In the foreword, Campion presents Lee as an unsung Colonial heroine who was more influential than the well-known Martha Washington, Betsy Ross, or Molly Pitcher. The book asks how a poor, illiterate woman became accepted as the female embodiment of Christ and the spiritual leader for numerous men and women. It also explores how she was able to establish a society based on cooperation and internal rewards rather than on materialism and self-gratification. Mother Ann believed in women’s rights in a day when almost every woman was forced to marry and all assets, including children, belonged to her husband. She believed that women had the right to control their minds and bodies, an idea that did not become a mainstream one in the United States until the twentieth century. Lee became a zealous traveling preacher in an era when women were supposed to stay at home and tend the children.
Campion’s admiration of Lee is evident, as the author relates anecdotes that have been passed down from generation to generation of Shakers. These stories display Lee’s fortitude and her unwavering belief in a supreme power to provide for believers. When jailed for two weeks without food or drink, she astounded her captors when she emerged healthy; only the Shaker faithful knew that Brother James Whittaker had fed liquids to her through a pipe stem in the keyhole. Another story tells of how, through prayer, Mother Ann saved the ship on which the Shakers came from England...
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As more emphasis is placed on women’s roles in history in schools, this book will make a significant contribution to that curriculum. Moreover, Shaker beliefs can be included in the evolving nature of social studies. Parallel pacifist communal cultures, such as the one that flourished in Zoar, Ohio, in the mid-1800’s, lend credence to the Shaker life-style and prove that their ideas were not isolated ones.
Students of economics will also appreciate the history of the Shakers. They invented numerous items, such as the cast-iron chimney cap and a large-scale washing machine, but never patented them because they considered the practice to be selfish. Unlike the Amish, who shun modern conveniences, the Shakers always embraced technology. Most well known for their manufacture of furniture and sweaters, they were probably the first to sell packaged seeds, and they had extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs.
By mentioning the sites of present Shaker villages and museums and the burial site of Mother Ann, as well as by providing an extensive bibliography, Campion en-courages additional study of the woman who “put her hand to work, and her heart to God” and whose beliefs changed the lives of approximately twenty thousand Americans over three centuries.