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Oneida: Book summary and reviews of Oneida by Ellen Wayland-Smith

Oneida

From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table

by Ellen Wayland-Smith

Oneida by Ellen Wayland-Smith X
Oneida by Ellen Wayland-Smith
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Book Summary

A fascinating and unusual chapter in American history about a religious community that held radical notions of equality, sex, and religion - only to transform itself, at the beginning of the twentieth century, into a successful silverware company and a model of buttoned-down corporate propriety.

In the early nineteenth century, many Americans were looking for an alternative to the Puritanism that had been the foundation of the new country. Amid the fervor of the religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening, John Humphrey Noyes, a spirited but socially awkward young man, attracted a group of devoted followers with his fiery sermons about creating Jesus' millennial kingdom here on Earth. Noyes established a revolutionary community in rural New York centered around achieving a life free of sin through God's grace, while also espousing equality of the sexes and "complex marriage," a system of free love where sexual relations with multiple partners was encouraged. Noyes's belief in the perfectibility of human nature eventually inspired him to institute a program of eugenics, known as stirpiculture, that resulted in a new generation of Oneidans who, when the Community disbanded in 1880, sought to exorcise the ghost of their fathers' disreputable sexual theories. Converted into a joint-stock company, Oneida Community, Limited, would go on to become one of the nation's leading manufacturers of silverware, and their brand a coveted mark of middle-class respectability in pre- and post-WWII America.

Told by a descendant of one of the Community's original families, Ellen Wayland-Smith's Oneida is a captivating story that straddles two centuries to reveal how a radical, free-love sect, turning its back on its own ideals, transformed into a purveyor of the white-picket-fence American dream.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This book is a fascinating look into the strange history of Oneida silverware and how its origins reflect an exhilarating period of American history." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Drawing from letters, diaries, newsletters, and family stories, the author, an original-family descendant, adds inside information to this retelling of a radical movement's transformation in the shifting current of American ideals. The narrative is engaging and detailed. This is a must-read for those interested in American social history, and should have broad appeal." - Booklist

"The spotlight Wayland-Smith shines on this remarkable community's beginnings and ending offers a riveting glimpse into the quintessentially American early-19th-century struggle with the rights of the individual and separation of church and state. A smartly contextualized tale of 'the tension between radical social critique and unapologetic accommodation… between communal harmony and individual striving.'" - Kirkus

This information about Oneida was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Ellen Wayland-Smith

Ellen Wayland-Smith teaches in the writing program at the University of Southern California, and received her PhD in comparative literature from Princeton University. A descendant of John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida community, she lives in Los Angeles with her family.

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