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Who are the Shakers?

The Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, are a religious sect renowned for their communal living, pacifism, and exquisite craftsmanship. Emerging in the 18th century, their innovative designs and social practices still resonate today. Discover how the Shakers' legacy continues to influence modern aesthetics and community ideals. What might we learn from their enduring ethos?
Kathy Hawkins
Kathy Hawkins

The Shakers are a small religious sect that was founded in Manchester, England, in 1747. Their name came from the derogatory term, "Shaking Quakers," which they were initially called because of their tendency to shake their bodies spastically while praying. The Shakers' first leader, Ann Lee, was known as Mother Ann, and claimed to have visions of God. She was imprisoned in England for her controversial religious views; upon her release, she led a small group of eight fellow Shakers to the United States.

This group settled in a small town in upstate New York. They believed in celibacy, and attempted to raise new generations of children by adopting orphans into their community. The Shaker movement soon grew, with new communes appearing throughout New England, as well as in Kentucky and Ohio.

A portrait of a Shaker.
A portrait of a Shaker.

The Shaker communities were known for their devout Christianity, their plain clothes, and their work ethic. Many people in the community became adept at building furniture, which is highly valued today for its excellent craftsmanship. As excellent farmers, they were also responsible for many agricultural inventions, such as the clothespin and the circular saw. They were also well-known for their collection of medicinal herbs.

Shakers were known for being devout Christians.
Shakers were known for being devout Christians.

Today, there is only one remaining community of Shakers, located on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine. The community has only a handful of members, and they are no longer permitted to adopt children as a religious group. They lead a quiet life, full of work and prayer. There is a Shaker Museum on the premises which is open to visitors, and visitors can also sit in on Sunday services. On the first Sunday of August, the Shakers celebrate Mother Ann Day, in honor of the group's founder. Some believe that once the group's membership has dwindled to only five members, there will be a revival.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Shakers and what are they known for?

A circular saw, which was developed by the Shakers.
A circular saw, which was developed by the Shakers.

The Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, are a religious sect that originated in the 18th century in England. They are known for their celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, and their model of equality of the sexes, which was radical for its time. The Shakers are also famous for their simple, yet high-quality craftsmanship in furniture and architecture, as well as their contributions to agricultural innovation and music.

What are the core beliefs of the Shaker religion?

The Shakers are a small religious sect that was founded in England in 1747.
The Shakers are a small religious sect that was founded in England in 1747.

The Shaker religion is centered around the idea of simplicity and perfection in everyday life. Core beliefs include celibacy, communal living, confession of sin, and separation from the world. They also believe in gender equality and pacifism. The Shakers practice a form of worship that includes singing, dancing, and shaking, which is how they got their name. They believe in the second coming of Christ and strive to live a life of humility and simplicity in preparation for this event.

How did the Shaker community sustain itself economically?

The Shaker community sustained itself through a variety of industries, including agriculture, medicinal herbs, seed production, and the crafting of furniture and household items. Their products were known for their quality and innovation, which allowed them to trade successfully with the outside world. The Shakers were also early adopters of new agricultural techniques and were known for their seed businesses, which helped to support their communities financially.

What is the current status of the Shaker community?

As of the early 21st century, the Shaker community has dwindled significantly due to their practice of celibacy and the lack of new converts. The last remaining Shaker community is at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, which still practices the Shaker religion and maintains a museum to preserve their history. According to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, there are only a few Shakers left as of 2021.

How has Shaker design influenced modern aesthetics?

Shaker design has had a profound influence on modern aesthetics, particularly in the realms of furniture and architecture. The emphasis on functionality, clean lines, and fine craftsmanship resonates with contemporary minimalist design philosophies. Shaker furniture is celebrated for its simplicity, durability, and timeless elegance, qualities that have been embraced by modern designers looking to create spaces that reflect clarity and purpose.

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Discussion Comments


@mitchell14- I heard about the Oneida community when I was reading about Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated President Garfield.

Apparently Guiteau, who is well known as being mentally ill, went there after he had trouble in college, and then left- supposedly because he did not get along with the others. Some sources even say that he couldn't get anyone to sleep with him, even in a community where polyamory was one of the main parts of their lifestyle.

Guiteau went on to have a strong belief in God, though, to the point where he claimed he killed Garfield because the Lord told him to.

It makes me wonder if he wouldn't have done better in a more subdued environment, like the Shakers.


When we think of utopian societies -- those who think that their ideas could bring about an ideal world -- Shakers have become the most famous. And they do fit the mold, being a communal environment, strictly religious, and very committed.

However, there were many other similar groups that also started in the 18th and 19th centuries, and several others in New England. One that I find really amusing is the Oneida Community in Oneida, New York- they were almost the opposite of the Shakers.

While the Shakers practice celibacy, the Oneida community practiced something called Complex Marriage, in which everyone was basically married to one another, and could engage in sexual relations with anyone else of the opposite sex.

Sometimes I wonder if this would have worked better now than then; as it was they only lasted as a community from 1848 to 1881, and there were a few smaller groups around the country with similar practices.


I admire the Shakers for their devotion to their beliefs. It sounds like the world is trying to snuff them out, yet they still continue in their traditions.

Though my lifestyle is totally different from theirs, I can very much respect commitment to the point of self-denial. They have it in their head what they believe that God expects of them, and they will not waver and join the masses.

Sadly, they do seemed destined to die out. I can’t believe that they are not allowed to adopt children! Legally, maybe it’s because no one or two specific people would act as the parents.


@snickerish - Yes! They have kept the tradition of Shaker boxes alive (you can even find them for sale on the internet, but I don't know how authentic they are). Just as mentioned previously the Shakers are amazing craftsmen and craftswomen, so there was a push to make sure their box craftmanship wasn't lost.

I remember when I was young (we also visited Shakertown in Kentucky), the thing to have were Shaker brooms as they were solid and beautiful.

I also never looked at candles' the same way after I saw the reenactment of hand dipping candles. Neat stuff for a kid to see, and it made me appreciate all the stuff we had growing up even more.


@anon113991 - I bet "frugal" is an understatement for the Shaker mentality, especially in our culture now-a-days!


@anon113991 - I find it interesting there are any Shakers left, because I grew up going to Shakertown in Kentucky and we visited it like any historic landmark; as though it (the town and Shakers themselves) were a relic of the past.

But it sounds like the Shakers which are still around are still a relic of the past. As they still dress in much the same way and live in much the same way!

And just as the article mentioned that "Shaker-towns" have mostly disappeared, the art of one of their crafts had also mostly disappeared. This craft was called shaker boxes, and they sold a few at the visitor gift shop in Kentucky when I was a kid and they talked about how few there were, but I wonder if the craft still continues.

This craft was called shaker boxes -- does anybody know if they still make Shaker boxes, or where I could find one?


Interesting to know that there are only Shakers left in Maine. I thought that was the Amish, up there. I am in Texas, and there are several Shaker groups down here. They don't take pains to attract attention, other than the mode of dress, which women always wear long skirts and a type of head covering that is Amish-like. They have nothing to do with outsiders, and are industrious, as far as I can tell. They are tremendous craftsmen. They are secretive and stingy, although I suppose "frugal" would be the term they would use.

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    • A portrait of a Shaker.
      By: George Eastman House
      A portrait of a Shaker.
    • Shakers were known for being devout Christians.
      By: xxknightwolf
      Shakers were known for being devout Christians.
    • A circular saw, which was developed by the Shakers.
      A circular saw, which was developed by the Shakers.
    • The Shakers are a small religious sect that was founded in England in 1747.
      By: Elenathewise
      The Shakers are a small religious sect that was founded in England in 1747.