The Shakers, are a Christian sect founded in 1747 in England and then organized in the United States in the 1780s. They were initially known as “Shaking Quakers” because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services.
Espousing egalitarian ideals, women took on spiritual leadership roles alongside men, including founding leaders. The Shakers emigrated from England and settled in Revolutionary colonial America. They practiced a celibate and communal utopian lifestyle, pacifism, uniform charismatic worship, and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s. They are also known for their simple living, architecture, technological innovation, music, and furniture.
The mid-19th century was a very active timer the Shakers – it was a period of dances, gift drawings, and gift songs inspired by spiritual revelations. At its peak in the mid-19th century, there were 2,000–4,000 Shaker believers living in 18 major communities in the north eastern states of America.But as members left or died there were few converts to the faith to replace them. By 1920, there were only 12 Shaker communities remaining in the United States. As of 2019, there is only one active Shaker village: Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, in Maine. Consequently, many of the other Shaker settlements are now museums.
The Shakers’ dedication to hard work and perfection has resulted in a unique range of architecture, furniture and handicraft styles. They designed their furniture with care, believing that making something well was in itself, “an act of prayer”. Before the late 18th century, they rarely fashioned items with elaborate details or extra decoration, but only made things for their intended uses. The ladder-back chair was a popular piece of furniture.
The simple architecture of their homes, meeting houses, and barns has had a lasting influence on American architecture and design. There is a collection of furniture and utensils at Hancock Shaker Village outside of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, that is famous for its elegance and practicality.