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Shakers had progressive ideas

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By Brad Bowman

You will find in this week’s issue my one tank trip to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

Shaker Village isn’t exactly somewhere one would go to for a high-octane night on the town or expect to find anything on the cutting edge. I refute that expectation. Shaker Village gives something new to the visitor each time they visit.

The Shakers stood on the cutting edge of technology when it came to farming and household goods. We all know that, but the less commonly known cutting edge elements of their culture lies in their society.

Shakers came out of the surrounding area. They were farmers, artisans, some immigrants and many rooted in the traditions started the community in 1803, which later became Pleasant Hill.

There were 54 African-Americans documented at Shaker Village. Many of those 54 were women. Residents in the Shaker Village treated each other equally.

Before the Civil War, this community treated each other with a level of humanity that wouldn’t become vogue until the late 1800s. Moreover, it wasn’t just race but gender equality. A black woman could enjoy the same civil liberties that men did long before women could even vote in this country.

A historian found a journal entry where a village elder said the centre house  would be used as a night school for the sisters to properly be educated on writing, reading and arithmetic.

I will be the first one to admit that the Shakers’ lifestyle, which required no intimate relations between the sexes, should have immediately seemed unattainable and unsustainable. That course would require a constant recruitment of new residents since they didn’t allow procreation, but they counter that belief with equal footing and education for anyone of any color or gender.

There are anecdotes of slaves who were lent out by their masters to work at the village and members would secretly give the slaves money to buy their own freedom. There are anecdotes of women who left the village and returned pregnant that the residents would allow them to stay until they were able to leave with their child.

The Shakers don’t seem so static this time around as they did when I was a child. They seem much more advanced for their time.