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O Sisters Ain't You Happy?: Gender, Family, and Community Among the Harvard and Shirley Shakers, 1781-1918 (Women and Gender in Religion) Hardcover – December 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
This well-researched study offers a detailed, focused history of two Shaker villages in Massachusetts while at the same time challenging and qualifying theories that have governed the discipline of Shaker history as a whole. Thurman, a history professor at the University of Alabama, once studied under Stephen Stein (The Shaker Experience in America), and, while his influence is felt throughout, this is an important work in its own right, making particularly significant contributions to the understanding of gender among the Shakers. Using the Harvard and Shirley communities located just seven miles apart and in the proximity of Boston Thurman demonstrates that Shakers were affected by the currents of reform in 19th-century America, especially concerning gender roles. Her tone sometimes departs from scholarly objectivity to sincere admiration (the Shakers "were years ahead of most of their contemporaries" because they "empowered women and allowed them to move beyond socially constructed boundaries of gender"). Yet she provides impressive primary source material to support such claims, based on extensive archival research. The book sometimes quibbles too narrowly with other scholars' work, but Thurman's revisionism (particularly in chapter five, where she challenges the application of the "Cult of Domesticity" to the Shakers' distribution of labor) is quite often on point. The prose is straightforward, if a bit workmanlike, and refreshingly free of academic jargon. In all, this is a valuable community study that illuminates broad themes in Shaker history and complements the more general studies by Stein, Priscilla Brewer and other scholars.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
SUZANNE R. THURMAN teaches history at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. She has been published in many historical journals and is author of To Heal and to Serve: American Women Doctors on Medical Missions, 1869 to the Present.