Did Shakers Vote?

As the election season is upon us we thought we would share an object from our collection and some thoughts on the Shakers and their relationship to the federal government.

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Lapel Pin, “I Like Ike,” Hancock, MA, 1956. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1987.1.1. Michael Frederick, photographer.

This pin was probably produced for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 presidential campaign. It was owned by Shaker Eldress Frances Hall (1876-1957). Eldress Frances, from age eight until her death, lived at Hancock, Massachusetts. She served there as a Trustee and assistant to Ministry Elder Joseph Holden. She eventually rose to being first in the Shaker Ministry in 1946 and it was she who made the final decision to close the Mount Lebanon community in 1947 and move the Shaker Ministry to Pittsfield in 1950.

The pin was a gift from Eldress Frances to young James Upton, son of Russell Sage College professors and Shaker collectors Charles and Helen Upton. The Uptons became friends with the Eldress in the early 1950s and she was fond of Jim. In 1957 she gave this pin to Jim during his first year of collecting political memorabilia. Jim made a gift of the pin to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1987.

Whether Eldress Frances ever wore the pin or if she supported Eisenhower and voted for him is unknown; that she had the pin suggests some interest in his election.

In general Shakers didn’t vote. Voting encourages people to take sides – as the Shakers would say, “get into a party spirit” – and taking sides creates disunion. Dwelling on issues that are raised in political discussions gets Shakers too involved in the concerns of the outside world. The Shakers were not at all anti-government or anti-democracy. In fact, Elder James S. Prescott of the North Union, Ohio, Shakers wrote, “The ‘ballot’ is one of the best institutions the world [meaning those who are not Shakers] have to preserve order on the earth plane, where the laws of voting, and the ballot box is kept sacred, and not perverted to a wrong use. The world have a right to the ‘ballot,’ it is their privilege to vote,” in an article in the February 1885 issue of The Manifesto. He continued to explain, however, “There is no law requiring every citizen of the United States to vote, because he is a citizen, and it is right it should be so, otherwise our country would not be a free country.” Shakers chose not to vote. Prescott gets to the heart of the matter by telling a story of an Elder at Union Village, Ohio: “’Brethren! Are there any parties among you?’” asked the Elder, ‘If so, I will tell you just which side I will join. Neither! Christ is not divided. His people are called to be one people, of one heart, and of one mind.’”

Frederick W. Evans, Elder of the Mount Lebanon North Family made the same point in an article titled, “Why Do Not Shaker Vote?” published in The Shaker Manifesto (October, 1880), answering the question with, “For the same reason that they do not marry, nor fight, nor hold individual private property. They are a church, not connected with any civil government; do not believe in church and state union, not even with the American republic.” In the same article Evans stresses that the American system will not be a perfect system “until their Shaker sisters are equally citizens with themselves [the brethren] – until woman is not only a law-abiding but a law-making factor.” So, the article might be re-titled, at least, until women’s suffrage in 1917 – “Why Do Not Shaker Men Vote?”

The Shakers did occasionally find reason to vote in local elections and on referendums where they were of one mind and the issue directly involved them. After all, they paid taxes and made use of the civil authorities that those taxes paid for when it was necessary. Following the Civil War some of the communities relaxed their restrictions on voting and members were allowed to cast their ballots.

 

 

 

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The Shaker Improved Washing Machine

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Washing Machine, Church Family, Canterbury, New Hampshire, ca. 1877. Photograph by Lees’ Studio, Chatham, New York, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1955.7843.1. This is the washing machine acquired from and once used by the Canterbury Shakers at their laundry in 1955 as it was exhibited at the Shaker Museum around 1960.

A perfect confluence of need, will, skill, and capital made it possible for the Shakers to make innovative improvements in the machinery for doing their laundry. The challenge of keeping a communal family of 50 to 100 members in clean clothes and linens clearly created a need for mechanization, and the Shaker communal system of cooperative work made available the different trades necessary to build something as complicated as a wash-mill. The mechanics, woodworkers, blacksmiths, and machinists in the community could build complex machines and in precept and practice were trained to work together. The Shakers had built wash-mills of different types during the early part of the nineteenth century, but in 1858 they took what they had learned about doing wash with mechanical power to the marketplace by engineering, building, and patenting an improvement in washing machines. Although the Shakers received a patent for an “Improved Washing Machine” on January 26, 1858, they had been manufacturing and selling the machine prior to that and mentioned the success of the machine in the patent description.

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Letters Patent, granted to Nicholas A. Briggs and Elijah H. Knowles, Shaker Village, New Hampshire, 1877, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1952.5117.1

The washing machine appears to have been developed at Mount Lebanon in the early 1850s. Nicholas Bennett, a Shaker mechanic at Mount Lebanon, probably developed and began manufacturing the machine, but when he died at the end of 1857 the Shakers thought it best to assign the patent to Brother David Parker, a Trustee in the Church Family at Canterbury. It was the Canterbury Shakers who manufactured and marketed the washing machine.

In the introduction to their 1862 catalogue for the Shakers’ Washing Machine they summarized their experience in the laundry business: “The Societies of Shakers have had much and long experience in the attempt to wash clothes by power machines, and, after trying several different kinds, have never found any that give such general satisfaction as this machine.” In presenting their new improved machine they also took into account the problems that doing laundry by mechanical means have caused. They wrote, “We are fully aware of the great imposition which has been practiced by the introduction of washing machines, and of the injury to clothes, loss, disappointment, and waste of soap resulting there from, having been ourselves sufferers with others; hence the greater necessity of carefully examining into this all-important subject. Although subjected to some disadvantages in starting this machine, against the feelings and prejudices of washerwomen, who, as a general rule, are opposed to any labor-saving machinery, yet, so far as we know and believe, every machine now in operation gives great satisfaction, as the accompanying Testimonials will bear witness.”

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“The Shaker Washing Machine,” Scientific American 2 (March 10, 1860), Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

In 1860, the Scientific American devoted a front page article to the Shakers’ machine along with an illustration of it in use and a list of hotels using it with satisfaction.

By 1876 when the Canterbury Shakers exhibited the washing machine in Machinery Hall at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, they had sold over three hundred machines and had made further improvements in its operation. The wash tubs in the original machine were agitated by swinging from rods much like a porch swing but on the improved machine shown at the Exposition the tubs slid back and forth on metal tracks. In both machines the agitating power was supplied by a water-powered crank-shaft connected to the tubs by a reciprocating arm. The washing machine could be operated by water or steam power by way of a drive pulley and line-shaft powered by either source. Dirt was removed by the repeated compression of clothes against the washer’s wall and the churning movement provided by the agitators.

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Photograph, [Shaker Washing Machine as Displayed at the Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, PA, 1876], Edward l. Wilson & W. Irving Adams, photographers, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1952.5119.1.

There are a number of documents and artifacts in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection associated with the Shakers’ manufacturing and marketing of the washing machine. In addition to a three-tub version of the 1877 machine and the original Letters Patent for 1858 and 1877 machines, there is a small manuscript book that contains drawings of the parts for the machine that had to be cast at an iron foundry, and many of the original printing blocks that were used to promote the machine in the press and catalogues.

Learn more about Shaker laundry at the summer exhibition Wash: There is no dirt in heaven on view at Mount Lebanon through October 10, 2016.

The knit rugs of Elvira Hulett

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Rug, Church Family, Hancock, MA, c. 1890. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1957.8574.1. Matthew Kroening, photographer.

A small group of rugs, similar in their style of manufacture and aesthetic features, are associated with Elvira Hulett, a Shaker Sister who lived her life at Hancock, Massachusetts.

Elvira Curtis Hulett was born on August 6, 1805 – thirty one years to the day from when the Shakers first set foot in New York City. She was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, an abutting town to Northampton. She was apparently the second born in a family of three boys and two girls. Her parents were Anthony Hulett and Charlotte Curtis Hulett. Something happened in the Hulett family following the birth of their fifth child – Theodore Graves Hulett on June 13, 1811 – for in 1812 all the family but Elvira’s father came to live with the Shakers at Hancock.

Sister Elvira lived a long and useful life among the Hancock Shakers. She resided with Hancock’s West Family for nearly a half century, moving into the Church Family where she worked as a weaver, baker, tailoress, and eventually the Eldress of the family. Her mother, Charlotte, died in the faith as did her brother Chester, who served as a trustee at the West Family. The other three children, Charlotta (called Hortency in her Shaker life), Walter, and Theodore all apparently left in their youth.

Of the five rugs that are associated with Sister Elvira, only one is signed by the maker – that one, now in a private collection, bears a cross-stitched label that reads, “Made in 1892 by Sister Elvira in her 88th year.” The only Elvira this could be among the Shakers was Elvira Hulett. One of the five known rugs was sold at the Ralph O. Esmerian sale at Sotheby’s in late January, 2014. The remaining three rugs are in the collection of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. They were all acquired at Hancock from Sister Mary Frances Dahm in 1957. They are all round, ranging in diameter from 44 1/4 inches to 56 3/4 inches. They are all knit with a spiraling center several rotations wide surrounded by concentric circles of knit strips. The rugs are bound in a traditional three-strand braid to protect the outer edge of the knitting. All three are backed with heavy denim that helps them to lay flat.

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Rug, Hooked, Knit and Braided, Hancock, MA, c. 1890. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1957.8576.1

A fourth rug in the Museum’s collection, pictured above, needs to be further studied as possibly associated with Sister Elvira. This rug, a traditional hooked rug (the hooking probably not the work of Sister Elvira) has a knit border applied to it with a typical braided boarder protecting its outer edge. It, like the three round knitted rugs, was acquired from Sister Mary Dahm at Hancock in 1957. The style of the knitting, the braided border, and the patterns used are so much like the other work of Sister Elvira that it seems that this rug should be added to this Sister’s portfolio. All of the rugs associated with Sister Elvira appear to have been made in the late 1880s and early 1890s, a period when the Shakers had relaxed the prohibition of unnecessary ornament in their household furnishings.

In the late summer of 1882, Elvira traveled from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ira Race, who were not Shakers (although it may have been her sister Hortency and her husband), to Niagara County, New York, to visit Elvira’s natural brother, Theodore Hulett. It was Sister Elvira’s first trip outside Massachusetts. She visited Niagara Falls.

Her brother Theodore was an interesting character. His biographies in various histories of Niagara County tell that at twelve years of age he left home and apprenticed himself to a carriage maker in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His days as a Shaker youth are not mentioned. As an apprentice he is said to have studied law in his free time and by 1834 made his way to Niagara Falls. There he began several careers – one as a construction manager and the other in the legal field. He was superintendent of construction for the first suspension bridge to cross the Niagara River connecting the United States and Canada. To get the first cable across the river Hulett suggested that a contest be held to see who could fly a kite across to the other side. Once the winning string was tied to a tree, heavier and heavier strings, ropes, and cables could be pulled across the gorge eventually leading to the establishment of a cable capable of holding an iron basket that he and the bridge’s engineer, Charles Elett, Jr. of Philadelphia, had devised to transport workers from one side to the other. He was so confident in the safety of the basket that he sent his own daughter Elvira (clearly named for his older sister) across on its maiden voyage – “never imagining for a moment the possibility that it could tumble down into the gorge taking little Elvira to a most violent death.” Fortunately, she arrived safely on the other side becoming the first woman to be carried across the Niagara gorge in a basket. Elvira Hulett Gates lived in Warsaw, New York, dying there at age 85 in 1927.

These two members of the Hulett family from apparently difficult and challenging beginnings, both had success in finding their way to positions of leadership in their different communities and in expressing their creative prowess in ways that we can still appreciate and even marvel at today.

Shakers combat knock-offs with trademark

With the rising success of Mount Lebanon’s South Family chair business in the 1860s and early 1870,s the Shakers were confronted with a number of companies making “knock-offs” of their chairs and marketing them as “Shaker.” The Henry I. Seymour Chair Manufactory in Troy, New York, the L. & G. Stickley Company in Fayetteville, New York, and the Enterprise Chair Manufacturing Company, in Oxford, New York, all produced chairs that were either called “Shaker” or were so stylistically similar to chairs made by the Shakers that the Shakers felt it necessary to warn their customers about the deception. In their 1874 catalogue, the Shaker published the following:

“Beware of imitation chairs which are sold for our make, and which are called Shakers’ chairs. Read, and remember where you can send for the Shakers’ chairs and get the genuine. Send your orders to headquarters, as we have only one price and quality to all consumers, and by this hall all men know that they are getting the genuine article.”

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Catalogue, “Illustrated Catalogue and Price List of the Shakers’ Chairs, H. F. Reynolds, Lebanon Springs, N. Y., 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Richmond Number 242, 1995.1.1.

The following year, to further protect their product from imitators, the Shakers developed a trade-mark for their chairs. The trade-mark appears on the back cover of their 1875 catalogue with the notice: “The above Trade-Mark will be attached to every genuine Shaker Chair, and none others are of our make notwithstanding any claims to the contrary.” The next year when the Shakers exhibited their chairs at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the special catalogue produced for that event added that their trade-mark “is a gold transfer, and is designed to be ornamental.”  Even though the Shakers gave instruction on how to remove the trade-mark after it was purchased, most unrefinished chairs retain their trade-marks. The gold transfers, decalcomanias (decals for short), were produced by Palm, Fechteler & Company of New York and Chicago. This business began in 1856 as a company that decorated carriages, but around 1865, Charles Palm introduced decals to the United States. Decals originated in England in the mid-1750s as a way to add decoration to pottery – the pottery decorated in this way was commonly called transferware – but it was also a way to inexpensively add fancy decorations to carriages and most anything else. Almost any line art or lithographic print can be made in to a decal.

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Die, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. 1957.8527.1.

It appears that the Shakers were experimenting with methods to trade-mark their chairs. While decals were a relatively new product in the U. S., there was a method for printing labels – hot stamping gold leaf on paper – that was well known to printers and bookbinders. The Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon holds in its collection a die that was made to hot stamp gold leaf and a label made with the die that identified  chairs as being Shaker made. While the manufacturer of the die is not known. It is noteworthy that the front and back covers of the Shakers’ 1875 chair catalogue, printed by B. F. Reynolds, a book and job printer, in Lebanon Springs, New York, appears to be stamped with gold leaf. The knowledge of how to make paper labels with gold lettering was only a short walk away from the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. A printer such as Reynolds certainly would have known where to obtain the proper die to print gold leaf labels. A second gold-leaf stamped label in the Museum’s collection is of a different size and style. To our knowledge the metal die used to make this label has not yet surfaced. The existence of the two different labels suggests that the Shaker were trying out different techniques to produce a practical trade-mark.

 

One final observation about the Shakers’ adventures in trade-marking: both the decals made by Palm, Fechteler & Company and the die present the Shakers’ name in the singular possessive – Shaker’s –  whereas, the Shakers seemed to prefer to use the  plural possessive – Shakers’ – when they put their name on a product. This deviation suggests that either the Shaker who contracted with the maker of the die and with Palm, Fechteler & Company made the apparent error, or the Palm, Fechteler & Company made this decision and could have been  the maker of the die as well as the decals.

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Sheet of Decalcomanias for Shaker’s Chairs, Palm, Fechteler & Co, New York and Chicago, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.