Thursday, February 21, 2013

Free Love in Victorian Times

Victoria Woodhull
"High priestess of Free Love"

In the state of New York, the Oneida Community, founded in 1848, described marriage as, “contrary to natural liberty....a cruel and oppressive method of uniting the sexes.” This group practiced a form of community marriage where each woman was married to every man and each man to every woman. The Oneida Community “[rejects] conventional marriage both as a form of legalism from which Christians should be free and as a selfish institution in which men exerted rights of ownership over women”. The movement’s founder, John Humphrey Noyes coined the term “free love” and found scriptural justification for the concept: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). The Oneida Community lived together as a single large group and shared parental responsibilities.

The concept of “free love” blossomed outside of the Oneida Community. Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president (1872), was called “the high priestess of free love”. In 1871, Woodhull wrote:

“Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it. I trust that I am fully understood, for I mean just that, and nothing less!”

Woodhull received fewer than sixteen thousand votes nationwide. Most Americans rejected alternative forms of marriage and pressured young people to marry conventionally. A man's credit rating depended in part on whether or not he was conventionally married and had children.

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