A Shaker Village ran on cooperation, order and efficiency. The Shakers devoted their lives to God, but that doesn’t mean they ignored material things. They paid a lot of attention to the proper way to perform household chores, grow crops and run their businesses. They sold brooms, packaged seeds, medicines, farm products and furniture.
From making paint to cleaning glass and eliminating cooking odors, they had a ‘shaker way’ to do just about everything under the sun. But it had to fit within their beliefs. The Shakers didn’t have sex, refused to fight wars, lived simply and treated men and women as equals. They were called Shakers because of their ecstatic dancing during religious services.
The founder of Shakerism, Ann Lee, had a creed that included neatness:
“Put your hands to work and your hearts to God; pay all your just debts, and right all your wrongs. Remember the poor; if you have but little to spare, give to them that need. Be neat and clean, and keep the fear of God in all your goings forth.”
The Shaker Village
At the height of Shakerism in 1850, Harvard, Mass., served as the center of the Shaker world, which included nearly two dozen Shaker village from Maine to Indiana. And the people lived communally in their Shaker Villages. They believed ‘order is heaven’s first law.’ The Shakers kept their villages in remarkable order, both inside their buildings and out.
The English economist John Finch discovered useful lessons in Shaker society. He found, for example:
Each Shaker village is a handsome, well-built town, with wide streets, laid out regularly at right angles: the houses, factories, workshops, agricultural buildings, and public buildings all large and well-built — the whole surrounded with beautiful and well-cultivated kitchen and flower gardens, vineyards, orchards, and farms, the very best that are to be seen in the United States.
He also had high praise for their livestock. They had many horses, dairy cows, sheep and pigs. Finch called them, ” some of the best bred and the best fed I ever saw.” He also wrote,
…their long ranges of stacks of grain, well-filled barns, and well-filled stores, prove that they have neither want nor the fear of it.
Neatness, Cleanliness, Order
Finch observed “neatness, cleanliness and order” everywhere. On their persons, he noticed “cheerfulness and contented looks” that “afford the reflective mind continual pleasure.
Here none are overworked, and none ever want a day’s labour; none live in luxury, and no man, woman or child lacks anything. Here machinery of every kind is always among their greatest blessings; it lessens their toilsome labour, and multiplies their enjoyments…
The Shakers published The Shaker Manifesto, which every month included music, poetry, essays, advice, and household tips. Here are some household tips from the Shaker Manifesto, Volumes 12-13:
Shaker Village Pickles
Take small sized cucumbers, and scald them three successive mornings in weak brine. Drain them dry, have ready a brass kettle and some nice strong vinegar, with cloves, allspice, and a small piece of alum, which will make them green and brittle, a little horseradish root improves them. Pickles made in this way will keep through the year.
Shaker Village Starch
To starch collars, cuffs, etc. so that they will be stiff and glossy as those bought at furnishing stores, add to one quart of the well boiled (corn) starch three ounces of water gloss, one ounce of gum arabic, and two ounces of loaf sugar– use polishing iron.—
Cleaning a mirror
Take a newspaper or part of one, according to the size of the glass. Fold it small and dip it into a basin of clean cold water; when thoroughly wet squeeze it out in your hand as you would a sponge, and then rub it hard all over the face of the glass, taking care that it is not so wet as to run down in streams. In fact, the paper must only be completely moistened or dampened all through. After the glass has been well rubbed with wet paper, let it rest for a few minutes, and then go over it with a fresh, dry newspaper, folded small in your hand, till it looks clear and bright, which it will almost immediately and with no further trouble.
The Shakers endorsed that method as “the best and most expeditious for cleaning mirrors.”
It often happens that the woodwork on doors, particularly near the handles, will become quite dirty and badly stained by the frequent running back and forth of careless children. In these cases it is sometimes found impossible to remove the marks with cold water, or without the use of soap, however undesirable. If this occurs, throw two tablespoonfuls of powdered borax into a pail of hot water, and wash the paint with it. Do not use a brush; but if found impossible to remove the marks in this way, the soap must be resorted to.
Rub the soap on the cloth and then sprinkle on the soap dry borax, and rub the spots faithfully, rinsing with plenty of water. By washing woodwork in this way the paint will not be injured, and the borax will keep the hands soft and white.
(The Shakers had high praise for borax, noting in the manifesto that people would use it twice as much if they understood its practicality. Its valuable properties included help in increasing the cleansing properties of soap, and at the same time correcting its corrosive tendency.)
A very ready and efficient means of mending broken chinaware is to take a very thick solution of gum-arabic and stir into it as much plaster of paris as will bring it to the proper consistency. Apply it with a brush to the edges of the fractured parts and stick them together, holding them in place for a few moments until they adhere. In a few days it will be impossible to break them in the same place.
To prevent the scent while cooking.–Kitchen odors may be overcome by throwing a few pieces of charcoal into the pots, kettles or pans, while cooking. Try it with cod-fish, ham or cabbage.
Whitewash or cheap paint
Four oz. lime; 10 lbs. whiting; 4 qts skim milk; 1 pt. soap suds. Color to suit. Put the lime in a stone jar; pour on hot water to slack the lime, and then add m ilk enough to make it look like cream. Add the whiting and the remainder of the milk. Then stir in the soapsuds and the coloring matter. If to be used without coloring, a small teaspoonful of bluing will make it whiter.
- For a dying coal fire, throw on a tablespoonful of salt and it will help it very much.
- In icing cakes, dip the knife frequently into cold water.
- In boiling meat for soup, use cold water to extract the juices. If the meat is wanted for itself alone, plunge in boiling water at once.
- You can get a bottle or barrel of oil off any carpet or woolen stuff by applying dry buckwheat plentifully and faithfully. Never put water to such a grease spot, or liquid of any kind.
- The best duster with which to clean carved furniture is a new paint brush; you can move absolutely all the dust with it. Try it.
Value of ammonia
Ammonia will remove fingermarks from paint, where there would otherwise have to be a good deal of scrubbing with soap, which takes the paint off too. Ammonia is useful to wash all the brushes that are used in a household. Nothing will cleanse greasy sinks, pans or scrubbing brushes so well. A teaspoonful in a basin of water will make hair brushes beautifully white. Take care not to let the back of brushes dip below the surface — rinse them with clear, warm water and put them in a sunny window to dry.
The Shakers also recommended a small bottle of ammonia for the wardrobe. “Wet a little sponge with it and you can take out most any spot.”
This story last updated in 2022.
Images: Shaker chair By Carl Wycoff from Nevada, USA – The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10337908. Featured image (Harvard Shaker Village) By John Phelan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10819854.