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Bishop Hill: Success and failure through adaptability

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Knox College

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  1. Introduction
  2. Adapting to new challenges
  3. Amana and Harmony
  4. The community change
  5. Bishop Hill's difficult early years
  6. Community doctrine
  7. The implementation of celibacy
  8. Bishop Hill's economic and housing conditions
  9. The willingness to adjust a community's rules
  10. Conclusion

Scholars assess several criteria in evaluating the relative success of intentional communities. One of the most firmly established and frequently cited is whether or not the community achieves its own goals [You 1983, p.4]. Holding a community's ability to stick to its original plan in such high esteem can back a community into a corner, however: if we were to evaluate a modern-day community such as Galesburg or Chicago based on their ?success? as cities, their ability to adapt to new challenges and circumstances would certainly be a criterion.

[...] An 1854 revision of the community's bylaws allowed departing members to claim compensation for their years of labor, a concession that often constitutes a death knell for communes, and one that dragged Bishop Hill's ex-members through years and years of financial legislation after the colony's dissolution. Even celibacy, so successful right after both its inception and its termination, proved divisive in the end. Bishop Hill was not the most intentional of the many intentional communities that formed in America during the nineteenth century. [...]

[...] In the early years of the colony, the Janssonists proved themselves to be successful celibates when their leader, no doubt thinking of the meager resources available on the prairie as he espoused a religious justification, ordered it. Between 1846 and 1849, only three male children were born in Bishop Hill. As did the fasts, the implementation of celibacy surely served a dual purpose. The leaders of the Shaker communities and Oneida, realizing that sexual exclusivity could be inimical to communitas, adopted celibacy and complex marriage respectively in order to focus the affections of community members on the community, rather than on specific persons within it. [...]

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