Why did so many Victorian-era women become Koreshans, at one point comprising almost eighty percent of the Koreshan Unity membership? Was it the lure of Teed’s new religion that promised immortality, or were other factors at play?
Women were regarded as little more than the property of their husbands for much of history. In Teed’s time a married woman could not own property—and none could vote. Everything belonged to the husband, including any money earned or brought into the marriage by the woman. Even marriage vows demanded wives love, honor and OBEY their husbands. In addition, many women of that time were unskilled or uneducated with large families and could not afford to leave their husbands. And since divorce was frowned upon, women who could afford to leave would choose to remain and live in quiet desperation. Teed referred to this as the Slavery of Marriage and addressed it in many of his lectures and writings.
Many women were also widowed after the Civil War and left with large families. With no work skills, education or resources, they were often impoverished. Out of desperation, many were forced into marriages to older or much younger men, since there was a shortage of men their own age due to the war. Some even resorted to prostitution. Women who could find meaningful jobs were paid much less than men.
Both women and men could join the Koreshan Unity either as an individual or with their children; spouses were “optional.” So what if they had to surrender all their belongings in order to join? Many of the women and their children likely came with little more than the clothes on their backs, and in the Koreshan Unity, since men and women were considered equal, women could take almost any job offered, learn a trade—and get paid the same as men in work “credits.” One credit = one hour’s work, which could be used for goods at the Unity store or even have a cabin built.
So perhaps many women joined the Unity more as a matter of survival than any promise of immortality.
What do you think?