Being A Mother in the Oneida Community

Charlotte Miller Leornard

Charlotte Miller Leonard gave birth to John Humphrey Noyes II on November 18, 1869, the 44th child born in the Community and the 2nd eugenics child.  Charlotte Leonard was 23.  The father was John Humphrey Noyes, who was 58.

Charlotte and Her Son

On October 1, 1870, Charlotte started making entries in a diary.  She recorded her experiences as a new mother of a Community child fairly regularly throughout the remainder of 1870, and continued writing in her diary off and on until the end of 1877.

At first, her diary entries focused almost exclusively about her struggles over living within the principles of raising children communally.  But over the years, as she adjusted to the separation from Humphrey, as she called her son, she wrote about the critical events and issues in life in the Community, and she even wrote about the election of John Humphrey Noyes’ cousin, Rutherford Hayes, as President of the United States.

She began her diary with the following entry:

“October 1, 1870 ~ Myron (Kinsley) got this little book for me at Utica yesterday.  Hope I shall make good use of it.  It is long since I have recorded any of my experience and I have not cared to do so.  God knows what experience I have been through the past year and though it has been the most trying part of my life, I thank God for it all.”

The following entries are typical expressions of her feelings about giving Humphrey up to be raised in the new Children’s Wing of the Mansion House.”

“I thank Him (God) for a good little boy as Humphrey is.  And I pray that he may always be a Community boy.  I wish to give myself to him anew to God and the Community.  I believe the Community is the best mother a child can have, and I confess my confidence in it.”

“October 3 ~ Went to the Children’s House today.  Miss Pomeroy is to continue taking care of Humphrey for the present.  Cannot tell what may happen, perhaps I shall not have him anymore to take care of at all.  But if it be God’s will that I should be so, I know that He will not only make me reconciled but thankful.  I wish to enter into my work at the Children’s House with a new purpose to serve the Community and give my child to the Lord… He will care for him.”

Charlotte Leonard

But within a couple of weeks, the situation had changed, and we can see from the following passages the swings in moods that Charlotte experienced, brought on by her desire to take care of her child and at the same time her belief in God and the principles of the John Humphrey Noyes.

“October 20 ~ Commenced to-day taking care of Humphrey again.  The Lord is good to me — very.  Father Noyes is so kind and good to me too.  After returning last evening from a ride to Mr. Leet’s with the children, Mother (Harriet) Skinner said that she had some good news to tell me, and that was that Father Noyes proposed to have me take the baby again.”

“This was indeed good news, and I could not keep back the tears.  I felt so thankful, and it seemed to me I did not deserve it.  She said Father Noyes had been talking about weaned love, and about Abraham’s having a weaned love for Isaac after he offered him for sacrifice.  He thought that weaned love was healthy and good, and he did not care how much we loved our children if we loved them with weaned love.  He thought that I had a weaned love for Humphrey now, and he thought I was ready to take him back again.”

“I feel like taking care of Humphrey as one of God’s little children, and not as though he was mine.  I do not feel at all like claiming him for he belongs to God and the Community, and I am appointed to take care of him for them.”

A week later, Humphrey is ill, and Charlotte fears for his life, but she is comforted by Noyes.

“October 27 ~ Father Noyes said to me a day or two ago, in speaking of Humphrey, that, ‘We must consider that he lives by faith — remember that.  Just as you do — you thought he was going to die, and now you live by faith.  He lives by our faith.  He is God’s boy.  Let us set a good example to the rest by having faith about our child, and giving him to God.  I pray that God will keep you from idolatry and give you wisdom in taking care of him.  These things I guess will bring you and me together.  Every now and then you have your trials about the baby and about your health and about his.  But you come off victorious every time, don’t you?’  I answered that I did.  ‘Well, you must have that same faith now about him.  You must take a strong function here (putting his hand on his heart) with Christ and with me and you will help him in that way.”

By the time of Humphrey’s first birthday, her son has recovered his health.

“November 18 ~ Little Humphrey just one year old today.  It hardly seems possible that I have a little boy a year old.  Mrs. Sears and I got up a little party for him, first for the fun of it, and as he is so fond of baked apples and milk, we had them for the main dish.  Father Noyes and Aunt Harriet were among the company, with several others.  Father Noyes seemed to enjoy it real well.  Humphrey enjoyed it mightily, sitting in a high chair between his father and me and eating his bread and milk from a tin basin.”

Charlotte Leonard

Such a touching family scene that would seem familiar to us today, except for the simple nature of the party, and the fact that this was no ordinary family.

Charlotte ends her entry for Humphrey’s birthday by thanking God and praying for wisdom and desiring “to be watchful and earnest, and keep in the spirit of ‘weaned love.’”

The Oneida Community had begun its eugenics program the year before, determined to show the world that they could selectively breed superior children, both physically and spiritually.  Charlotte’s next entry describes “a baby shower.”

“November 21 ~ First, all the mothers were seated on the stage with their babies, also all the expectant mothers.  Then the curtain rose, and John Lord proceeded to weigh each baby, beginning with the oldest.  Humphrey’s weight was twenty pounds four ounces — same as Blanche.  Richard’s weight was twenty-one pounds fifteen ounces.  Rutherford’s nineteen pounds two ounces, etc.  This was quite an interesting performance, and the babies appeared to enjoy it as well as the audience.  Humphrey was constantly creeping to the edge of the stage and throwing his rattlebox down to the band, which sat first under the edge of the stage.  After the weighing, Richard and Humphrey were undressed and placed on the stage.  The little fellows hardly knew what to make of it, and Humphrey was so frightened we had to take him off the stage.”

By early January 1871, Charlotte seems to have come to terms with giving Humphrey over to the “Mother and Father” of the Children’s House.

Oneida Community Children

“January 18, 1871 ~ Humphrey has finally entered the Children’s House.  We put him in Monday the sixteenth.  I have moved into another room, smaller but very pleasant, and am to keep on sleeping with him for the present.  He seems to take to the change very well, and will, I expect, get along nicely there.  Of course I miss him some.  But I find my experience in giving him up last summer was very good for me, and is quite a help tom me now.  It is quite a comfort to sleep with him still. “

“I guess Aunt Harriet misses him full as much as I do, as she has been with him more or less ever since he was born.  But by being away from him so last summer makes it comparatively easy for me.  I confess faith about him under all circumstances, and confess my trust in God, and shall expect that he will do well and be a good boy.”

Charlotte with Stephen and Humphrey

Charlotte Leonard had one more child, Stephen Rose Leonard, on November 18, 1872.  She worked as a silk-spooler and later as a bookkeeper.  She had a good voice and performed a prominent role in the Community’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore at the Mansion House in July 1880.  She is described as having a quick mind and unusual memory, and was self-taught in mathematics and French.  She worked in the business office of Oneida Community Limited after the break-up.  She died in Kenwood September 29, 1928.

Charlotte’s son, Humphrey, would grow up to become John Humphrey Noyes II.  He would join his cousin, Pierrepont Noyes, in transforming the joint stock company ~ Oneida Community Limited, which was created in 1880 at the dissolution of the Community, into the world’s largest manufacturer of silverware. Humphrey would become the secretary of Oneida Ltd.  He would marry Dr. Hilda Herrick, the daughter of Tirzah Miller and James Herrick, and build a house in Kenwood, near the Mansion House among other former Community members in what was once the Community apple orchard.  Humphrey died in Kenwood on May 3. 1940.