6.15.2017

PART FIVE - the Oneida Community Series - How it went from a cult like utopian community to the maker of silverware we know today

This is part five of the series on the Oneida Community Series.
Sources from the excerpts are below if you wish to read in its entirety.

The Decline.
How it went from a cult like utopian community to the maker of silverware we know today.


There began a disintegration of the Community at Oneida around 1874. Although the Community continued to prosper economically, as an organization it was showing signs of internal strife at the same time the local clergy was renewing its crusade to bring down Mr. Noyes and the Community by condemning its social institutions.
In 1875, John Humphrey Noyes was sixty-four years old. He was devoting more of his time to writing, was less actively involved in the day to day running of Community affairs, and was growing increasingly deaf. The question of his successor was a serious matter and one not easily resolved.

The Community had been experiencing the first signs of internal dissent as the younger generation came of age and began taking leadership roles in the various committees and departments. Several of the young men had been sent off to college. Some of them returned to the community excited with the new ideas of Scientific Positivism and business strategies. In general, the younger generation held less strong religious convictions than the original joiners of the Community. The result was that although they had grown up as firm believers in Christ and the Bible, they had no real faith in communism. And as a class, the younger women and men desired more monogamous relations.
In 1877, John Humphrey Noyes addressed the Community on the question of his successor:
    In this last stage of my labor I find myself in front of the last problem of Community-building, which is the problem of successorship; how to carry a Community through the change from one generation to another. I must work out this problem, or leave my work unfinished and even in danger of coming to naught. The Community did not form itself by getting together and choosing a president. I was the president from the beginning, called not by vote of the members but by the will of God.13
John Humphrey's first born son, Theodore, was expected to follow in his father's place. However, a trial seven-month period as leader of the Community, proved Theodore was unsuccessful at guiding Community affairs, especially in religious matters. At the same time the Community was trying to solve its internal problems, the external world was applying pressure in an attempt to sway public opinion against the Perfectionist society. The local clergy, led by a Professor Mears of nearby Hamilton College, enlisted the help of the Presbyterian Synod to lead an attack against the Oneida Perfectionists as an institution "subversive to the family�and in opposition to Christian morality". Previous attempts over the years by Professor Mears and others to discredit the Oneida Community had faded in light of the Community's good business record and general good will and hospitality.

The charges brought against Mr. Noyes in 1879 were more severe and he was forced to retreat or risk the future of the Community. In June, 1879, Noyes left Oneida for Niagara Falls, Canada where the Community was in the process of moving its tableware business from the Wallingford, Connecticut branch. Under John Humphrey's guidance, the members at Oneida set up a new Administrative Council. Consisting of ten men and nine women, the Council was to serve as a spiritual and disciplinary body to conduct the domestic and social affairs of the Community.

By August of 1879 the community announced its abandonment of Complex Marriage and couples began to marry in the conventional manner.

The following year was a tumultuous one as factions developed around various proposed ideas for reorganization. A commission was formed to propose a "Joint Stock" plan to decide how to divide the community's property among the members. The "Agreement to Divide and Reorganize" was adopted in November, 1880. The Community was reorganized as a "limited liability" company and assumed the name "Oneida Community, Limited". The stock was divided among the members in the proportion of the number of years' service which each individual had contributed to creating the wealth of the Community. Specific provisions were made for children, the elderly, and the invalid. It also offered the guarantee of support for life to those who preferred it to the ownership of stock.

Many of the former Community members remained in the Mansion House buildings living much as conventional families did. They continued to enjoy the advantages of communal food preparation and dining as well as the social comforts and mutual respect from many years of living together.

The trap and fruit preserve business continued into the first quarter of the twentieth Century when they concentrated all efforts on the silverware industry. In 1940, they joined the stock exchange and dropped the "Community" name to become simply "Oneida Limited".

Oneida Limited is a well recognized name in today's market. It has long enjoyed a reputation as a prominent manufacturer of fine silver and stainless tableware in both domestic and foreign markets and as a successful profit-sharing enterprise.

Decline
The community lasted until John Humphrey Noyes attempted to pass the leadership thereof to his son, Theodore Noyes. This move was unsuccessful because Theodore was an agnostic and lacked his father’s talent for leadership. The move also divided the community, as Communitarian John Towner attempted to wrest control for himself.
Within the commune, there was a debate about when children should be initiated into sex, and by whom. There was also much debate about its practices as a whole. The founding members were aging or deceased, and many of the younger communitarians desired to enter into exclusive, traditional marriages.

The capstone to all these pressures was the harassment campaign of Professor John Mears of Hamilton College. He called for a protest meeting against the Oneida Community; it was attended by forty-seven clergymen. John Humphrey Noyes was informed by trusted adviser Myron Kinsley that a warrant for his arrest on charges of statutory rape was imminent. Noyes fled the Oneida Community Mansion House and the country in the middle of a June night in 1879, never to return to the United States. Shortly afterward, he wrote to his followers from Niagara Falls, Ontario, recommending that the practice of complex marriage be abandoned.

Complex marriage was abandoned in 1879 following external pressures and the community soon broke apart, with some of the members reorganizing as a joint-stock company. Marital partners normalized their status with the partners with whom they were cohabiting at the time of the re-organization. Over 70 Community members entered into a traditional marriage in the following year.

During the early 20th century, the new company, Oneida Community Limited, narrowed their focus to silverware. The animal trap business was sold in 1912, the silk business in 1916, and the canning discontinued as unprofitable in 1915.

The joint-stock corporation still exists and is a major producer of cutlery under the brand name “Oneida Limited”. In September 2004 Oneida Limited announced that it would cease all U.S. manufacturing operations in the beginning of 2005, ending a 124-year tradition. The company continues to design and market products that are manufactured overseas. The company has been selling off its manufacturing facilities. Most recently, the distribution center in Sherrill, New York was closed. Administrative offices remain in the Oneida area.

The last original member of the community, Ella Florence Underwood (1850–1950), died on June 25, 1950 in Kenwood, New York near Oneida, New York.






https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/o/OneidaCommunityCollection/hsr1.htm
http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-oneida-community-1848-1880-a-utopian-community/