Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sweeping the Shaker Way

Brooms make me think of Shakers. That's what I put on my Shaker Wednesday post on my Facebook page this week, but there's only so much you can put on a Facebook post. And a person can write a lot about Shaker brooms. 

If you visit the Shaker village of Pleasant Hill here in Mercer County, Kentucky, you can see a reenactor dressed as a Shaker making brooms. These men, like the one pictured here, explain over and over to the tourists who drop into their workshops how the Shakers made brooms and answer hundreds of questions, probably some of the same ones over and over, with the kind of patience and gentle spirit the Shakers may have had in the past. And then, taking their cue from the thrifty Shakers whose ways they're demonstrating, they sell the brooms in their gift shop.

Shaker history says that Brother Theodore Bates of Shaker village in Watervliet, New York watched the sisters sweeping in 1798 with their common round brooms and realized they were wasting time and effort. While he didn't offer to help them sweep, he did flatten the brooms to make them sweep more efficiently. Then the Shakers came up with machines to manufacture the flat brooms. Soon they were making more brooms than they needed and began selling them to the "world." Throughout most of their history, the Shakers didn't believe in patenting any of their inventions because they felt that would be selfish. If they had a better way, they were willing to share it with others. 

 Shakers could not abide dirt. One of the sayings attributed to their founder, Ann Lee, reminded them of the need for cleanliness. “Clean your rooms well; for good spirits will not live where there is dirt. There is no dirt in Heaven.” So a broom was available in every room, not hidden away in a broom closet, but instead hanging at ready on the peg strips.

The Shakers took ridding their physical world of dirt seriously since one of their purposes was to make their villages as much like heaven as possible. That was part of the reason for their furniture having no ornamentation. A table with plain and simple lines was quicker and easier to clean. That was the reason for the pegboard strips that circled every room, so they could hang things out of the way while they cleaned. Chairs were hung upside down on those pegs so dust would not collect on the seat of the chair. Their beds had rollers so it would be easy to move them out of the way to sweep under them. They even had brooms specially designed to sweep out corners and other hard to reach places.

They also labored "sweeping" songs during their worship such as "Sweep as I Go" where they would pretend to sweep as they sang. 

One of their best known sayings is "Hands to work, hearts to God." That has found a place in all my Shaker novels, but I've used other Shaker sayings too in order to add to my story. This is one I've used often. "Do your work as if you had a thousand years to live, and as if you were to die tomorrow." 

Here are a couple more that I might take to heart in my own work and keeping my house in order. :)

"Never wish a thing done; do it!"

"A place for everything and everything in its place." 

I need to find that place for everything and then put everything in those places and stop just wishing it would happen. Right now it's time to go back to Rosey Corner and write a few more pages on my story. I think I'm writing it as if I have a thousand years before my deadline. Better get that out of my head.

Do you like a good broom? Then you might have a Shaker to thank. 


  1. Hello again, I like to read quotes and these are some good ones. brooms today just don't seem to hold up long, I use mine often for sweeping porches and I like to use in kitchen and bathroom because you can get next to cabinet bases better then with other items. you know they always say "Get a shark"...I guess they have their uses but not good under cabinet bases.
    Happy writing so we can have happy reading...
    Paula O

    1. Happy writing is the nicest wish anybody's made for me for a while, Paula. Well, after happy Mother's Day, I suppose. :) I too like my broom.

  2. I always enjoy your Shaker posts, and this was no exception. A nice compilation of some of the Shaker thoughts and maxims on cleanliness. We also try to incorporate many of them (the key word is "try"!)

    1. Always good to hear your comments here, Kevin. The Shakers had many hands during their best years to make sure the work got done. In later years with fewer converts and an aging population, it was harder for them to keep their villages in tip top shape. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. PS: As a reenactor and historical interpreter, you do answer the same question many times over, but there are also a lot of interesting questions people ask from their own experience and interests about a wide variety of topics, from your clothing, to the building, to the activity your involved in, etc. We always like those because it also expands our knowledge

    1. It's good to hear the historical interpreters point of view on those same questions, Kevin. When I speak on writing, I get some of the same questions every time, but I like the question and answer time best when speaking because it does open up new ways of thinking and lets you glimpse into the questioners thinking too. It might be fun to invite you over to guest blog on some of those interesting questions.

  4. The questions are so varied sometimes its amazing. You really do have to do a lot of research to be ready to answer them, as you never know what angle they are going to come from. But like you said, it does open you up to new ways of thinking and questions yourself!


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