Shakers were members of a church that came about during an era of religious revivalism in the United States. They are considered to be an offshoot of the Quaker religion. The movement was founded in the late 18th century and they advocated for celibacy, pacifism, and gender equality. During the mid 19th century, the fervor of the Second Great Awakening helped the Shakers to gain over 6,000 members. That was the maximum number of followers that they got because celibacy makes it really hard to grow a religion. Despite their low membership, their beliefs were quite revolutionary for the time period.
"The world of religious sectarianism in eighteenth-century England was crowded with sometimes strange but always interesting groups. The Shaking Quakers were one among many manifestations of radical religion that arose in the land during and after the English Civil War. Many sects were "enthusiastic" in character, a designation used pejoratively on both sides of the Atlantic to condemn radical dissenters for heterodox beliefs and excessive emotionalism. Sectarians, by definition, live in tension with their host culture; they seek to turn the world upside down. "Enthusiasts," form the vantage point of the orthodox and established parties of that day, were "unconventional but religiously devout sectarians who would not, could not, contain their zeal within the organized limits of religious convention. Ann Lee and the Shakers fit well within both categories.4"
- Stephen Stein
What This Means
This paragraph should help to put the Shaker movement into a little bit of perspective by describing the origins of the group. Things such as war can be helpful for stirring up religious revivalism because people are reminded of how brutish and short life can be. Because of this, many different religious sects were created from the late 18th to the early 19th century. The Shakers were one of these radical sects who thought that "traditional" religion did not go far enough.
Shakers were an offshoot of the Quakers. Ann Lee founded the Shakers after she experienced a set of revelations from God. She was originally a textile worker and she suffered a lot of pain because all four of her children died at a young age. She founded her religion after being persecuted, and then she brought her religion over to America where it grew.
The Shakers were significant because they adopted had a lot of beliefs that were before their time. For example, they were supporters of gender equality at a time when women were not allowed to vote and when their work was devalued. Sadly, society didn't share their beliefs until much later. They also were admired for their work ethic and they produced a lot of inventions and furniture for the rest of society to consume.
Obviously, the most important person in Shaker history was Ann Lee, also known as Mother Ann, because she is considered the founder of the Shaker community. She is important because she founded the Shakers and then helped to expand their outreach. After she died, Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright took over as the leaders of the Shaker community. They are important because they standardized the Shaker society and made it so that everyone lived together in communal dorms.
The Shaker society is similar to most any religious revolution in earlier history. For example, the Protestant Revolution happened when people grew tired of the injustices of the Church. In the same way, the Shaker society was founded because it's members had grown tired of the outdated practices of English and American religion.
Stein, Stephen J. The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. Print.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Shaker (Protestant Sect)."Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.
Shaker Dance and Worship. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Kravitt, Samuel. Brother Ricardo Belden, Box Maker. Digital image. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
The first picture shows the Shakers in their famous dance. They got their name because their religious ceremonies usually involved shouting, dancing, and singing. This shows that although they were a small sect, they had a very devoted following. Additionally, you can see both men and women participating in the event showing the Shake belief in Gender Equality.
The second picture is not from the 1800's; however, it showcases the Shaker work ethic. The Leaders of each village were supposed to divide the work so that everyone would participate equally while ensuring that nobody became bored with their work. Shakers are particularly noted for the quality of the furniture they have produced.