In 1815, Mary Marshall Dyer renounced her Shaker beliefs and escaped from the religious community in Enfield, New Hampshire, that she had once eagerly embraced, leaving behind her husband and five children. Angry and alone, Dyer embarked on a fifty year public campaign against the Shakers in an effort to obtain custody of her children and to discredit the sect. This is the story of one woman’s quest to reunite her family set among the profound changes in family, religion, and gender that Americans faced in the world before the Civil War.

We know this little remembered crusader because she was written about and because she herself wrote, using the power of her pen to make public her grievances. Domestic Broils republishes the battling narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer, wife and husband, anti-Shaker and Shaker, as each in print stake claim to their children and to the power to control their family.

Shaking the Faith is winner of:

  • 2003 Outstanding Publication Award, Communal Studies Association

And was supported by a research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.




Praise for Shaking the Faith and Domestic Broils:

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"Elizabeth De Wolfe's account of Dyer's circumstances, motives, and activities as a prominent Shaker apostate sheds new light on a lifelong quest to fulfill her role as wife and mother and on the larger world of career apostates that she entered. Drawing on scholarly resources dealing with gender and family as well as with religious history and print culture, De Wolfe integrates her narrative of this remarkable woman into the larger story of nineteenth-century American religion, society, and culture." — Stephen J. Stein, Chancellors' Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington

"In this skillfully researched and deftly written study, Elizabeth De Wolfe suggests new perspectives for understanding the Shakers, the role of women in new religious and communal movements, and the problems that a capable woman had as she tried to develop an independent life and have a public impact in a society where women's roles were severely circumscribed." — Lawrence Foster, author of Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community


"Shaking the Faith tells the compelling story of a woman and a religious sect locked in a dangerous duel on the margins of American culture. Elizabeth De Wolfe vividly exposes the historical roots of questions that continue to perplex contemporary society: What happens when a marriage falls apart? How should a mother behave? What constitutes a proper family? Shaking the Faith offers a fascinating look at the very public fracturing of the Dyer marriage, and explores what the couple's tempestuous divorce revealed about gender, family and faith in the early American republic." —Nancy Lusignan Schultz, author of Fire & Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834

"Carefully researched and thoughtfully argued, Shaking the Faith is a valuable case study of one woman's struggle to live up to society's and her own expectations. Elizabeth De Wolfe is particularly adept at connecting Dyer's campaign to larger tensions in antebellum America: the debate over the proper roles for husbands and wives, the relationship between government and the family, and the limits of religious toleration." —Priscilla Brewer, University of South Florida

“A significant contribution that simultaneously dissects and contextualizes two primary sources relevant to women’s studies, religious studies, communal studies, gender studies, and the history of the early American republic.” —Christian Goodwillie, Director of Special Collections, Hamilton College