Who are the Shakers?

Life With The Shakers

Shaker Dining Room, Watervliet, New York
Shaker Dining Room, Watervliet, New York
Engraving from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, December 1885

Life With The Shakers

Edited by Frederick W. Evans (b. 1808 – d. 1893)

Life with the Shakers is very simple and uneventful.

The “brothers” and “sisters” of each family live in the same great four story “family” house.” The brethren have their rooms on one side of the the wide, clean halls, and the sisters theirs on the other side. Two, three, four, or five brethren occupy one room with as many single beds. Two, three, four, or five sisters also share their room with one another, and each has her single bed.

The rising bell rings at five o’clock in summer and half-past five in winter. Upon rising the brethren take off their bed clothes, fold them neatly, and lay them across the backs of two chairs. They then go out and do the morning chores.

The sisters likewise, after properly caring for their rooms, attend to their morning chores.

An hour after the rising bell the breakfast bell rings, and all repair to the big dining-room, which they enter in two files, one composed of the brethren, from the oldest in regular gradation of age down to the youngest, and led by the elders, the other composed of the sisters, from the oldest down to the youngest, and led by the eldresses.

In this order they enter the dining-hall, and march down the long, spotlessly clean, but clothless table, the brethren on one side of the house and the sisters on the other. Arrived at their places, they all kneel for a moment in silent thanksgiving and prayer.

Then all seat themselves and eat the meal with speechless assiduity.

The table is completely furnished with food at intervals of four plates, and waiting sisters, who take monthly turns at this work, replenish the food-plates as fast as emptied. At the end of the meal all, at a signal from the elders and eldresses, kneel again, and thereafter pass quietly out in two files, but in inverse order from that in which they entered.

Breakfast over, the work of the day follows. The brethren disperse over the farm and to the shops. The sisters go to the laundry, the ironing room, the shops, or about the house work. Those sisters detailed for that work make the beds and arrange the rooms for the brethren. Others sweep the halls and polish them with their curiously hooded brooms.

Others work in the kitchen. All have work assigned for them to do. The endeavour is to give to each that which he or she can do best, and for the best good of all. It has been remarked of the Shakers that special talent is speedily recognized and appropriately utilized.

At half-past eleven all are summoned from work, and just at noon sit down to a silent but bountiful dinner. After dinner all work till their assigned task is done, or until summoned from work at five or half-past five. At six o’clock supper brings all silently together again, and a couple of hours quiet in their room for reading, writing, or study, prepares for bed at nine.

Sunday is preceded by a special service of song and silent prayer on Saturday evening. The great meeting of the day is in the afternoon, and consists of singing, marching, silent prayer, and exhortation. This meeting is held in the meeting-house or in the meeting-room of the family house of the “centre” or “church” family, and all are expected to attend, if not ill. A song and prayer service in the evening closes the quiet day.

Published in: Frederick W. Evans. Autobiography of A Shaker, and Revelation of the Apocalypse (New York: American News Co., 1888) p. 239-241. A digital edition of this book is now available on line.
Previously published in The Manifesto 17 (1887): p. 165-166. A digital edition of this publication is now available on line.
Originally published in the fourth of a series of four articles entitled “Christian Communism” by Theo. Kalandri about the Shakers in Ohio that appeared in the Cincinnati Post, a Cincinnati, Ohio newspaper.