OC Women in Post-Community Life
Members of the Oneida & Kenwood Woman’s Suffrage Club.
The Oneida Community (OC) and the Women’s Rights Movement began in the same year, 1848. Both of these reform groups, and many more, formed in response to a rising need for social reform in the quickly evolving society of 19th-century America. During the active years of the Community, 1848-1880, members were not directly involved in the fight for women’s rights. But the social practices at Oneida, particularly with regard to women’s role in the Community’s social structure, were developed to address the same inequalities that women’s rights activists were fighting against.
Winning women the right to vote - Woman’s Suffrage - became the most prominent issue of the Women’s Rights Movement. Its leaders decided they could affect the greatest, long-term change by giving women a voice in politics and governance. This was, undeniably, an important and impactful issue, but it was not the only issue women were trying to reform in the 19th century. By the mid-1800s women were physically constrained by the clothes they wore, had limited access to education, and held marginal legal status. The minimal autonomy they did enjoy disappeared when they married, so that within their marriages they had no legal choice with regard to sex, health, and pregnancy.
John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community, attempted to elevate the status of women by directly addressing these issues. Sexual relations required the consent of both parties; Community members used birth control so that women did not experience unwanted pregnancies; they endorsed lifelong learning for both men and women; and, by living communally and abolishing almost all personal property, there was no difference between a woman’s property rights and a man’s.
At least, this was the theory they espoused. In practice, this ideal was impossible to achieve, nor did Noyes believe that women were truly equal to men. Inequality between men and women always existed to some degree within the Community. But while the results of this social experiment weren’t perfect, they did achieve something better than the norm. Eventually, these ideals and the memory of real freedoms experienced in the Community, inspired its former members and descendants to fight for a more equal world.
After the Community disbanded at the end of 1880, former-Community women had to adjust to living in “the World” again and conforming to “normal” women’s roles. However, many refused to give up the freedoms, experience, and education they gained living at the Mansion House. They became involved in the growing movement to demand a political voice for women and advocated for continued social reform. They pursued degrees in higher education, formed local Suffrage clubs, became involved in local government (once possible), and established careers that allowed them to give back to their home and community in Oneida.
Harriet (Allen) Joslyn (1836-1915) was 14 years old when she and her parents joined the Oneida Community in 1851. As an adult she worked as a teacher in the Community school, later moving into a the newly formed silk department. After apprenticing as a silk manufacturer at the C. L. Bottom silk factory with two other Community members, in 1866 she was placed in charge of the Community’s Silk Department, which grew to employ over 300 women workers over the next 14 years.
After the breakup of the Community, when Pierrepont B. Noyes gained control of Oneida Community, Ltd. in 1895, he asked Joslyn to join the Board of Directors, a position she held almost until her death in 1915. During WWI, when Noyes was serving overseas, Joslyn was appointed Chairman of the Board. She is the only woman in the company’s history to have held this position.
Harriet Joslyn and the rest of the O.C.L. Board of Directors, 1904.
Eleanor (Kellogg) Herrick (1871-1948) was born in the Oneida Community on January 1, 1871. She was raised in the Mansion House until the Community’s breakup and stayed in Kenwood with her parents, thereafter. She attended the Kenwood Academy, provided by Oneida Community, Ltd. (O.C.L.) to educate the children born in the Community. The terms of the breakup guaranteed an education to these young people, and in the 1880s they were often referred to as the “guarantee children.” After this, she attended Wellesley College, graduating in 1894. At first, she worked as a teacher in Norwich. She later took a position at O.C.L., eventually working her way up to becoming an official in the Credit & Treasury Department, a position she held until her retirement.
However, Herrick’s greatest legacy is her role in local government. She was elected as a Supervisor for the City of Oneida in 1924 - the first woman to serve on the Board of Supervisors in Madison County and possibly the first woman in the State of New York to hold such a position. Herrick served on many of the Board’s committees and was the Chairman of the Welfare Committee for more than 15 years. She played a pivotal role in protecting local workers during the Great Depression. After the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, she was appointed regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, responsible for overseeing local enforcement of U.S. labor laws during that difficult time. Illness forced her to resign as Supervisor shortly before her death on October 9, 1948, at the age of 77. At that time, she was the longest serving supervisor in Madison County history, remembered by her colleagues as the most capable and knowledgeable person to ever fill that office.
Theta Pi Class of the Kenwood Academy. Taken in winter of 1887-8.
Back Row (standing, L-R): Althea Reeve, Holton V. Noyes, Eleanor Kellogg, John Humphrey Noyes II, Corinna Kinsley, Peirrepont B. Noyes, Burton L. Dunn
Front Row (seated, L-R): Rutherford Noyes, Gertrude Noyes, Richard (Noyes) Wayland-Smith, Josephine Kinsley, Irene Newhouse, George W. Noyes
Hilda (Herrick) Noyes, MD (1878-1955) was a Stirpicult, born in the Oneida Community on June 8, 1878. After growing up in Kenwood, she attended both the Women’s Medical College in New York City and the Syracuse University Medical College, where she received her Medical Degree at the age of 23. She became one of the first licensed female physicians in Central New York.
Dr. Noyes worked at the Broad Street Hospital in Oneida after it opened in 1906, before starting her own practice in Kenwood in the 1920s. At the Broad Street Hospital, she specialized in neonatal and pediatric care. This interest in childhood development extended to her own ancestry and she researched and compiled invaluable records on the growth and health of children in the Oneida Community. She died of a coronary thrombosis on February 15, 1955, at the age of 76.
Hope Emily Allen (1883-1960) was born in Kenwood on November 12, 1883 to former Community members Henry Grosvenor Allen and Portia Underhill Allen. She excelled in academics, earning both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and working on her PhD at Radcliffe and Newnham Colleges.
Allen became active in the Suffrage Movement in the nineteen teens, helping found the Oneida & Kenwood Woman’s Suffrage Club in 1914-15. She spent much of her life educating other women about this and other contemporary social issues. Her successes in work and the legacy she left behind were hard won.
A medievalist scholar, focused on the experiences of women in the late Middle Ages, her research methodology and insights were years ahead of her time, yet for most of her career Allen was omitted from cultural and historical studies in her field. Thankfully, toward the end of her life, she began to receive wider acknowledgement for her contributions, as women’s roles and recognition for their achievements continued to grow. In 1946 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Smith College. In 1948, she was inducted into the Medieval Academy of America. And in 1960, the last year of her life, she was designated "one of the seventy-six most distinguished graduates of Bryn Mawr College.”