From September 4, 1877, to January 25, 1879, Antoinette Doolittle,the first eldress of the North Family in Mount Lebanon, New York, exchanged letters with George W. Timlow, a Presbyterian minister with congregation in the nearby town of Lebanon, New Hampshire who relocated to Salem, New Jersey. Sixteen of these letters were copied in the type of blank book commonly used by Shakers for a multitude of purposes. What makes this little bound volume rare, if not unique, is its preservation of correspondence between a Shaker sister and a worldly correspondent.
The letters are products and evidence of change—an outgrowth of the reorientation of Shakerism. In many ways, this transformation precipitated and legitimized this exchange of letters. They offer a glimpse of the 1870s through the personal and professional concerns and opinions aired by both correspondents with a surprising degree of candor, trust, and sometimes banter that defies stereotypical images of stern religious figures. Timlow’s and Doolittle’s humanity shines through in the relevant stories and creative anecdotes that are used to illustrate points in their discussions. In addition to the freshness in their discourse, there is also depth with meaty, substantive issues surfacing. The back and forth flow of their conversation affords insights that cannot be gained from access to only one side of a dialogue.
American Communal Societies Quarterly
Available for download on Wednesday, July 01, 2020