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The many utopian groups of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries drew their share of both curiosity and criticism representing as they did a marked and distinct aberration in lifestyle. Of these movements, the Shakers were the most unique, simply because they have been acknowledged as the most successful, widespread, and long-lived of these groups who sought utopia through communal living.
Today there is new and heightened interest in the Shakers, and researchers in history, religion, and sociology can access the largest collection of Shaker manuscripts and documents ever assembled through this microform collection. Not only were the Shakers the most successful utopian group, they were also inveterate record keepers. Besides replicating and preserving the 200-year history of the Shakers, this important collection contains materials documenting their religious beliefs. Printed materials are also included providing insight into their attitudes on pacifism and their views on women's rights and racial equality.
During the first century in this country, the Shakers drew criticism and opposition, but by the 1830s they began to gain acceptance and became noted worldwide for their neat and productive farms and their ingenuity in tool making, furniture making, and building.
The Shaker Collection is divided into two sections--Manuscripts and Printed Materials. The Manuscripts segment reflects the Shaker affinity for order and discipline, and the papers therein document every aspect of Shaker life.
There are official documents, correspondence, financial records, journals, testimonies and sermons, music, photographs, and inspired writings by Shaker visionaries who communicated with deceased members.
The Printed Materials section contains 1,300 items not widely available to researchers prior to this collection. While the Shakers freely distributed the printed works they produced, in many instances only a few copies remain today. This section offers more than 800 printed books and pamphlets, including the teachings of Mother Ann, the Shakers' Founding Mother. Also featured are more than 400 broadsides and other literature used by the Shakers to recruit members. Researchers will also find approximately 25 important monographs about the Shakers, which provide a perspective on how others viewed this community.
All future scholarship on the Shakers or on any American religious communal movement must take into account the documentary record contained within this collection, which is drawn from the widely acclaimed holdings of The Western Reserve Historical Society.