The Shakers are now known for austerity, especially in their design. In worship, however, the Shakers were anything but restrained. Shaker religious services were ecstatic chaos, full of hopping, writhing, trembling, singing, screaming, convulsing, and shaking (and this is how the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing got their nickname). The Shakers crowed like roosters and ran naked through the woods, seized with the spirit. Neighbors could often hear their rituals from miles away. How could such apocalyptic fervor spawn so utilitarian an object as the flat-bottom broom? Moreover, why was the humble broom such an important part of the Shakers’ gospel? While living in mid-18th century Manchester, the young Ann Lee worked 14-hour days in a cotton mill. We don’t have much documentation about this time in Lee’s life. Suffice it to say, she knew well how the making of goods could be as meaningless and hard as it was necessary. The simple, clean, agrarian Shaker life was meant to be in drastic contrast with the crowded, anonymous, industrial life of Manchester. Flattening the broom’s bottom seems like a small innovation.
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