As a boy growing up in Ohio, I was aware of the Shakers, because they were still around, here and there. All I knew was that they got their name from the way they danced during worship. Later I discovered they made the coolest furniture ever, IMHO.
Now I learn -- thanks to Mr. Nordhoff -- that they are the original and most successful communists in the United States. They established their first commune in 1794, and their movement eventually grew to 58 communes. In a time when many utopian communities were founded on religious, philosophical, economic and capitalist principles, they did it better than any one else.
Like communism in the twentieth century, these communes sought to be paradise for workers. According to Nordhoff, who visited them and reported in this book published in 1875, they succeeded. At one Shaker community, they considered work to be a pleasure. They made it so by sending five workers to do what two hired men could do. They made up the loss in efficiency through living simply. Also, all these communes -- Shaker and otherwise -- treated women equally in work, governance, privileges and all areas of life. Nordhoff reports that their lives were noticeably easier than those of housewives in mainstream communities.
Unlike the "godless communism" I heard about while growing up in the 1950's, most of these communes had religion at the center of communal life. Nordhoff observes that those founded without a religious core were less successful.
I thank the Mechanics Institute Library for keeping this lovely old book in their collection and for fetching it from the basement when I asked for it.
Also, in case you are wondering why in the world I asked for it, it is research for my next novel, the one I am starting while sending my first one out to agents.