Short biographical notes on the Shakers in the two surviving communities -- Sabbathday Lake, ME and Canterbury, NH.
Sabbathday Lake, Maine
SR. R. MILDRED BARKER was born at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1897. When she was seven her mother placed her with the Shakers at Alfred, Maine. That community closed in 1931, and she moved with the remaining members to Sabbathday Lake. She had already begun her life-long vocation of caring for young people and continued to fill that role at Sabbathday Lake. The autobiography of Sr. Frances Carr pays warm tribute to her gift in this work. Sr. Frances also tells that in addition to her love of Shaker song, Sr. Mildred had a strong interest in opera. Mildred was appointed Trustee of the Society in 1950, becoming responsible for the business and financial affairs of the community. For several decades before her death in 1990 Sr. Mildred was the spiritual leader of the Sabbathday Lake community.
Some of her achievements were to build, with the help of Br. Theodore Johnson, the Shaker Library at Sabbathday Lake and found to The Shaker Quarterly. This official organ of the Society published devotional and historical materials from the community but also important scholarly articles by outsiders as well. She herself wrote often for it (including frequent essays about her favorite early songs) and was the author of histories of the Alfred and Sabbathday Lake communities and of two other books. Sr. Mildred was also the recipient of numerous awards, most notably in 1983 a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for outstanding service to Shaker traditional music.
SR. FRANCES A. CARR was born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1927. Her mother, unable to support her numerous children, felt they would have a better home at Sabbathday Lake and brought several boys and girls to the Shakers. Frances and a sister arrived in 1939, after older siblings already lived there. Her autobiography Growing Up Shaker (1995) gives an honest and lively account of the people and way of life she encountered there. Surprising both the Shakers and other children raised with her, she was one of the few who chose the life and signed the Shaker Covenant. A second book Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking (1985) shares the history and anecdotes of work in the kitchen, herb and vegetable gardens, dairy and orchard. Sr. Frances proved a stalwart helper to Sr. Mildred and has been a leader in the community since Sr. Mildred's death.
SR. ELSIE MCCOOL was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1900. Orphaned as children, she and her three sisters were sent from the State Home in Providence to the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake. As the film shows, she had a lively sense of humor. In her active years she practiced community crafts such as weaving textiles and also small delicate baskets of poplar strips. The Shaker Quarterly carried an article by her on this latter skill. Sr. Elsie died in 1993.
Canterbury, New Hampshire
ELDRESS MARGUERITE FROST was born in Marblehead, Mass., in 1892, a granddaughter of the self-taught artist John Orne Frost. She entered the Society at Canterbury at the age of ten and grew up to serve as a teacher and nurse. She was appointed to the ministry in 1966 and died in 1971. Although educated within the Canterbury community, she was likely in a conversation to refer to Plotinus or quote Browning. At the same time, she felt an attraction to the Shaker traditional songs. Eldress Marguerite copied many of them into a booklet she labeled "Shaker Songs from long ago." "Yielding and Simple," which she motions in the film, was one of those songs. The song and her comments convey her personality well.
ELDRESS BERTHA LINDSAY, born in 1897 in Braintree, Massachusetts, was orphaned when she was five. Following the wish of their parents, an older sister in 1905 placed her with the Canterbury Shakers. In childhood Bertha learned the various arts and trades practiced by the sisters in the community. At the age of twenty she was appointed head cook and later took charge of the community’s fancywork trade. In 1965 she was appointed Trustee of the Canterbury Society and in 1967 made Second Eldress and then a member of the Ministry. She became Eldress of the Canterbury Shaker Community in 1971. She was the author of a cookbook/memoir, Seasoned with Grace (1987). Eldress Bertha died in 1990.
SR. LILLIAN PHELPS was born in Boston in 1876. Her parents had nine children. At the age of sixteen Lillian came to Canterbury to visit two of her brothers who were then living at the Shaker village. As she tells in the film, this visit led to her conversion. A sister—Florence—later joined and lived many years in the village before withdrawing. Sr. Lillian often visited the village at Alfred, Maine, and was a great favorite with the young people there, including Sr. Mildred Barker, a long-time correspondent. After long years in the faith Sr. Lillian passed away at Canterbury in 1973.
Sr. Lillian had had musical training before coming to Canterbury and became a member of its Shaker Sisters' Quartette and later of the Trio. These groups traveled widely singing in public. When Daniel Patterson first visited the Canterbury village in 1960, she and Sr. Aida Elam played a piano and organ duet for him and a clutch of actors from a summer theater. Their chosen selection was the "Meditation" from the opera Thais.
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