shaker_header (90K)




Library of Congress Subject Headings



Browsing Areas

    Most of the library’s Shaker resources can be found under the BX9700s on the 3rd floor of Davis library. Works related to Shaker art may be found in Davis and in UNC’s Art Library in the BX 9770s and the N6510s. General utopian studies are located in Davis in the HX650s.


Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

The ABC-CLIO World History Companion to Utopian Movements, by Daniel Webster Hollis. Santa Barbara, CA : ABC-CLIO, c1998. DAVIS REFERENCE HX626.H65 1998
This glossy and very readable encyclopedic volume covers specific international movements as well as general aspects of utopian thought and utopian literature and film from 1460 to 1997. There is no Shaker entry, but Shakerism is described at length under the Millenialism heading and is considered in comparison with the societies of its contemporaries. The value of this work for the Shaker researcher is that it locates Shakerism within the historical and theoretical framework of utopianism. It contains an index, a bibliography and a chronology of utopianism.

Dictionary of American Communal and Utopian History, by Robert S. Fogarty. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1980. DAVIS HX653 .F65
This volume is divided into biographies and communities and has useful entries for a number of key Shakers. There is only one entry, however, for all of the Shaker communities, and the information provided is fairly basic. The sources are listed after each entry, and much of the information is taken from primary writings. A lengthy introduction discusses patterns followed by utopian movements and how Shakerism does and does not fit into these. A bibliographical essay also addresses the Shakers in some depth. An appendix provides demographic information on the Shakers and other utopian societies.

Encyclopedia of American Communes, 1663-1963, by Foster Stockwell. Jefferson, NC : McFarland & Co., c1998. DAVIS REFERENCE HX653.S65 1998
This encyclopedia gives information about individual communities, even those that are quite small and short-lived. Entries are provided for all of the known Shaker communities, and the larger of these are extensively written-up, with more than a page dedicated to some. Information given includes community history, architecture, leadership, demographic makeup, connections with other communities, and goods produced. The decline and closing of Shaker communities is recounted, and the author goes so far as to explain where inhabitants went afterward. Though only community entries are provided, a detailed index eases searching.

Utopias and Utopians : an historical dictionary, by R. C. S. Trahair. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1999. DAVIS REFERENCE HX626.T73 1999
This is a well-researched and highly detailed resource, which gives an excellent historical account of the Shakers and the key figures in Shakerism. Especially useful are the entries for religious movements Shakerism evolved from.



Listed are three specific religion and history indexes. General indexes to history, the arts, social sciences and humanities may also provide useful information.

America, History and Life (

ATLA religion database on CD-ROM [CD-ROM serial]. Evanston, IL : American Theological Library Association, 1993-. DAVIS REFERENCE ELECTRONIC RESOURCE Serial 10-102

Index to religious periodical literature. Chicago : American Theological Library Association, 1952. DAVIS Z7753 .A5


Bibliographies and Guides to Collections

The Edward Deming Andrews Memorial Shaker Collection. New York : Garland Pub, 1987. DAVIS Z7845.S5 H46 1987

    This bibliography covers materials by and about Shakers and is indexed by author and title.

A Guide to Shaker Manuscripts in the Library of the Western Reserve Historical Society, by Kermit J. Pike. Cleveland : The Western Reserve Historical Society, 1974. DAVIS CD3065.C558 W47 1974
    This collection guide is best used alongside the reel list described in the entry that follows. In this volume materials are organized by document type, and more descriptive information is provided (content description, date, provenance, etc) than in the bare bones reel list. There are also notes about collection content and organization under some section headings.

The Shaker Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society : a reel list of the manuscripts and a short title list of the printed materials contained in the microform collection. Glen Rock, NJ : Microfilming Corp. of America, 1977. DAVIS REFERENCE CD3065.C558 W47 1977
    The reader is referred from the beginning to use this volume along with Kermit Pike’s Guide to Shaker Manuscripts, which provides descriptions of the entire collection. Though Pike’s guide is useful, this typewritten booklet is essential to navigating the microfilmed reels. Microfilmed texts are listed only alphabetically, and actually finding anything requires a good deal of flipping between sections and location lists. Also, the logic behind the arrangement of the collection is unclear, and the existence of multiple systems of control numbers (developed at various times) is another point of confusion.

Shaker Literature : a bibliography, by Mary L. Richmond. Hancock, Mass. : Shaker Community ; Hanover, NH : distributed by the University Press of New England, 1977. DAVIS Z7845.S5 R52
    These are two very useful volumes for the Shaker researcher as they cover published materials by and about the Shakers to 1977 and are the most comprehensive source of this information to date. Richmond does list where resources may be found, but a complaint about this set is that it is independent of any particular Shaker collection, and it is difficult to find the materials listed. Aside from that significant problem, the sheer volume of available information is somewhat overwhelming in this bibliography, but the volumes are fairly easily navigated.


Historical Monographs

The people called Shakers; a search for the perfect society, by Edward Deming Andrews. New York, Oxford University Press, 1953. DAVIS BX9765 .A6

    Edward Deming Andrews has been credited with generating the widespread interest in Shaker artifacts that exists today. A dealer in Shaker antiques, he wrote extensively about Shaker life, art and history. Though the sources of many of his stories are dubious, his romanticized accounts of the Shakers as old-world craftspeople were the authoritative Shaker histories for years and are thus key to understanding Shaker historical presentation today. This is a light, uplifting read, which includes a bibliography.

Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives, by Priscilla J. Brewer. Hanover : University Press of New England, 1986. BX9766 .B74 1986

    This is a good general Shaker volume, but it isn’t nearly as comprehensive or engaging as Stein’s The Shaker Experience in America. Still, Brewer does do a nice job of analyzing Shaker demographics, a hard science element that is often left out of books about the Shakers. A bibliography and index are provided.

The Shaker Experience in America : a history of the United Society of Believers, by Stephen J. Stein. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1992. DAVIS BX9766 .S74 1992

    This exhaustive Shaker history is widely considered the definitive work on the subject. Stein divides the Shaker movement into periods and discusses the trends and major figures in each then goes on to comment upon the writing that has been produced about the Shakers through time. This thorough analysis of Shaker scholarship itself can be very useful to the beginning researcher. It is a dense 500+ page book that leaves no stone unturned but serves very well as a general Shaker reference volume. It contains tables, black and white illustrations and photographs, an annotated bibliography, and an index.

The Shakers and the World’s People, by Flo Morse. New York : Dodd, Mead, c1980. DAVIS BX9759 .M67

    This is fairly typical of the romanticized Shaker history genre, but it does have two redeeming sections – “Where to find Shaker Collections in Museums and Libraries” and “In the Twentieth Century”, which gives an account and includes photos of Shaker life as it existed around 1980.


Specialty Monographs of Note

Bodies of Life : Shaker Literature and Literacies, by Etta M. Madden. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1998. DAVIS PS153.S54 M33 1998

    While this book will be too scholarly in tone for many, Madden takes a unique approach to the Shakers, analyzing their writings as literature and considering the place of reading and writing in Shaker life through time.

Community Industries of the Shakers : a new look, prepared by the Staff of the New York State Museum. Albany : The Shaker Heritage Society at Watervliet, 1983. DAVIS BX9784.C66 1983

    This short volume is largely a book of photos, but some context is given for each and short essays explain the evolution and particulars of Shaker woodcraft, agricultural tools, machinery, and textile work. Published by the Shaker Heritage Society, this book treats Shaker material culture more realistically than the many Shaker craft “coffee table books” that have been published.

A Shaker Family Album : photographs from the collection of Canterbury Shaker Village, by David R. Starbuck. Hanover, NH : University Press of New England, c1998. DAVIS BX9768.C3 S73 1998

    An introduction to the book and to the Shakers gives these photographs context, but the remainder of the book is given over to images, with only short captions. These photos truly do speak volumes though and cover a wide area, from early village stereographs, to the popular Shaker postcards, to architecture, activities, products, and others. These provide a balanced overview of the society but would be more useful to the researcher if helped along by more commentary. A short list of “Recommended Reading” is provided.

Shaker : Life, Work and Art, by June Sprigg and David Larkin. London : Cassell, 1989. DAVIS BX9771.S68 1988

    This large, glossy volume focuses on color photographs of Shaker communities and artifacts. The photos give a sense of the detail and craftsmanship that Shaker work is so prized for, and the captions guide the reader in gleaning a sense of what Shaker life might have been like by minute details of their living and work spaces. There are also excellent reproductions of intricate Shaker gift drawings (pictoral accounts of religious revelations). A brief bibliography is included.

Simple Gifts : a memoir of a Shaker village, by June Sprigg. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. DAVIS BX9768.C3 S67 1998

    This is an account of the Sabbathday Lake community in the 1970s by a young woman who spent summers there among the elderly Shakers. Written nearly thirty years later, it is a sentimental, largely anecdotal work, but the author’s affection for these people and their dying way of life is contagious. The Shakers are still somewhat insular, and Sprigg’s account her day-to-day experience alongside them reflects a unique perspective on Shakerism.



Shaker Heritage Guidebook : Exploring the Historic Sites, Museums and Collections, by Stuart Murray. Spencertown, NY : Golden Hill Press, 1994. BX9789.C7 M877 1994

    A foreward gives this book the enthusiastic stamp of approval of the remaining Shakers. It is intended as a resource for researchers as well as tourists, giving detailed information about historical holdings at each site as well as tours and other events for the Shaker novice. Murray begins with a well-told Shaker history with maps and illustrations. The new and old photographs throughout are lovely and unusual. Included are addresses for Shaker study groups, richly detailed chapters for each of the 26 communities, a section on Shaker public collections and museums and a bibliography and index.

Visiting Utopian Communities : a guide to the Shakers, Moravians, and others, by Gerald Lee Guteck. Columbia : University of South Carolina Press, c1998. HX653.G87 1998

    The Shaker section of this book begins with a brief biography of Mother Ann Lee and history of the society and goes on to introduce seven major communities and a Shaker museum. A brief description of the geography, architecture and facilities of each site is given, as well as a section devoted to the history of each. Contact and travel information are also included.



Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, the Woman Clothed with the Sun, by Richard Francis. London : Fourth Estate, 2000. DAVIS BX9793.L4 F73 2000

    This recent biography was much ballyhooed in the year of its publication as an objective account which would clarify the persistent mysteries of a life so long shrouded by mythologizing. It does appear to be a well-researched piece of work, but scholars have complained that Francis could do nothing more than shrug his shoulders at the vague origins and mental life of Mother Ann. Still, it is generally considered the definitive biography of Mother Ann, and Francis’s writing is dynamic and enjoyable. An extensive index and a bibliography are provided.

Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Mother Ann Lee. Albany : Weed, Parsons and Co., 1888. BX9793.L4 S5 1975

    This biography consists of the stories Mother Ann’s Shaker contemporaries put to paper after her death. These were only published years later, and there is some question as to the veracity of the tales, but it is interesting to see how Shakers tell the story of her life perhaps in contrast with more recent biographical works. The table of contents is very nicely descriptive of the book’s short chapters. Inexplicably, however, the table of contents does not cover all of the chapters in the book.



Communal Societies : Journal of the Communal Studies Association

Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies

Religion and American Culture

Shaker Writings

Mother’s First-born Daughters : Early Shaker Writings on Women and Religion, edited by Jean M. Humez. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1993. DAVIS BX9789.W7 M68 1993

    The editor states her primary motivation for putting this compilation together as a desire to make original Shaker writings more readily accessible. Indeed, this volume contains full-text manuscripts with very little editorial commentary. An introduction addresses the selection process in which Humez was forced to chose a very few representative pieces of the mass of writings which spoke to the position of women in Shaker society from the 18th through the 20th century. As for the language of the manuscripts, some will find it lyrical and poetic, and others will find it long-winded and overly-flowery. This volume contains an index and an extensive bibliography, which is helpfully divided into subtopics.

Shaker Manuscripts On-line

    This site offers an impressive number of original Shaker writings and historical documents about the Shakers. The writings are retyped rather than digitized, so the actual look of the document is lost.

The Shakers : two centuries of spiritual reflection, by Robley Edward Whitson. New York : Paulist Press, c1983. DAVIS BX9759 .S53 1983
    A part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series, this is a collection of excerpts from primary Shaker texts which are deemed to have particular theological implications. These excerpts are organized according to theological concepts addressed, and analysis is provided mainly in the introduction. The volume is well-indexed and contains a bibliography.

The Shaker Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Glen Rock, NJ : Microfilming Corp. of America, 1976. DAVIS MICROFORMS COLLECTION 1-1920 and 1-1186
    One hundred and twenty-three reels of microfilm consisting of “journals, diaries, ledgers, daybooks and other account books, hymnals and music, legal documents, inspirational writings and drawings, testimonies, sermons, speeches, covenants, directives, contracts, wills, financial receipts, surveys, deeds, newspaper clippings, broadsides, and photographs” make up this, the largest single collection of Shaker-related documents. The arrangement of materials seems haphazard, so it is necessary to consult the collection guides before trying to browse the collection.

Autobiography of a Shaker, and Revelation of the Apocalypse, by Frederick W. Evans. Glasgow : United Publishing Co, 1888. DAVIS BX9793.E8 A3 1973
    Though Elder Evans, a preeminent Shaker of the late 19th century and prolific writer, called this book an autobiography, there is little of himself in its pages. He states in the introduction that his intention is to explain Shakerism to the rest of the world. He begins with a brief bit of personal history and then proceeds to outline the history and tenets of the society, even including excerpts from important Shaker writings and documents. This is a fast read which gives a sense of the tone of Shaker writing and thought. A very detailed table of contents serves fairly well in lieu of an index. The researcher may prefer this to other primary sources as it is available in a bound volume, rather than microfilm, and the typeface and spacing is modern and very legible.

A Concise History of the United Society of Believers Called Shakers, by Charles Edson Robinson. East Canterbury, N.H. : Robinson, c1893. DAVIS BX9766 .R6 1893
    This Shaker-written history of the society takes a somewhat proselytizing tone as the author addresses such Shaker issues as “women’s rights” and the benefits of “communism” as it was practiced by the Shakers and others of the time. The author traces the movement’s origins back to early Christianity and provides detailed biographies of major figures. The library’s copy is in extreme disrepair, but the portraits and illustrations remain vivid. There is no index, but the table of contents is extremely descriptive.

A Portraiture of Shakerism, by Mary M. Dyer. New York : AMS Press, 1972. DAVIS BX9773.M4 A3 1972
    The writings of Shaker apostates have proven useful to historians in their counterclaims to the idealized picture put forth in Shaker documents. Mary Dyer is one of the more zealous and prolific in her dislike of Shaker society and portrays Shaker life in this 1822 publication as bleak and Shaker leadership as corrupt. Dyer recounts at length how she came to live with the Shakers and the “innumerable wrongs” she endured at their hands. The type is uneven and the text largely unbroken by chapter headings. Still, it is a well-known example of apostate writing, and it reflects the anti-Shaker sentiment held by many at the time.

The Shaker Quarterly. Orona, Me. : Raymond H. Folger Library, University of Maine, 1961. DAVIS BX9751 (vol 1 – 22) This periodical began publication in 1961 and has continued sporadically through the present. It is published by the only remaining active Shaker community and contains writings by and about the few living Shakers, as well as book reviews and retrospective and scholarly articles about the Shakers.


Electronic Resources

Religious Movements Homepage

    This site provides a fairly detailed history as well as encyclopedia-style sections on basic facts, sacred texts, and essential beliefs. It also lists a number of Shaker web sites and contains a bibliography of print resources as well.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill : The Village Experience

    This is a very well-constructed site, which provides information about the Shaker movement, the Kentucky Shakers in particular, the village restoration, music and dance, farming and various other aspects of Shaker life.
Shaker Workshops

    This site provides a list of and links to ten official Shaker village and museum sites.

    This site hosts a University of Kentucky sponsored Shaker discussion list, which is currently at 175 members.


Audio-Visual Resources

The Shakers : hands to work, hearts to god. Thousand Oaks, CA : Goldhil Video (distributor), c1998. UNDERGRADUATE LIBRARY NONPRINT 65-V6893

    This is an hour-long Ken Burns film which employs his typical style of storytelling through narration in the voices of the story’s participants. The voices of this film come from both Shaker writings and the remembrances of elderly living Shakers. The Shaker story is engagingly told and augmented by Shaker music and film of the communities as they exist today, however the film has been harshly criticized as a superficial work which perpetuates myths and neglects the beliefs and origins of the movement in favor of its furniture.


Fiction Written About the Shakers

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck. New York : Knopf, 1973. SILS LIBRARY J PECK

    A children’s book about a young Shaker boy who finds it difficult to accept the values held by his parents, especially those regarding a befriended farm pig.

The Divine Comedy of John Venner, by Gregory Blake Smith. New York : Poseidon Press, c1992. DAVIS PS3569.M5356 D58 1992
    This novel is set near the last active Shaker community, where one young orphan girl lives among the elderly Shaker women. A local professor of religion becomes obsessed with the teen Shaker and joins the community to be near her. The two of them struggle with the Shaker notion of a perfect, heavenly community and godly life in contrast with their own human inclinations.

Perfect Agreement, by Michael Downing. Washington, DC : Counterpoint, 1997. DAVIS PS3554.O9346 P47 1997
    The main character of this novel believes that the Shakers are not appreciated today for their beliefs but are associated simply with their craft artifacts. At a difficult time in his life, he turns to the story of a Shaker woman and considers the Shaker notion of work as a divine blessing.


Heading image of two Shakers from: A Shaker Family Album by David R. Starbuck
Tree of Life image from the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

Last updated: Monday, December 10, 2001

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