History came alive for Knox County Middle School drama students on Thursday, March 1 as the drama department, together with Kentucky Chautauqua, presented Mary Settles: The Last Shaker at Pleasant Hill.
Janet Scott, who portrays Mary Settles for Kentucky Chautauqua, performed for Ms. Mayla McKeehan’s students and answered questions they had about Settles and the performing arts.
Mary Settles (1835-1923) was born October 31, 1853, in Louisville. Her mother, Mary Ann, died during childbirth, leaving Mary to be raised by her father, Daniel.
Mary developed a love for learning at an early age and was drawn to teaching immediately. She was teaching in the Louisville Public School system when she married Frank Settles.
News of settlers in Missouri carving out a new nation traveled rapidly and Mary’s husband was eager to join them. Frank planned that he and Mary would have a large family — at least ten children — to work the land.
When Mary gave birth to their second child, she nearly died. The midwife told her she could not have any more children. This didn’t fit in with Frank’s plans to go to Missouri, so he took Mary and their two children to Pleasant Hill. Leaving Mary “a widow” and the children without a father, Frank left his family in the care of the Shakers.
Over time, Mary embraced the Shaker community and they, her. She took on the Shaker life which called for equality for women, celibacy, simple living, seeking salvation, and living communally. She began teaching again, and for twenty-seven years, she educated the young women at Pleasant Hill.
Like the rest of America, Pleasant Hill was changed forever by the Civil War. With the battle coming to their back door, the Shakers did what they could to help the hungry and wounded soldiers, but they refused to involve themselves in the politics of the war.
In the end, Mary was the last of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. She died on March 29, 1923, in the Center Family House and was buried in the cemetery at Pleasant Hill.
Scott is the co-founder of On the Verge theatre group. She served as the director of the Acting Workshop for the Osher Life Long Living Institute at the University of Kentucky from 2004-2010. Scott is the recipient of the Arts Educator of the Year Award from the Kentucky Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters. She graduated summa cum Laude with honors in theatre from Columbia University. She studied acting with Stella Adler and had a thirty-year professional career in theatre in New York.
Kentucky Chautauqua is an exclusive presentation of the Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc. with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from: The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, People’s Bank & Trust Company of Hazard, the Brown-Forman Corporation, Union College, Scripps Howard Foundation, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, PNC Bank in Lexington, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America, Inc.