Many of our stories focus on things that no longer exist, but sometimes, this means entire communities! In this case, we're talking about the Shakers, a Christian group that practiced communal living and a celibate lifestyle and believed in equality and pacifism. Initially formed in the 1700s in England, many Shaker communities popped up around the US in the 1800s, reaching a peak of 6,000 believers at its height. There was only one problem: What happens to a community that practices celibacy and has trouble recruiting young people? Over time, it risks disappearing entirely...
The Enfield, Connecticut Shaker community around 1890. As we noted above, the Shakers believed in total equality between the sexes, and so the work was split evenly across the board. If you look closely, you'll notice that the women are hauling off heavy branches!
By 1920, only 12 active Shaker communities existed in the U.S., and by 1957, their membership had dwindled to such low numbers that the Elders decided to halt all attempts to grow. In 1988, Eldress Bertha Lindsay was approached by some young people seeking to become shakers. She told them: "To become a Shaker you have to sign a legal document taking the necessary vows and that document, the official covenant, is locked up in our safe. Membership is closed forever." There are only two remaining living Shakers: Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter.
Luckily, the Shakers have left behind many beautiful communities of exquisite architecture and culture. You can visit many of these sites and participate in the community just as the Shakers would have 150 years ago. Scroll down to see their story told in photos...
Here we see Eldress Miriam Offord of the Hog River Shaker community as she works at a spinning wheel. The Shaker communities sustained themselves by making almost everything they needed and also selling exquisite furniture and textiles to surrounding families.
Elder Ana Case leads a group of young women in a long day of harvesting corn from the garden.
One of our favorite communities is the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Their community initially had a business in blacksmithing, but shifted to making sturdy brooms around the turn of the century. Here we see a group of Shakers posing with materials and some completed brooms.
A group of Shakers in traditional wear in the 1890s.
Every member of the community had a role in keeping the villages going, as seen here in this photo of the Mount Lebanon Shakers.
This photo gives you a good sense of who the Shakers were as people. If you look closely, you'll notice many kind faces - and even a few smiling when smiling in photos wasn't the norm!
The Shakers are known for beautiful, clean architecture and highly-efficient buildings. Here is one of the main houses in the Enfield community.
The North Family Shaker community in 1900. Isn't it beautiful?
A group of Shakers in the early 1900s.
This is the iconic Shaker symbol, painted by Hannah Cohoon in 1845. It is known as the Tree of Life.
Another beautiful village in Alfred, Maine.
If you visit any of the remaining Shaker Villages that have been preserved, you're likely to find they have fantastic gardens. Here we see another view of the North Family shakers tending to their vegetable garden.
The Shakers often held elaborate worship services with dancing, singing, and lots of activity. Here are a group of Shaker women outside of one of the worship halls.
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