Document 15: "Mothers' Assistants," The Circular, 4 April 1870, p. 22.


       Roth argues that women's experience as members of mixed-gender social movements is often very different from men's, because men continue to expect women to perform traditional domestic work for the cause. Women in the Oneida Community, a utopian community founded in 1848 in upstate New York, found that traditional gender inequalities persisted. Although the Oneida Community's founder, John Humphrey Noyes, proposed that women members should be given equal opportunities within the community, women continued to perform most domestic tasks. This article, published in the community's newspaper (and which also appears in "Bible Communism and Women of the Oneida Community") indicated that women continued to provide "traditional" childcare services, albeit in an altered form. Although the men and women of the Oneida Community believed that their movement was much more egalitarian than mainstream society, they also reproduced "structural social inequality" within the community.



       There is a new employment of educated, intelligent women, which oddly enough, seems to have entirely escaped attention. I mean that of mothers' assistants, or care-takers of children, if the term nurse offends delicate sensibilities.

       Poor women who stay at home and take care of their own children, or the wives of men who can only afford one servant, and who are therefore compelled to participate in domestic duties, have an opportunity of knowing how their children fare, and to what sort of influences and treatment they are subjected; children of the rich and middle classes have no such protection--they are made over to hirelings from the day they are born; and the contemptuous idea attached to service of any kind has forced this most important branch of it into the hands of a class of ignorant girls who know just more than the most stupid of their race to increase their native superstition, and render them insolent and tyrannical to the little unfortunates commited to their care.

       Tut! Tut! Another attack on the family; and by a naughty Communist of course. No, reader, the above is not by a naughty Communist, but by the fashion-editor of a respectable city daily. In contrast with the state of things here depicted in the private family, notice the effect of co-operation. The Community in the first place dispenses wholly with a servile class. There are no hirelings in its household. But there is in it always a class of young women, grown-up daughters and older sisters to whom the care of infants and young children is a recreation and delight. These are ready at proper intervals to relieve the mothers, allowing the latter to go to school, or improve themselves as they see fit. Isolation commits children to hired servants; Communism to well-bred sisters and older children of the family. Which is best?

back to top