'Tis a Gift to Be Simple: The Shaker People

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple: The Shaker People
Abigail Adams: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One to two class periods


The history of the Shakers and of their founder Mother Ann Lee is full of adventure and drama.  However, they are best known for their simple dress, furniture design, and music.  Ann Lee came to the colonies in 1774 and the establishment of the Shaker communities occurred during the lifetime of Abigail Adams.


The idea of utopian communities is not an easy one to address in the classroom although almost everyone has an idea of what their ideal community would be like.  The purpose of this lesson is to give students the opportunity to explore their own ideas of utopia and then to research one example of these types of communities that has had enormous impact on our own culture.  

Materials Required:

CD of music, "'Tis a Gift to be Simple;" section of Aaron Copland's "Appalacian Spring."  Journaling materials. 


You may wish to play the music while students are settling into class; ask if anyone is familiar with it.  Inquire if anyone knows about its origins.  Tell the story of Mother Ann Lee and the Shakers and show pictures of the communities, their houses, their furniture, etc.  Let students know that these people were attempting to create a utopian community on earth.  Define and discuss “utopia.”  Have students write in their journals (or as an essay) about what would be a utopian community for them and compare their vision with that of the Shakers.

Extending the Lesson:

Students may wish to try their hand at designing furniture or clothing in the Shaker manner.  Also, rather than telling students about the Shakers, research could be conducted individually or in groups to address the lesson.

Sources & Resources:


Melcher, Marguerite Fellows.  The Shaker Adventure.  Cleveland, OH: The Western Reserve University Press, 1957.

Peters, Robert L. The Gift to Be Simple: A Garland for Ann Lee. New York: Liveright, 1975.
Peters, Robert L. Shaker Light: Mother Ann Lee in America. New York: Unicorn Press, 1987.


            The Shakers

            Mother Ann Lee on Wikipedia

            Ann Lee


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.