The Hancock Shaker Village (or, They Still Have Field Trips in College?)

As part of my work as a course mentor for a first-year seminar this semester and as part of the work required in being an unapologetic religion nerd, i went to the Hancock Shaker Village on Sunday. With one of my favorite professors. And the students of the class i’m mentoring for. And my roommate.

It was a day of downpouring rain and unadulterated field trip bliss.

Nestled in the fall-color-blossoming Berkshires, the City of Peace greeted us somewhat bleary-eyed around 10 in the morning. The day had promised us rain and a damp cold; the promise was fulfilled. Yet nothing could dampen our sense of adventure (to employ the cliché) so, lime green entrance stickers brazen and umbrellas at the ready, we began our sojourn around the village.

The Shakers, though still around today, flourished most in the 18th century under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, or the Holy Mother Wisdom. She was perceived to be the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the message she and her pacifist followers proliferated was one of racial and gender equality, as well as communal living and celibacy. The community functioned on these foundational principles of communal living, hard work, and through valuing a female half of the divine. Known perhaps the best for their music, the Shakers gained their name from their distinctive style of dance – dance that was integral to their weekly worship.

After navigating our way through the white tents housing craft fair solicitors, we made it somewhat sopping into the Brick Dwelling which served as a dormitory for the Sisters and Brothers of Hancock (among other things!). In the basement were all the kitchen necessities for canning and cooking and general house-managing, and as we worked our way up the floors we came to see how this community functioned in their vision of utopia.

The bedroom on the bottom left above was trimmed with a vibrant yellow hue, true to the colors used in the Shaker’s heyday. I loved the color and the desire to live in a vibrant space – to me, these touches humanized the Shaker’s vision for a perfect world in a really accessible way.

While trekking about in the historic buildings, we had to wear these hilarious (and undoubtedly useful) blue booties to protect the floors. It gave us all the appearance of having smurf-feet.

After exploring the Brick Dwelling, we braved the downpour once again and trudged our way, through the slug and mud, to the round barn with the promise of baby animals. The barn itself was fascinating (even to me of the suburban/urban bent) with its trapdoors and more hygienic system for cow-milking.

(that’s the famous round barn on the left!)

 

Easily the best part, however, was the Discovery Room. Though perhaps designed to entertain children younger than we (like, way, way younger) a cluster of us squealed in delight at the display of dress-up clothes running along the rear wall. Within minutes, the independent ladies of Mount Holyoke were two-year-olds in the playroom and a life-size toy cow. Unapologetic nerds, remember.

(the roommate and i, in our usual garb)

we’re twenty years old. that’s a thing we are.

After the donning and un-donning of bonnets and aprons, we once again endured the rain and made our way to the meetinghouse. I don’t have any photos of the inside, because we were all too occupied learning Shaker dances and songs (unapologetic nerds!) and trying to keep all that is carnal at bay.

 

All in all, the rain only made the day more of a memorable endeavor and certainly kept us intrigued by all that the interior of the buildings could offer. The Shakers are particularly fascinating to me in part because they are the focus of my professor, but also because of their radical notions of gender equality so early on in American Religious History. They also were (and remain) one of the longest-running utopian communities in the states – and i would argue a key facet to their longevity was this inclusion and validation of women’s voices. Their relevance, bonnets and all, is inescapable when discussing gender and religious identity in America over time.

And besides, who doesn’t love a good field trip?

current jam: ‘babel’ mumford & sons. all. the. time.

best thing: 1 day, 1 hours, 25 minutes. breathe, rinse, repeat.

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