Students, teachers, Alfred Shaker Village, 1885
The Shaker School House at the Alfred Shaker Village in 1885.
In accordance with Massachusetts state law (controlling the District of Maine until 1820), provisions for the schooling of children at the Alfred community were made in 1813.
A decade later the Central Ministry at Mt. Lebanon, N.Y., sent Seth Youngs Wells (1767-1847), an able and learned Brother who had taught school before becoming a Shaker, to the eastern societies to improve the level of instruction.
Brother Seth was a proponent of the Lancastrian or Tutorial method. While at Alfred he taught briefly and trained a successor. From Alfred he proceeded on to Sabbathday Lake where he likewise improved the level of instruction.
A notable teacher at Alfred was Elder John Bell Vance (1833-1896), pictured second from right standing next to the Superintendent. Elder John taught from 1850 to 1856 and again from 1865 to 1880. Known among Shakers as a "Gatherer of Souls," he was a gifted speaker.
His oratorical skills served him well not only as an educator of children and leader of the community, but also as a spokesman for his religion. On a number of occasions he delivered public lectures in such cities as Portland, Boston, Lynn, Worcester, and New York.
Elder John's successor as teacher was Eldress Fannie Casey (1862-1911) who taught until the end of the century. Thereafter, Sisters and outside instructors alternated teaching duties until the closing of the school in 1931 when the Alfred and Sabbathday Lake communities consolidated.
At Sabbathday Lake a school house was constructed in 1880 under the direction of Brother Hewett Chandler. During that first school year, Sister Ada Cummings began a teaching career with twelve students which would last over two decades. Their education stressed, but was not restricted to, reading, writing and arithmetic.
Students attended school until the age of sixteen. Those with ability could then receive a Normal School education by correspondence. Successful completion of courses was the prerequisite for receiving teacher certification. It was Sisters so trained who succeeded Sr. Ada. From 1939 until the Shaker School was finally closed in 1950, however, instructors had to be hired.