Quotes from Without Sin

by Spencer Klaw

Walt: Windward has existed for more than three decades in part because it had the good fortune to be able to draw on some hard-won wisdom when laying down it's fundamental principles. Over the years, we've traced back many of those concepts to their sources, and have come to see Windward as a "grandchild" of sort of the Oneida Community. These quotes are presented as a quick introduction to the OC, and glimpse into where we come from as a community.

The creation of intentional community can be compared to taking a stroll through a mine field. Most budding communities make missteps and blow themselves up early on. When you know you're walking into a mine field, one of the best strategies is to start out by walking in the footsteps of those who've successfully made it through at least the first sections of the minefield.

Just as there are notable differences between a grandparents and their grandchildren, there are notable differences between the OC and Windward; these quotes are one way to show that we respect where we come from, and to honor some of those who's wins and losses helped to make our successes possible. Windward has been able to rise as it has because we were able to stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before.

     Oneida was perhaps the most successful attempt ever made (the Shakers excepted) to build a society in which men and women could live together as brothers and sisters, sharing with absolute equality the fruits of their common labor.
          - p 7

     Oneidans were encouraged to change jobs often to prevent boredom, and whenever possible hard and monotomous work was transformed into a social occasion
          - p 7

     Oneida became a great tourist attraction, and on summer Sundays trainloads of visitors, often with children in tow, came to picnic on the shady lawns surrounding the Mansion House, to stare at the short hair and short skirts of the women, and to speculate on the exotic sexual life of the Community, while their hosts fed them strawberries and cream and entertained them with band music.
          - p 8

     Major quesitons of any practical sort, such as where a new building should be located and how it should be designed, or whether to go into a new line of business, were debated at length by committees and in open meetings, and decisions were usually arrived at by consensus.
          - p 16

     A reporter for the New York World once wrote that the Oneida Community was steeped in an atmosphere of bookish rusticity.
          - p 19

     [Noyes'] plan was to operate the press himself, with the help of his wife, his younger sisters Harriet and Charlotte, and his fifteen-year-old brother George, who had worked briefly for a printer and was the only one of the group with any real notion of how printing was done.
          - p 46

     Even associations that were adequately financed tended to break up in ugly disputes over money and property, and only three of the Fourierist communities lasted more than two years.
          - p 53

     Noyes...acknowledged Oneida's debt to Fourier and his American disciples for the notion that work could be made much more rewarding by allowing workers to change jobs at frequent intervals. He was also impressed by the Fourierists' insistence that manual labor should be regarded--and rewarded--just like any other kind of work.
          - p 54

     It was a help that, if they managed their affairs properly, they would have little need for cash.
          - p 77

     By the late 1850's the Community was selling more than 100,000 traps a year to, among other customers, the Hudson's Bay Company... The Oneidans, having cheerfully abandoned their dreams of a purely pastoral existence, took enormous interest and pride in the new factory, where "fine mechanical skills and inventive genius are [developing] curious and wonderful machines which do their work rapidly and in the most perfect manner."
          - p 83

     The Oneidans also worked constantly, as a religious obligation, to improve the comfort, efficiency, and beauty of their Community home. They believed its design should both refect and facilitate the complex harmony for which they were striving in Community life, and they gave a lot of thought to architecture and landscaping.
          - p 85

     Their guiding aesthetic principle, in landscaping and architecture as well as in the design of machines, was that beauty was inseparable from utility. "We are convinced that simplicity, absence of pretension, and the straight-forward adaption of means to end, will ultimately prove, in architecture as well as in all things else, to be the truest standard of taste."
          - p 85

     In the early 1850s Noyes declared war on the wage system, calling on employers to make full partners of their workers... But Noyes the businessman was capable of overriding Noyes the reformer, and in 1862, with the trap business booming, the Community began hiring outside workers without any thought of having them join the Oneida family... By 1870 more than two hundred employees were on the Community payroll.
          - p 87

     Noyes and his followers considered wealth a blessing, and they used their profits, apart from what they put back into the Community's businesses, to improve themselves and to make life easier and pleasanter at Oneida.
          - p 89

     Noyes characterized music as one of God's "three sacred gifts" to humankind, the other two being work and love.
          - p 96

     Whenever possible, Oneidans tackled work in the spirit of a husking bee. If there were apples to be picked or strawberries to be weeded, a storming company, as they called it, would be assembled.
          - p 101

     In general, Oneidans willingly took their turns at washing dishes and mucking out the cow barns, and until the very last years, when Noyes and his chief lieutenants worried that the will to work had been sapped by too great a reliance on hired help.
          - p 105

     Yet the astonishing fact about the Oneida experiment is not that it ultimately failed, but that it succeeded for a third of a century. And without some method, such as mutual criticism, for impelling members to subordinate their individual impulses and desires to the good of the Community, Oneida would likely have been split apart much sooner than it was by the explosive forces of envy, greed, and sexual rivalry. Moreover, while mutual criticism could not produce the miraculous improvements in character that the Oneidans claimed for it, it served another purpose. It forced each Oneidan to be an attentive spectator at the drama of his own existence, and to think long and hard about what he saw. At Oneida it was very hard to lead an unexamined life.
          - p 121

     Let this be our motto henceforth: Inspired use of natural means."
          - p 126

     One aim of Bible Communism was to emancipate women from the slavery to which, as Noyes saw it, they were customarily condemned in midnineteenth-century America. Looked at from the perspective of late-twentieth-century feminism, that emancipation was far from complete, and the record of how women fared at Oneida is filled with contradictions. But it is clear that they were granted rights, and offered a range of choices as to how they would dispose of their lives, that only the most radical feminists were beginning to claim--and then mainly in private--at the time Oneida was founded.
          - p 130

     We do not believe that motherhood is the chief end of woman's life; that she was made for the children she can bear. She was made for God and herself.
          - p 132

     In an age when it was fashionable for women to emphasize how different they were from men by proclaiming their helplessness and dependency, women at Oneida, though they were praised for being bewitching and lovable, were exhorted to "get rid of effeminancy," to cultivate "manliness and robustness of character," and not to shrink from "outdoor manly industry." In the hay fields and the printing shop and the editorial offices of the Community's publications, as well as in the trap shop, Oneida women worked side by side, and on equal terms, with men--a relationship in which a stance of clinging femininity was clearly inappropriate.
          - p 135

     In 1961 a sociologist, William Kephart, interviewed several former Community children, by then in their eighties and nineties, who were still living in the Mansion House. Without exception, he reported, they "felt certain that childhood in the Old Community was a happy and exhilarating experience."
          - p 151

     The secret history of the human heart shows it capable of loving any number of times and any number of persons.
          - p 155

     As the Community prospered, building mills and workshops and furnishing well-paid work for local residents, it commanded increasing respect... In an editorial, the Utica Observer asserted, "It's products are the best of their class, are just what they are represented to be, and command the best prices wherever they are offered. Its dealings are open, straightforward, and honorable ... Its cash business cannot fall far short of a million dollars yearly." Almost as an afterthought the Observer added, "Its members use neither tobacco nor strong drink, are models of good order, tenderly care for each other, and treat the world outside with uniform courtesy and respect."
          - p 166

     Noyes had devised a set of rules and conventions that transformed complex marriage from a theory about love and sex in heaven into a workable human institution. The machinery creaked, jammed, almost broke down at times, and had to be constantly modified and repaired by its inventor. But for twenty-five years it ran smoothly enough to demonstrate that men and women could love one another, respect one another, and get emotional and spiritual joy from sex, without conforming either to the laws of marriage or to the conventions of romantic love, which state that true love must be, or must be felt to be, exclusive and undying.
          - p 174

     Noyes once confided to his son Theodore that he put "a pretty free construction" on the Bible.
          - p 191

     Hinds and Towner had wanted a democratic government at Oneida; now that they had it, they found themselves at the mercy of a hostile majority.
          - p 264

     All this made a powerful impression on a union organizer who was dispatched to Sherill in 1916 to scout the terrain. He reported back that "this company is different from any company you have ever heard of in their treatment of their employees." He said there would be no point in trying to organize a company whose workers were happy, well paid, worked short hours, enjoyed a wide variety of fringe benefits, and were treated "like human beings."
          - p 286

     Sales in 1991 were $446 million, and the company's stock is publicly traded and widely held.
          - p 290

     But complex marriage did make possible that undivided loyalty to the Community (and to Noyes) that was an indispensible condition of the total communisim prevailing at Oneida. If conventional marriage had been the rule, even so shrewd and charismatic a leader as Noyes could not have overcome the conflicting and competitive loyalties of family groups.
          - p 292

     At Oneida, work, play, learning, sex, and religious meditation were blended and mixed and kneaded to form what Noyes once called "that seething mass of miraculous life." As one looks back, Oneida soars above the plain of nineteenth-century revivalism and utopia building, a monument to the irresitible impulse, inevitably doomed but seldom so nearly realized, to create a new world and people it with new men and women.
          - p 155

[note: page numbers are taken from the Penquin Books edition - copyright 1993]

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71