During the 1870s and 1880s the agricultural press published articles calling for men to do the milking in place of women. Dairy farming was also becoming increasingly specialized with milk being sold to local cheese factories rather than being made by women into butter and cheese on the farm site. Although these secular developments coincided with the Shaker sisters’ refusal, the sisters may well have been unaware of them. Although no other Shaker villages outside of Mount Lebanon and Watervliet were faced with a similar refusal, the severe widespread loss of male membership probably accounts for the gradual changes in responsibility for milking in other Shaker villages. Shaker farming would ultimately be “farmed out,” as it were, to hired men.
While the issue of Shaker cross-gender work assignments such as milking is interesting in itself, a traceable record of conflict resolution where a group of members refused a work assignment is highly unusual. The issue of women milking is one of the few cases that I have found that combines both aspects. The resolution of the refusal illustrates also how the Shakers worked out at least some of their social problems. By the 1860s group consultation and decision making by consensus seem to have been used to resolve successfully a number of family issues; however, this does not guarantee that the process was free of either stress or conflict.
American Communal Societies Quarterly