Sister Melinda Hubbard
Annis Melinda Hubbard, Shaker associate eldress, office deaconess, and trustee, was born August 9, 1819, in Charlestown, New Hampshire, the youngest of five children, and only daughter of Roswell and Sophia (Wilson) Hubbard. In December 1837, at the age of 18, Melinda made the decision to join the Enfield, New Hampshire Shakers. She lived in the Gathering Order at the North Family until July 19, 1839, when she was accepted as a member of the Church Family. None of her relatives followed her to the Shakers.
Melinda’s embrace of a Shaker life coincided with the Society’s intense engagement in a decade-long spiritual revival, known as “The Period of Mother’s Work.” Melinda served as an instrument for spirit communication in the Church Family, and publicly affirmed the authenticity of the revival.
In 1848, Melinda moved from the Church Family back to the North Family. Now a mature, committed Shaker, she was appointed associate eldress and companion to Eldress Lucinda Hartford.
During her tenure at the North Family, Melinda enjoyed two travel privileges. The first, in 1849, was to the Harvard Shakers. Rail service had recently come to Enfield, so Elder John Lyon, Trustee True Worthy Heath, Deaconess Emily Annis, and Sister Melinda Hubbard were able to travel by train to visit their Massachusetts brethren and sisters. Melinda’s second privilege came in September 1857 when she went with other North Family leaders to New Lebanon, New York, the seat of Shaker authority and a place all Believers looked to for guidance and inspiration.
In 1859 Melinda was released from her eldership duties and returned to the Church Family to serve as an office deaconess. Here she gained valuable business experience that would prepare her to assume new responsibilities at Enfield’s Second or South Family.
Because leadership positions at the gathering order were usually filled by members of the Church Family, many individuals moved back and forth between those places of residence and responsibility. The Second, or South Family, by contrast had its own identity, property, and business interests, although it was located only a mile or so away. It was granted considerable independence from the Church Family and frequently drew its leadership from within its own ranks. It was considered “good order” for the South Family to maintain clear lines of separation, both socially and economically, from the Church and North families. As a result, being appointed to serve as Office Deaconess at the South Family in 1860 was a major change for Melinda.
Those that she had formerly worked and worshipped with were no longer part of Melinda’s daily communal experience. The New Hampshire ministry engaged with the South Family much less frequently than with the Church Family, and Shaker visitors from other societies often made only perfunctory visits to their home. But Melinda embraced the new relationships afforded her at the South Family, and she applied herself tirelessly to the demands of her office. Ties with former associates were sustained by a shared faith, and a commitment to building up the Society as a whole. In addition to meeting with the other families for important religious celebrations, there were occasional efforts that involved the leadership of all three branches. One such initiative occurred in 1869.
The Shakers had, for several years, been suffering an ever-increasing loss of members through both death and apostasy. Under the leadership of Elder Frederick Evans of New Lebanon’s gathering order, it was agreed that a different kind of missionary work had to be undertaken. The Shakers would not wait for possible converts to visit their individual communities. Instead, they would travel to major cities and hold meetings in rented auditoriums. The goal was to persuade Christians of other denominations that Shakerism was in the vanguard of their social and religious movements, and that a Shaker life offered them a proven path to salvation from sin. To demonstrate the breadth and depth of the greater Shaker community, leaders from all the Shaker villages in a geographic region assembled on stage as a unified body to witness, preach, and sing. For three days in May 1869 Melinda was one of ten Enfield leaders who participated in one such missionary convention in Boston, Massachusetts.
Over the years Melinda became publicly identified with the South Family and its business interests. As trustee, she managed the sisters’ finances with care and consummate skill. She demanded thrift, was scrupulously honest, and was respected for her abilities by her family and worldly business associates alike. She helped ensure that the South family never suffered loss because of taking on debt.
Despite the South Family’s economic stability, declining membership was a constant concern. By the early 1890s, it became clear that its people would need to unite with the Church family and allow their cherished home to be sold.
In January 1894, days after celebrating the centennial of its founding, relocation of the Second, or South Family began. The financial resources that had been carefully accumulated during Sister Melinda Hubbard and Brother William Wilson’s years as trustees were now available to help retire the debt that the Church had been suffering under since 1882. Melinda was formally relieved of her trusteeship in December 1894 and moved to the Church Family.
Annis Melinda Hubbard died at the Shaker village in Enfield, New Hampshire on January 23, 1898, at the age of 78. Her body was laid to rest in the South Family Shaker Cemetery, among the sisters and brothers whom she had lived with and served for so many years.
Eldress Rosetta Cummings wrote of her, “She has been with the Society for sixty years and was widely known and universally loved and respected both by those of her own home and many who had shared her loving ministrations outside the home circle. Such, we know hear the welcome summons, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’”
Original author: Mary Ann Haagen