Ethel Morse Carte de Visite
Carte de Visite, Sister Ethel Morse
George E. Fellows, Photographer, White River Junction, VT, ca. 1905
Private Collection.

Sister Ethel A. Morse

Ethel Amie Morse, daughter of Willis C. and Luella R. (Morse) Crossett, was born June 18, 1881 in Gardner, Massachusetts. Her birth name was Helen Crossett.

For individuals battered by family circumstances, a Shaker community could be a life saving “shelter from the storm.” Enfield was just such a shelter for Sister Ethel Morse when, as a traumatized teenager, she was brought here from Manchester, N.H.,

Ethel had lost her mother when she was five, but was being lovingly cared for by an aunt and uncle. At the age of eight, however, her father spirited her away, isolating her from the people she knew and trusted. At his hands she became the victim of relentless sexual violence that finally led to his conviction on charges of incest in 1895. She subsequently changed her name to Ethel Amie Morse, adopting her mother’s maiden name.

At Enfield Ethel was welcomed in 1902 into the Church family’s cohort of girls and young women. Her Shaker teacher wrote in her autograph album,
“Keep the heart for good, Dear Ethel
Watch and guard it well.
Let no thought of wrong or evil
In its portals dwell
Your teacher, Fannie C. Fallon”

For the next fifteen years she experienced the loving protection of a ‘Shaker mother,’ Marinda Keniston, and the spiritual embrace of the Shaker sisterhood.

Ethel’s Shaker portrait seems to reflect the deep wounds she had suffered. But she was still able to enter into community life. She was particularly admired for her musical talent, for her willingness to work hard, and for her generosity.

In 1908 Sister Marinda took Ethel to her old home in Waterbury, Vermont for a reunion with those who had once cared for her. After that visit Ethel resumed her Shaker life for another three years. But upon Marinda’s death in 1911, she chose to leave the community to be permanently reunited with her relatives. To their great sorrow Ethel died of rheumatic fever only months after “coming home” to them.

Ethel Morse died May 23, 1911 in Waterbury, Vermont. She is buried with the Crossett family in the Hope Cemetery in Waterbury.


Original author: Mary Ann Haagen