Mother’s First-Born Daughters: Early Shaker Writings on Women and Religion

Humez, Jean M., ed. Mother’s First-Born Daughters: Early Shaker Writings on Women and Religion. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Mother’s First-Born Daughters, edited by Jean Humez, traces the important ways women contributed to the evolution of Shaker religion during its first eighty years in America (1774-1854), a dynamic period of growth which saw the new religion organize nineteen communities in eight eastern and western states. By documenting the writings and testimonies of founder Ann Lee’s “first-born daughters,” the author demonstrates the powerful though largely informal role women played in shaping Shaker religion, theology and institutional development. <p> The book’s first chapter contains selected narratives by Lee’s early spiritual descendants—mostly female though some male—which not only served to create the “myth of the founder” but also to educate Shaker Believers in the movement’s doctrine. The writings and sayings of Shakerism’s second most influential leader Mother Lucy Wright follow, demonstrating the transition Shaker religion experienced from the ecstatic and prophetic religion of Lee to the more orderly religious expression of Wright. Chapter Three provides a glimpse into the many struggles and issues Shaker sisters transplanted from the East faced in the oftentimes difficult environment of the newer western communities. The final chapter records the involvement of women in the ecstatic revivals of the Shaker communities during the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s.