.  We prefer the latter.  When baked the apples should be perfectly soft, but unbroken and adhering to the crust.  Do not spread the crust too thick; half an inch is thick enough.  The crust is sometimes shortened with chopped suet instead of butter.

As it was then…

Mansion House Winter 2010

In today’s post from Harriet Worden, written December 9, 1868, she began as she did every day to talk about the day’s weather, which now that we live here we have come to appreciate how an important topic it is.  She wrote:

The Snow

“Such a day! Not cold, but snowing and blowing the whole time. The whole surface of the ground covered with more than two feet of snow and drifts six feet high and more, in every direction. The snow is soft and feathery and it is delightful to tumble into it. Some again eat it like candy. The men go to take their accustomed plunge and the girls bundle up and try wading in the snow, and we heard of an instance where two females plunged into a snow bank in a state of nudity.”

The photo I took yesterday captures Harriet’s description of the snow as “soft and feathery”, and it does look delicious to eat.  Now I wonder if we shall see any braves souls who will drive to Willow Place for a quick plunge or dive into a snow bank “in a state of nudity”?  We’ll be watching.

Community Song

Oneida Community in the early 1860s

Tony Wonderley, the excellent curator of the Oneida Community Mansion House, put a CD in my mail box here at the Mansion House.  On it was a recording of The Braes o’ Balquihidder, a Scottish song  written by Robert Tannahill (17441810). The reason for the early Christmas gift is that this is the tune that the Oneida Community’ song is based on and Tony wanted me to hear it.  It is quite lovely. It is wonderful to imagine the Community singing the Community Song to this tune in the Big Hall.

It is very probable that this song was the original melody for Wild Mountain Thyme.  “The Braes o’ Balquihidder” appeared twice in R.A. Smith’s Scottish Minstrel (18211824) – Vol I, p. 49 and Vol. IV, p. 89.  The latter air is a modification of the first and is called “The Three Carles o’ Buchanan.”

Irish traditional singer Elizabeth Cronin sang this song, too, but the tune was quite different. In The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin (Daubhi O Croinin, pub. 1999), the notes say “the song was composed  by the Scottish poet Robert Tannahill and set to music by R.A. Smith.” This might be the first version of Smith’s tune.

Balquihidder is pronounced bal’-wither.  The village of Balquidder lies in central Scotland and is mainly known for being the burial place of Rob Roy.  To this day the entire village consists of a cemetery and church ruins, a community center, a B&B, a shop or two and some absolutely breathtaking scenery.

Here is the recording of The Braes o’ Balquihidder …. Braes o’ Balquhidder

Here is the recording of the song Wild Mountain Thyme sung by The Byrds in the 1960s.  The melody is clearly based on the The Braes o’ Balquihidder ….  Wild Mountain Thyme

Here are the lyrics that the Oneida Community wrote to the melody of The Braes o’ Balquihidder ….

Community Song

Let us go, brothers, go

To the Eden of heart-love,

Where the fruits of life grow,

And no death e’er can part love;

Where the pure currents flow

From all gushing hearts together,

And the wedding of the Lamb

Is the feast of joy forever.

Let us go, brothers, go!


We will build us a dome

On our beautiful plantation,

And we’ all have one home,

And one family relation;

We’ll battle with the wiles

Of the dark world of Mammon,

And return with it’s spoils

To the home of our dear ones.

Let us go, brothers, go!


When the rude winds of wrath

Idly rave round our dwelling,

And the slanderer’s breath

Like a simoon is swelling,

Then so merrily we’ll sing

As the storm blusters o’er us,

Til the very heavens ring

With our hearts joyful chorus.

Let us go, brothers, go!


Now love’s sunshine begun,

And the spirit-flowers are blooming;

And the feeling that we’re one

All our hearts is perfuming;

Towards one home let us all

Set our faces together

Where true love shall dwell

In peace and joy forever.

Let us go, brothers, go!


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.

Do German Soldiers Eat More than Perfectionists?

In a letter to her brother John Humphrey Noyes in 1869, Harriet Skinner ruminated on the “alimentive history of the Community.”  She observed that there was an “ill-defined impression among people at large, that they eat too much, and that they eat the wrong things.”  The question about whether Americans eat too much meat was a hot topic even in the 19 century.   The Community diet was mainly vegetarian, so the question of meat consumption was abstract.  However, Harriet set about to determine the per capita consumption of food in the Community.

She (and her kitchen helpers, no doubt) weighed everything that went to the table and everything that was left over.  She discovered that per capita the family was consuming approximately 2 pounds 10 ounces of food per person, per day.  To determine whether this was a large or small amount compared to other populations, she consulted  Liebig’s Chemistry. She learned that the daily consumption for German soldiers was nearly 4 pounds per man, approximately one third more than the average consumed by each person in the Oneida Community. Harriet observed that the family consumed more milk (by weight) than any other food, and the next most common foodstuff was potatoes.

She credits the values and life style of the Community for the shift to a mainly vegetarian diet declaring that it is “the power of our principles and institutions” [that] produces radical changes.”

Fighting Irish and Women’s Bottoms

Entertainment in the Hall

Last week in her 1868 journal, Harriet Worden wrote of events that caused problems for the Community with the outside world and among its members, the nature of which would be repeated in one form or another until the break-up in 1880.

The first “crisis” began with a dance.

On Sunday night, November 13, the Community held a “soiree” in which Tirzah Miller and Frank Wayland-Smith and others played and sang concluding with a waltz.  Harriet wrote, “It all went off well indeed, unless the display of petticoats in the waltz might be considered a drawback.”  Nothing more was said about the petticoats for several days.  But at an evening meeting on November 17, Erastus Hamilton announced that “the spirit about the “dancer’s petticoats” was unpleasant to him.”  Hamilton mostly led the evening meetings.

Erastus Hamilton

John Humphrey Noyes was more likely to meet with members of the Community in the Upper Sitting Room, where he could speak softly without straining his voice.  He suffered from throat ailments and deafness, which didn’t allow him to lead the evening meetings.  However, he did weigh in on the spirit of the petticoats.  Hamilton read remarks made by Noyes.

John Humphrey Noyes

John Humphrey Noyes

“There might be some unpleasant remarks about the way the girls’ skirts flew up in the dance. But I don’t think there was the least harm in it. I didn’t care about it at all. Men like to see up there, and it is right they should some time; do let them. It was a pleasant sight. I liked it very much. There is no need of being at all squeamish about it. It wasn’t near as bad as what is going on the stage in the world all the time. I like to see women’s bottoms once in a while; it is one of the legitimate sights.”

The assembled group laughed and that was the end of the petticoat crisis.  Many years later, the Community would be torn apart by conflicting attitudes about Noyes’ role in the sexual system and the justification for the system itself, but in 1868, such tensions could be relieved by the words of Noyes and laughter.

The real “crisis” of the week was much more serious.

On the next night’s meeting, November 18, an incident was discussed that occurred earlier in the evening.  Two of the Community young men including James Vail were involved in a fight with a drunken Irish railroad worker.   Vail would later father a child with Harriet Worden, and be arrested and convicted for attempting to burn down the Mansion House and successfully destroying a horse barn, killing several horses trapped inside.  The arson was said be caused by a dispute between Vail and Community at the time of the break-up over a team of horses he claimed belonged to him and not the Community.

James Vail

The Irish workers were camped near by the Mansion House as they built the line of tracks that would run very near the rear of the Tontine.  Including a stop-over at the Mansion House would allow thousands of 19th Century tourists to visit the Community in the 1870s.

In the evening meeting, the fight was described as being provoked by the Irish worker, who said he could  “beat a Community man.”  The two young men defended themselves from the worker’s attack and struck him.  But it was the young men who were criticized for their behavior and asked to consider “what a dangerous thing it would be to bring on a collision between us (the Community) & the Irish.”  They were also asked to think about ” their disadvantages and our great advantages.”  At previous meetings, the Community had spoken about the terrible working conditions that the Irish workers endured digging through the swamp-like terrain to lay tracks by the Mansion House.

Albert Kinsley

Over the next two days, Mr. Albert Kinsley (from the Community) spoke with the foreman of the railroad crew and later with the Irish worker involved in the fight, and apologized for the young men’s actions.  The Irish worker said, “He was “tight” and was great deal to blame and seemed glad enough to call it all straight.”  Further troubles with the Irish would be avoided.


Throughout the Community’s history, the good will of neighbors would be relied upon for their survival when they would come under attack for its sexual practices, whether from a campaign in the New York City press by Charles Guiteau, former member and future assassin of President Garfield, who charged that the Community’s sexual system was deforming young girls, or from Professor John Mears from nearby Hamilton College, who led a movement among the local clergy to prosecute Noyes for adultery, which would provoke Noyes to flee to Canada in 1879.  But during 1868, the Community had no intention of coming into conflict with anyone in their neighborhood, even workers who were there temporarily.

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