Enfield Shaker Sister Ethel A. Morse
Sister Ethel A. Morse
Carte de visite
George E. Fellows, Photographer, White River Junction, VT, ca. 1905
Private collection

Sister Ethel A. Morse

Ethel Amie Morse, Shaker sister, was born June 18, 1881, in Gardner, Massachusetts, the daughter of Willis C. and Luella R. (Morse) Crossett. Her birth name was Helen Crossett. However, her birth was not recorded with the Gardner City Clerk as it should have been.

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, New Hampshire.

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,” Sister 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 Amie Morse died May 23, 1911 in Waterbury, Vermont. Her obituary was published in The Waterbury Record, Waterbury, Vermont on May 24, 1911 (p. 1). She is buried with the Crossett family at Hope Cemetery in Waterbury.

Original author: Mary Ann Haagen