Connecticut’s Utopia: The Enfield Shaker Community

Ed Dorgan
Har-Bur Middle School, Regional School District 10


Historical Background

The Shakers were a Protestant sect founded in England in 1747. Like Quakers, Shakers were pacifists who had progressive notions of gender and racial equality. The Shakers promoted intellectual and artistic growth within the group. Shaker members dressed plainly and treated both men and women as equals, although men and women lived separately and were celibate. Shakers built their communities in rural areas, far from the negative influences of the cities. Like other utopian societies founded in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Shakers’ goal was to form a more perfect society upon earth by following simple and creative ways of living. This activity helps examine American utopian societies and social reform movements from the 1830s to the 1860s.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

To what extent is a “perfect society” attainable?


  • How did the Shaker community become established in Enfield, Connecticut?
  • What was the legacy of the Shaker community in Enfield, Connecticut?
  • Why did the Shaker community in Enfield dissolve in 1917?
  • In what ways did 19th-century utopian communities hold a mirror up to the rest of society?



1. Do Now! Post the compelling question. Provide students the definition of a utopian society.
2. Share image of the Enfield Shaker Community by John Warner Barber. Ask students to describe what they see and what is happening in the image using the Visual Thinking Strategies and discuss what the significance of this image might be.
[Optional: Play the song “It’s a Gift to Be Simple” in the background. Read the lyrics and explain that this was a song sung by the Shakers.]
3. Assign individual students (or pairs) two Shaker items from the list in the toolkit. Using the Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tool as their guide, students will examine the images, objects, or documents and try to determine what they can tell us about the Shaker lifestyle. Students should address the following questions: Explain how the Shakers lived and what they produced? Based on your findings, in what ways did the Enfield Shakers work to establish a utopian society? Next, students will share their findings with other students and discuss the significance of the Shaker community in Enfield within the context of 19th-century America.
4. Students will read the article, “The Enfield Shakers (1792-1917)” and answer the supporting questions listed above.
6. Historian Robert V. Hine defined utopian societies as “a group of people who are attempting to establish a new social pattern based upon a vision of the ideal society and who have withdrawn themselves from the community at large to embody that vision in experimental form.” Students will consider this definition and read the National Park Service article on utopias in America in order to conclude whether the Shaker community in Enfield, Connecticut, was a utopia.


  • Students can create a design for a plaque, which would describe the contributions and legacy of the Shakers in Enfield, Connecticut. Their design could be submitted to the Connecticut Tourism Office for consideration.
  • Using the National Park Service article as a starting place, students will research other utopian societies and write an essay or create a presentation about one or more of them.


Place to GO

Enfield Historical Society, Enfield, which has an exhibit on the Shakers Community

Site of the former Enfield Connecticut Shaker community. The South Family dormitory, and behind it the Laundry Building, are visible from Cybulski Road in Enfield. Note that some of the former Enfield, Connecticut Shaker sites are now on Connecticut Department of Corrections property and are off-limits to visitors.

New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, with its collection of Enfield Shaker items

Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Things To DO

Explore Shaker music:
Shaker Village, Sabbathday Lake, Maine
Enfield Shaker Museum, New Hampshire

Try some Shaker recipes:
Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts
Enfield Shaker Museum, New Hampshire

Learn more about the Enfield, Connecticut Shakers:
The Shakers of Enfield, Connecticut 1780-1968 by Stephen Paterwic, Couper Press, Shaker Studies, no. 16., 2020.

Websites to VISIT

Articles to READ

Enfield Shaker Legacy” by Mike Miller for Connecticut Explored.

History of the Shakers.” National Park Service.

Shakers” and “Ann Lee” entries from Britannica.