Monday, July 14, 2008

Shaker Beauty, Part Two: Sisters Bathing at Pleasure

One of the best things about the Shaker village I spent time in last week was the bathhouse. The one that was preserved ias a very small brick building (maybe 7x8 inside) next to the much larger brick Dwelling where the Shakers slept and ate. This bathhouse was reserved for the Ministry, who were a handful of elders.
Water was heated and then poured from a beautiful copper pan, while the bather sat on the wooden shelf.  The Shakers tended to eat and get tasks done briskly and without fuss, so I assume the same held true about bathing. But I would have wanted to linger. The small room was kept warm by the iron stove and there is a window by the shelf for a view.  

Respectable Persons 
I found an article from 1826, in The Boston Newsletter and City Record citing an unnamed leaflet that was apparently being distributed. In trying to denounce the Shakers, the author of the leaflet printed oaths made by "respectable persons":

"what they have seen among the Shakers in their immediate neighborhood, and it fairly outrages decency. The fact of seeing two Sisters bathing at pleasure, in the presence of Elder Farnham, a leading member... is enough to destroy all confidence in the purity of their morals and personal conduct."

There were originally larger, separate bathhouses for Sisters and Brethren to use. Maybe they were similarly equipped but with one long shelf for a group of bathers to use together. I highly doubt any Shaker Sisters bathed in the presence of a male elder. Separation of the sexes was tantamount to the faith and of course led to its decline. Group bathing was and is a part of most cultures, and entirely innocent and moral.   I'll be writing more about bathhouses soon.