“Searching for Sister Mary”: Shaker Village exhibit to debut for Women’s History Month

Published 4:01 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill will open a new exhibit, Searching for Sister Mary, with a grand opening event on Friday, March 24 followed by a day of  special tours and lectures on Saturday, March 25. The exhibit, launching during Women’s History Month, takes a look into the life of Sister Mary Settles, a Kentucky Shaker well ahead of  her time.

Settles passed away 100 years ago this month and is famously remembered as the last Shaker  at the Pleasant Hill community, but the exhibit reveals that she was so much more than that.  The exhibit looks at her life in six parts:

• A Shaker – During the 64 years she was a Believer, she watched her faith community  undergo dramatic changes.

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• A Mother – The Shakers were a celibate society, but Settles had two children before becoming a Shaker.

• A Teacher – Settles was an educator during her time at Pleasant Hill.

• A Leader – Women held leadership roles in Shaker society and Settles served as an  “office sister” managing some of the community’s business affairs.

• A Modern Woman – Settles entered raffles to win automobiles, wore fashion forward attire and was the only female at Pleasant Hill who voted in a presidential election.

• A Celebrity – Settles was a local celebrity and was known in the last years of her life as  the most photographed woman in Kentucky.

Settles’ story will resonate with women today. According to Curator of Collections Rebecca  Soules, “Sister Mary’s primary role in the community and identity as an individual changed over  time – she wasn’t defined by one specific aspect of her life. For women who are mothers, the  exhibit might also have a bittersweet quality because Sister Mary ended up choosing the  security and permanence of her Shaker community even though that meant giving up some of  her connection to her children.”

The exhibit grand opening event will be held in the Centre Family Dwelling on Friday, March 24  from 6-7:30 p.m. Guests will enjoy exclusive tours, appetizers and a cash bar. Shaker scholars  Dr. Carol Medlicott and Christian Goodwillie will be in attendance signing copies of their new  book “This Chosen Pleasant Hill: Shakers of the Kentucky Bluegrass.” Tickets for the event can be  purchased online at shakervillageky.org/events for $15.

Special tours and lectures that take a deep dive into Settles life will be available on Saturday,  March 25 from 11:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. with the purchase of a daily admission ticket, free-$14. The  authors of This Chosen Pleasant Hill: Shakers of the Kentucky Bluegrass will lead a walking tour sharing their favorite stories and themes from their book, and will lead a lecture in the 1820  Meeting House. A Sister Mary Settles themed scavenger hunt will also be setup throughout the  Village.