Sister Annie M. Ellis
Anna M. Ellis, Shaker teacher, weaver, and dressmaker, was born April 9, 1836 in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada, the daughter of Seneca and Orrilla (Bagley) Ellis.
In 1842 when Annie Ellis was 6 years old she was brought to the Shakers from Canada. She lived most of her life at Enfield’s Second, or South family. She had a typical Shaker upbringing, and for many years was the family’s head cook. Since no records of sisters’ work at the South Family have survived, we would have very little sense of Annie’s personality if she had remained in the kitchen. But in 1881 she was given a new assignment – head teacher of the South Family school. Annie had had little opportunity for personal academic development, so becoming an effective teacher at age 45 would be no mean feat. But Annie Ellis embraced the challenge. Her first year-end evaluation by the Superintendent of schools was a ringing endorsement of her efforts.
“This teacher assumed the duties of her position without any experience, and succeeded beyond my expectations. The teacher loves her work, studies to make her labors profitable to her pupils, and a credit to herself. If all teachers were as ambitious as this one, we should have fewer poor schools.”
During the next 10 years Annie continued to develop intellectually, mastered new subjects, and shared her love of learning “in a generous manner.” Her performance reviews, published in the town’s annual reports, emphasized the quality of her teaching and her rapport with students.
By 1891 there were only four children in the South Family so the town eliminated their school as a stand-alone district. That year the family petitioned, and received permission for Annie to teach those children privately. The next year, however, they would attend the Church Family’s school. Now Sister Fannie Fallon would be their teacher, and Annie would leave the classroom to become a weaver and dressmaker for the society.
Anna M. Ellis died August 3, 1915 in the Shaker community at Enfield, New Hampshire. She is buried in the South Family Shaker Cemetery in Enfield.
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen