Who are the Shakers?

Eldress Gertrude Soule Remembered

Shaker Eldress Gertrude Soule
Shaker Eldress Gertrude M. Soule (1894-1988)
Photograph taken at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Eldress Gertrude Soule Remembered

by Judy A.

When I was a little girl, in the 40’s, I lived in East Boothbay, Maine. My grandmother knew a Shaker women named Gertrude Soule who came to visit us from time to time. During the year, we would knit mittens and scarves and near Christmas time, we would put together a large box filled with all kinds of small, simple gifts for the Shaker children at Sabathday Lake, Maine, which is where Gertrude Soule lived. I remember, in addition to the mittens and scarves, such items as combs, tooth brushes, bobby pins, pencils, rulers. We would send the box off in the mail and would receive a wonderful letter from Gertrude Soule telling us how much all the gifts were appreciated.

As time went on, we stopped sending the boxes. I don’t remember why – perhaps because there were no Shaker children! I remember visiting Gertrude Soule at Sabathday Lake with my grandmother from time to time. Then it seemed we lost touch.

In the middle 80’s, I visited the Canterbury, New Hampshire Shaker Village and there was Gertrude Soule – now Eldress Soule. She had moved there from Sabathday Lake some years before. I introduced myself to her and we sat down for a few minutes to talk. She asked about my grandmother (who had since died) and my mother who she remembered as a beautiful and talented young woman. I was spellbound by her powerful presence, her sense of peace, her serenity, her composure and her sweetness.

Here was a woman who had what we of the world long for. I remember that visit vividly and I envy the fullness of life she enjoyed. I consider myself lucky to have known this wonderful, kind and spiritual woman personally.

Editor’s Note: Gertrude May Soule was born in 1894 in Topsham, Maine. When she was 11, her mother died and her father placed her in the Shaker Community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine about 1906, where she was raised and educated. At age 21, as was the custom with all young Shakers, she was given the opportunity to leave or to stay in the Shaker community. She elected to sign the Covenant. In 1950, she was named Eldress at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, sharing responsibilities with her male counterpart, Elder Delmer Wilson, a position that she held until she died in June 1988. Toward the end of her life, she lived at Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire.