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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
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Page 97


Donald B. Kraybill


The Amish in the United States are a religious and cultural group that came to America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from what is today the Alsace region of northeastern France. They are one of the more unique cultural groups in the United States. Their rejection of automobiles, use of horse-drawn farm machinery, and distinctive clothing set them apart from the high-tech culture of modern life. Extinct in their European homeland since 1937, today the Amish live in more than 400 settlements in 30 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. They function without a national organization or an annual convention. Local church districts—congregations of 25 to 35 families—are the heart of Amish life and hold the primary ecclesiastical authority.

The Amish came to the United States in two waves: 1736–1770 and 1815–1860. Their first U.S. settlements were in southeastern Pennsylvania. Eventually, they followed the frontier to other counties in Pennsylvania, then to Ohio, Indiana, and other Midwestern states. The Amish and a similar group, the Mennonites, are both descendants of early Anabaptists, but they split in the early seventeenth century. Mennonites, named for the religious leader Menno Simons, were somewhat more liberal in their acceptance of modern developments, while the Amish were followers of Jakob Ammann's more conservative practice. In the 1960s there was a reformist movement, or schism, among the Amish that resulted in a division into New Order Amish and Old Order Amish. The two groups share a great many similarities, but the smaller New Order Amish, some in Ohio and some in Pennsylvania, are a little more open to technology, allow for air travel, and are more prohibitive of alcohol and tobacco use. They are often referred to as the Amish Brotherhood.

By 2013, Amish communities had more than 280,000 adherents. Nearly two-thirds live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Other sizable communities are in Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky. Few Amish live west of the Mississippi or in the deep South. The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College reported that in 2013 the Amish population was doubling every 18 to 20 years because each Amish couple averages seven children, and 85 percent of Amish youth join the church formally as young adults and remain dedicated to it for the rest of their lives.


Early History The roots of the Amish stretch back to sixteenth-century Europe. Impatient with the pace of the Protestant Reformation, youthful reformers in Zurich, Switzerland, outraged religious authorities by baptizing each other in January 1525. The rebaptism of adults was then a crime punishable by death. Baptism, in the dissidents' view, was only meaningful for adults who had made a voluntary confession of faith. Because they were already baptized as infants in the Catholic Church, the radicals were dubbed “Anabaptists,” or rebaptizers, by their detractors. Anabaptism, also known as the Radical Reformation, spread through the Cantons of Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The rapid spread of Anabaptist groups threatened civil and religious authorities, who soon sent “Anabaptist hunters” to stalk the reformers. The first martyr was drowned in 1527. Over the next few decades, thousands of Anabaptists were burned at the stake, drowned in rivers, starved in prisons, or beheaded. The 1,200-page Martyrs Mirror, first published in Dutch in 1660 and later in German and English, records the carnage. Many Amish have a German edition of the Martyrs Mirror in their homes today.

The Swiss Anabaptists sought to follow the ways of Jesus in daily life, loving their enemies, forgiving insults, and turning the other cheek. Some Anabaptist groups resorted to violence, but many repudiated force and resolved to live peaceably even with adversaries. The risk of execution tested their faith in the power of suffering love. Although some recanted, many died for their faith. Harsh persecution pushed many Anabaptists underground and into rural hideaways. Swiss Anabaptism took root in rural soil. The sting of persecution, however, divided the church and the larger society in Anabaptist minds. The Anabaptists believed that the kingdoms of this world, anchored in the use of coercion, clashed with the peaceable kingdom of God.

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By 1660 some Swiss Anabaptists had migrated north to the Alsace region of present-day France, which borders southwestern Germany. The Amish emerged in 1693 when Swiss and South German Anabaptists split into two streams: Amish and Mennonite. Jakob Ammann, an elder of the Alsatian church, sought to revitalize the Anabaptist movement in 1693. He proposed holding communion twice a year rather than the typical Swiss practice of once a year. He argued that Anabaptist Christians in obedience to Christ should wash each other's feet in the communion service. To promote doctrinal purity and spiritual discipline, Ammann forbade fashionable dress and the trimming of beards, and he administered a strict discipline in his congregations. Appealing to New Testament teachings, Ammann advocated the shunning of excommunicated members. Ammann's followers, eventually called Amish, soon became another sect in the Anabaptist family.

Modern Era In the century following Ammann's death, sometime between 1712 and 1730, Amish endured rounds of persecution by both local communities and changing governments. While the Swiss tried to purge their country of Anabaptists, the French sometimes sought Amish for their purported hard work and skilled farming. The French Revolution granted equal French citizenship to the Amish but also required military service, which the Amish doctrine of pacifism did not allow. Although they were granted an exception to the service by paying a tax, their way of life was precarious. When Napoleon overthrew the French government, the Amish were again threatened with conscription into the military. By this time, the United States beckoned, and the numbers of Amish in Europe declined. In addition to emigration, another contributing factor to their European decline was that the Amish in Europe were typically tenant farmers rather than landowners, making it difficult for them to form supportive communities. The congregations slowly dissolved or merged with Mennonite congregations, as happened when the last European Amish congregation in Ixheim, Germany, merged with a local Mennonite church in 1937.


Searching for political stability and religious freedom, the Amish came to North America in two waves, first in the mid-1700s and then beginning in the early 1800s. Amish immigrants to North America came at the same time as other sizable groups of German-speaking immigrants. For the Amish, who had endured severe persecution for the religious faith for nearly two centuries in Europe, the promise of openly practicing their religion without discrimination or harassment was a major enticement. Moreover, because of economic and political instability, social upheaval, and the devastation of frequent wars, Amish people also were motivated to emigrate to establish their own communities in a new country where they could enjoy more stability and control over their lives.

Between 1736 and 1770, about 500 Amish arrived in Philadelphia and settled in the southeastern Pennsylvania counties of Berks, Chester, and Lancaster. By 1767 some of these families had moved west into Somerset County, and by 1791, others had purchased farms in Pennsylvania's Kishacoquillas Valley. Descendants of these eighteenth-century arrivals eventually moved westward to establish communities from eastern Ohio (in 1809) to Iowa (in 1840).

A second wave of some 3,000 Amish immigrants arrived in North America between 1815 and 1860, seeking both economic opportunity and freedom from compulsory military service, which by then was becoming more common in Europe. Very few of these nineteenth-century newcomers set up homes in Pennsylvania, although some traveled through the state and found temporary shelter among fellow church members there. Because of high land prices in the East, most nineteenth-century Amish immigrants headed west. Some arrived in eastern ports, while others arrived on European cotton ships docking in New Orleans and then traveled up the Mississippi River and its tributaries to new homes in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Ontario. Both waves of immigrants acknowledged one another as Amish even though economic factors and kinship networks largely determined where they settled.

Amish immigrants came from rural areas in Europe where they had developed a strong tradition of agriculture. Virtually all of them arriving in North America sought to purchase land where they could establish small farms to sustain their families and small communities of 15 to 30 households. They did not establish land reservations or sequester themselves in isolated areas, but rather they lived among other German immigrants. Although Amish people carried distinct religious convictions (such as pacifism), they shared many folkways with other German immigrants as well as a German dialect that eventually became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The challenges they faced establishing their communities were in many ways similar to those of other German immigrants who settled in rural areas.


The Amish speak English, German, and a dialect known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch. The dialect is the Amish native tongue and should not be confused with the Dutch language of the Netherlands. Originally a German dialect, Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken by Germanic settlers in southeastern Pennsylvania. The pronunciation of the word Deutsche (the German word for “German”) gradually became Dutch in English, and eventually the dialect became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Even the Amish who live outside of Pennsylvania speak the Pennsylvania German dialect. In Amish culture, the dialect is used mainly as a form of oral communication: It is the language of work, family, and friendship.

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies Elizabethtown College, PA

Pennsylvania Dutch is children's first language until they learn English in the Amish school. Students learn to read, write, and speak English from their Amish teachers, who learned it from their Amish teachers. But Pennsylvania Dutch prevails in friendly banter on the playground. By the end of the eighth grade, young Amish have developed basic competence in English, although it may be spoken with what sounds like a German accent. Adults are able to communicate in fluent English with their non-Amish neighbors. When talking among themselves, the Amish sometimes mix English words with the dialect, especially when discussing technical issues. Letters are often written in English, with salutations and occasional phrases in the dialect. Competence in English varies directly with occupational roles and frequency of interaction with English speakers. Ministers are often the ones who are best able to read German. Idioms of the dialect are frequently mixed with German in Amish sacred writings. Although children study formal German in school, they do not speak it on a regular basis.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Common Pennsylvania Dutch greetings and other expressions include the following: Gude Mariye (Good morning); Gut-n-Owed (Good evening); Wie geht's? (How are you?); En frehlicher Grischtdsaag (Merry Christmas); Frehlich Neiyaahr (Happy New Year); Kumm ball widder (Come soon again). When inviting others to gather around a table to eat, a host might say Kumm esse.


The Amish are quite religious, yet their communities reveal no church buildings or sacred symbols, and there is no formal religious education in Amish schools. However, religious meanings pervade all aspects of Amish lives. Religion is practiced, not debated. Silent prayers before and after meals embroider each day with reverence. The Amish way of living and being requires neither proselytizing nor formal theology.

The Ordnung, a religious blueprint for expected behavior, regulates private, public, and ceremonial conduct. Unwritten in most settlements, the Ordnung is passed on by oral tradition. The Ordnung marks expected Amish conduct, such as the male tradition of wearing a beard without a mustache, traveling via a buggy, and speaking the dialect. It also specifies taboos, including divorce, filing a lawsuit, wearing jewelry, owning a car, and attending college. The understandings evolve over the years and are updated as the church faces new issues, such as embryo trans-plants in cattle, using cell phones and computers, and working in factories. Core understandings, such as wearing a beard, relying on horses and buggies, and terminating formal education at the eighth grade, Page 100  |  Top of Articlespan all Amish settlements, but the finer points of the Ordnung vary considerably among the forty different tribes of Amish.

Although ordained leaders update the Ordnung in periodic meetings, each bishop interprets it for his local congregation. Thus, dress styles and the use of cell phones and battery-powered appliances may vary by church district. Once embedded in the Ordnung and established as tradition, the rules rarely change. As new issues face the church, leaders identify those which may be detrimental to community life. Changes deemed to be nonthreatening to their way of life, such as weed-whackers and trampolines, may be overlooked and gradually slip into Amish culture. Battery-powered video cameras, which might lead to other video entanglements with the outside world, would surely be forbidden.

Children learn the ways of the Ordnung by observing adults. The Ordnung defines the way things are in a child's mind. Teenagers, free from the supervision of the church, sometimes flirt with worldly ways and flaunt the Ordnung. At baptism, however, young adults between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two declare their Christian faith and vow to uphold the Ordnung for the rest of their lives. Those who break their promise face excommunication and shunning. Those choosing not to be baptized may gradually drift away from the community, but they are welcome to return to their families without the stigma of shunning.

Worship Services Worship services held in Amish homes reaffirm the moral order of Amish life. Church districts hold services every other Sunday. A group of 200 or more, including neighbors and relatives who have an “off Sunday,” gather for worship. They meet in a farmhouse, the basement of a newer home, or in a shed or barn. A fellowship meal at noon and informal visiting follow the three-hour morning service.

Most Amish do not actively evangelize. They welcome outsiders, but few make the cultural leap. Membership in some settlements doubles every eighteen to twenty years. Their growth is fueled by a robust birth rate that averages seven children per family.

The simple but unwritten liturgy revolves around hymn singing and two sermons. Without the aid of organs, offerings, candles, crosses, robes, or flowers, members yield themselves to God in the spirit of humility. The congregation sings from the Ausbund, a hymnal of German songs without musical notations that date back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. The tunes, passed across the generations by memory, are sung in unison without any musical accompaniment. The slow, chant-like cadence means a single song may stretch over twenty minutes. Extemporaneous or prepared sermons, preached in the Pennsylvania German dialect, recount biblical stories as well as lessons from farm life. Preachers exhort members to be obedient to Amish ways.

Communion services, held each autumn and spring, frame the religious year. These ritual high points emphasize self-examination and spiritual rejuvenation. Sins are confessed and members reaffirm their vow to uphold the Ordnung. Communion is held when the congregation is at peace, when all members are in harmony with the Ordnung. The six- to eight-hour communion service includes preaching, a light meal during the service, and the commemoration of Christ's death with bread and wine. Pairs of members wash each other's feet, in a ritual that reenacts Jesus's washing of his disciples' feet during Passover. At the end of the communion, service members give an alms offering to the deacon, the only time that offerings are collected in Amish services.

Excommunication Baptism, worship, and communion are sacred rites that revitalize and preserve the Ordnung. But the Amish, like everyone else, forget, rebel, experiment, and stray. Major transgressions are confessed publicly in a members meeting following the worship service. Violations of the Ordnung—using a tractor in the field, posing for a television camera, flying on an airplane, filing a lawsuit, joining a political organization, or opening a questionable business—are confessed publicly. Public confession of sins diminishes self-will, reminds members of the supreme value of submission, restores the wayward into the community of faith, and underscores the lines of faithfulness which encircle the community.

The headstrong who spurn the advice of elders and refuse to confess their sin face a six-week probation. The next step is the Meidung, or shunning, which involves rites of shaming, especially at public gatherings. For example, someone who is shunned will be seated at a separate table at a wedding meal. For the unrepentant, social avoidance becomes a lifetime quarantine. If their stubbornness does not mellow into repentance, they face excommunication. Members terminate social interaction and financial transactions with the excommunicated. However, even years after their excommunication, they can be restored to full membership if they confess their sins and agree to affirm the teachings of the church.


The Amish have been able to maintain a distinctive ethnic subculture by successfully resisting acculturation and assimilation. They do this by emphasizing their separation from the world, rejecting higher education, selectively using technology, and restricting close interaction with outsiders.

Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs At first glance all of North America's Amish groups appear pressed from the same cultural mold. A deeper look Page 101  |  Top of Articlereveals many differences among the forty Amish affiliations. For instance, some of them forbid milking machines, while others depend on them. Mechanical hay balers widely used in some areas are taboo in others. Prescribed buggy tops are gray or black in many affiliations, but other groups have white or yellow tops. Buttons on clothing are banished in many groups but acceptable in others. The dead are embalmed in one settlement but not in another. Some bishops permit telephones in small shops, but others do not. Artificial insemination of livestock is acceptable in one district but not in another. In some communities virtually all the men are farmers, but in others many adults work in small shops and cottage industries. In still other settlements Amish persons work in rural factories operated by non-Amish persons. Practices vary between church districts even within the same settlement.

Several distinctive badges of ethnic identity unite the Old Order Amish across North America: horse-and-buggy transportation; the use of horses and mules for field work; plain dress in many variations; a beard and shaven upper lip for men; a prayer cap for women; the Pennsylvania German dialect; worship in homes; eighth-grade, parochial schooling; the rejection of electricity from public utility lines; and taboos on the ownership of televisions and computers.

Amish life pivots on Gelassenheit (pronounced “Ge-las-en-hite”), the cornerstone of Amish values. Roughly translated, this German word means submission, or yielding to a higher authority. It entails self-surrender, resignation to God's will, yielding to others, self-denial, contentment, and a quiet spirit. The religious meaning of Gelassenheit expresses itself in a quiet and reserved personality and places the needs of others above self. It nurtures a subdued self marked by modesty and reserve, gentle handshakes, lower voices, and slower strides. Children learn the essence of Gelassenheit in a favorite verse: “I must be a Christian child, / Gentle, patient, meek, and mild, / Must be honest, simple, true, / I must cheerfully obey, / Giving up my will and way.”

Another favorite saying explains that JOY means Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between. As the cornerstone of Amish culture, Gelassenheit collides with the bold, assertive individualism of modern life that seeks and rewards personal achievement, self-fulfillment, and individual recognition at every turn.

The spirit of Gelassenheit expresses itself in obedience, humility, and simplicity. To Amish thinking, obedience to the will of God is the cardinal religious value. Disobedience is dangerous. Unconfessed, it leads to eternal separation. Obedience is coupled with humility in Amish life. Pride, a religious term for unbridled individualism, is discouraged. Amish teachers remind students that the middle letter of pride is I. Proud individuals display the spirit of arrogance, not Gelassenheit. They are pushy, bold, and forward. What non-Amish consider proper credit for one's accomplishments is what the Amish view as the hankerings of a vain spirit. The Amish contend that pride disturbs the equality and tranquility of an orderly community. The humble person freely gives of self in the service of community without seeking recognition.

Simplicity is also esteemed in Amish life. Simplicity in clothing, household decor, architecture, and worship nurtures equality and orderliness. Fancy and gaudy decorations lead to pride. Luxury and convenience cultivates vanity. The tools of self-adornment—makeup, jewelry, wrist-watches, and wedding rings—are taboo and viewed as signs of pride.

Most Amish do not actively evangelize. They welcome outsiders, but few make the cultural leap. Membership in some settlements doubles every eighteen to twenty years. Their growth is fueled by a robust birth rate that averages seven children per family. The defection rate varies by settlement, but is usually less than 15 percent. Thus, six out of seven children, on average, remain Amish throughout their lives.

Beyond biological reproduction, a dual strategy of resistance and compromise has enabled the Amish to flourish in the modern world. They have resisted acculturation by constructing social fences around their community. Core values are translated into visible symbols of identity. Badges of ethnicity—horse, buggy, lantern, dialect, and dress—draw sharp con-tours between Amish and modern life.

The Amish resist the forces of modernization in other ways. Cultural ties to the outside world are curbed by speaking the dialect, marrying within the group, spurning television, prohibiting higher education, and limiting social interaction with outsiders. Privately operated schools insulate Amish youth from the contaminating influence of worldly peers. The temptations of the outside world, however, have always been a factor in Amish life. During rumschpringen, or “running around,” which happens between the ages of sixteen and the early twenties, Amish youth engage in social activities with their friends and begin courtship with those of the opposite sex. In this period, some Amish teenagers and young adults may flirt with such temptations as drinking and driving cars before they accept baptism and assume their adult responsibilities within the Amish community. Though the vast bulk of rumschpringen behavior is, for the most part, relatively mild and quiet, it occasionally includes more extreme activities. In 1998, for example, two Amish men in Lancaster County were charged with selling cocaine to other young people in their community.

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Amish children use scooters to get to school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Amish children use scooters to get to school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. H. MARK WEIDMAN PHOTOGRAPHY / ALAMY

And in 1999, as many as forty Amish teenagers turned violent after a drinking binge and seriously vandalized an Amish farmstead. Community elders abhor such events, which are rare. An overwhelming majority of youth engage in recreational activities within their communities that are supervised by parents.

The survival strategy of the Amish also involves cultural compromises, which sometimes results in odd mixtures of tradition and progress. Tractors may be used at Amish barns but not in fields. Horses and mules pull modern farm machinery in some settlements. Twelve-volt electricity from batteries is acceptable, but not electricity that comes from public utility lines. Hydraulic and air pressure are used instead of electricity to operate modern machines in many Amish carpentry and mechanical shops. Members frequently ride in cars or vans, but are not permitted to drive them. Telephones, kept out of Amish homes, are installed along farm lanes and in shops. Modern gas appliances fill Amish kitchens in some states, and lanterns illuminate modern bathrooms in some Amish homes.

These riddles of Amish life reflect delicate bargains that the Amish have struck between their desire to maintain tradition while enjoying the fruits of progress. The Amish are willing to change but not at the expense of communal values and ethnic identity. They use modern technology but not when it disrupts family and community stability. Viewed within the context of Amish history, the compromises are reasonable ways of achieving community goals and preserving core values while permitting selective modernization. Such flexibility boosts the economic vitality of the community and also helps retain the allegiance of Amish youth.

Cuisine Food preferences among the Amish vary somewhat from state to state. Breakfast fare for many families includes eggs, fried potatoes, toast, and in some communities, commercially manufactured cereals such as cornflakes. Typical breakfast foods in Pennsylvania also include shoofly pie, a molasses pie that is sometimes dipped in or covered with coffee or milk; stewed crackers in warm milk; mush made from corn meal; and sausage. Puddings and scrapple (a pan fried mixture of cornmeal or flour and pork scraps) Page 103  |  Top of Articleare also breakfast favorites. Puddings consist of ground liver, heart, and kidneys from pork and beef.

For farm families the midday dinner is usually the largest meal of the day. Noontime dinners and evening suppers often include beef or chicken dishes, and vegetables in season from the family garden, such as peas, corn, green beans, lima beans, and carrots. Mashed potatoes covered with beef gravy, noodles with brown butter, chicken potpie, and sauerkraut are regional favorites. For side dishes and desserts there are applesauce, cornstarch pudding, tapioca, and fruit pies in season, such as apple, rhubarb, pumpkin, and snitz pies made with dried apples. Potato soup and chicken-corn-noodle soup are commonplace. In summer months, cold fruit soups consisting of strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries added to milk and bread cubes appear on Amish tables. Meadow tea, homemade root beer, and instant drink mixes are used in the summer.

Food preservation and preparation for large families and sizable gatherings is an enormous undertaking. Each community has a traditional menu that is typically served at large meals following church services, weddings, and funerals. Host families often bake three dozen pies for the noontime meal following the biweekly church service. Quantities of canned food vary by family size and preference but it is not uncommon for a family to can 150 quarts of apple sauce, 100 quarts of peaches, 60 quarts of pears, 50 quarts of grape juice, and 50 quarts of pizza sauce at a time.

Amish communities are not self-sufficient. They buy food products and other household items from commercial stores, as well as from retail establishments operated by the Amish and Mennonites themselves. The growing use of instant pudding, instant drinks, snack foods, and canned soups reflects time constraints and the difficulties of cooking from scratch for large families. The use of commercial food rises as families leave the farm and especially as women take on entrepreneurial roles.

Traditional Dress The Amish church prescribes dress regulations for its members, but the unwritten standards vary considerably by settlement. Men are expected to wear a wide brim hat and a vest when they appear in public. In winter months and at church services they wear a black suit coat, which is typically fastened with hooks and eyes rather than with buttons. Men use suspenders instead of belts. As soon as they are married, men grow a beard.

Amish women are expected to wear a prayer covering and a bonnet when they appear in public settings. Most women wear a cape over their dresses as well as a white apron. The three parts of the dress are often fastened together with straight pins. Various colors, including green, brown, blue, and lavender, are permitted for men's shirts and women's dresses, but designs and figures in the fabric are taboo. Although young girls do not wear a prayer covering, Amish

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1 cup dark molasses

¾ cup boiling water

1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in hot water

1 egg, beaten

⅔ cup brown sugar

¼ cup butter

1 cup flour

dash of salt

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 400°F.

To make syrup: Dissolve baking soda in boiling water, then mix with molasses in medium bowl. Whisk in egg. Pour mixture into pie shell.

To make crumb mixture: In another bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, shortening or butter. Spread this onto the molasses mixture.

Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and bake until center of pie is set, about 35 minutes. Cool on a rack until the pie is firm, about 45 minutes.

children are typically dressed similarly to their parents. Most Amish make their own clothes, although shoes are also often store-bought.

Traditional Arts and Crafts The Amish are widely known for their handmade crafts such as quilts, furniture and cabinets, baskets, and toys. Because of their reputation for being well-made and sturdy, Amish crafts are desirable retail items outside of Amish communities, and many Amish have thriving small businesses to sell their crafts to tourists and even online (though the online stores are run by non-Amish). However, the heart of traditional Amish crafts is their usefulness in the home or on the farm. Each community of Amish quilters has its own style that changes slowly over time. Amish quilts are characterized by black or brown fabric off setting other solid, bright or pastel colors with generally simple piecing designs and more elaborate stitching. Amish furniture is made in many styles and is characterized by carefully chosen solid hardwood.

Holidays The Amish share some national holidays with their non-Amish neighbors and add others of their own; thus the Amish calendar underscores both their participation in and separation from the larger world. As conscientious objectors, they have little enthusiasm for patriotic days with a military Page 104  |  Top of Articleflair. Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July are barely noticed. Labor Day stirs little interest. The witches and goblins of Halloween run contrary to Amish conventions; pumpkins may be displayed in some settlements, but without cut faces. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday slips by unnoticed in many rural enclaves.

Amish holidays mark the rhythm of the seasons and religious celebrations. A day for prayer and fasting precedes the October communion service in some communities. Fall weddings provide ample holidays of another sort. Amish celebrate Thanksgiving Day with turkey dinners and family gatherings. New Year's Day is a quiet time for family gatherings. In many communities a second day is added to the celebrations of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The regular holiday, a sacred time, flows with quiet family activities. The following day, or second Christmas, Easter Monday, and Pentecost Monday, provides time for recreation, visiting, and sometimes shopping. Ascension day, the day prior to Pentecost, is a holiday for visiting, fishing, and other forms of recreation.

Christmas and Easter festivities are devoid of commercial trappings. Families exchange Christmas cards and gifts. Some presents are homemade crafts and practical gifts but are increasingly store bought. Homes are decorated with greens, but not Christmas trees, stockings, lights, Santa Claus, or mistletoe. Although eggs are sometimes painted and children may receive a basket of candy, the Easter bunny does not visit Amish homes. Instead, these sacred holidays revolve around religious customs and family gatherings. Birthdays are celebrated at home and school with cakes and gifts. Parents often share a special snack of cookies or popsicles with school friends to honor a child's birthday.

Health Care Issues and Practices The Amish use modern medical services to some extent. Lacking professionals within their ranks, they rely on the services of dentists, optometrists, nurses, and physicians in local health centers, clinics, and hospitals. They cite no biblical injunctions against modern health care, but they do believe that God is the ultimate healer. Despite the absence of religious taboos on health care, Amish practices differ from prevailing patterns.

The Amish generally do not subscribe to commercial health insurance. Some communities have organized church aid plans for families with special medical costs. In other settlements special offerings are collected for members who are hit with catastrophic medical bills. The Amish are unlikely to seek medical attention for minor aches or illnesses and are more apt to follow folk remedies and drink herbal teas. Although they do not object to surgery or other forms of high-tech treatment, they rarely employ heroic life-saving interventions.

In addition to home remedies, church members often seek healing outside orthodox medical circles. The search for natural healing leads them to vitamins, homeopathic remedies, health foods, reflexologists, chiropractors, and the services of specialized clinics. These cultural habits are shaped by many factors: conservative rural values, a preference for natural anti-dotes, a sense of discomfort in high-tech settings, difficulties accessing health care, a willingness to suffer, and belief in the providence of God.

Birthing practices vary in different settlements. In some communities most babies are born at home under the supervision of trained non-Amish midwives. In other settlements most children are born in hospitals or at local birthing clinics. Children can attend Amish schools without immunizations, but some parents follow the advice of family doctors or midwives and immunize their children. Lax immunization is often due to cost, distance, misinformation, or lack of interest. Occasional outbreaks of German measles, whooping cough, polio, and other contagious diseases have prompted public health campaigns to immunize Amish children. Amish elders usually encourage others to cooperate with such efforts. In recent years various health providers have made special efforts to immunize Amish children.

Marriages within small communities and the lack of new converts restricts the genetic pool of Amish society, and it is not unusual for second cousins to marry. Such intermarriage does not necessarily produce medical problems. When unique recessive traits are common in a closed community, certain diseases are more likely to occur. However, a restricted gene pool may offer protection from other hereditary diseases.

The Amish are ideal subjects for genetic research because their exceptional genealogical records, endogamy, and sizable families make it fairly easy to track hereditary traits across centuries. Some Amish resist mainstream medical treatments, but many others willingly cooperate with medical professionals gathering DNA samples for scientific studies.

In 1989 Holmes Morton and his wife, Caroline, established the Clinic for Special Children near Strasburg, Pennsylvania, to provide diagnostic and comprehensive medical care for Amish and Mennonite children with inherited genetic diseases. Morton and his staff have identified the molecular basis for common disorders in Amish communities and can now test for some 120 genetic conditions. The clinic provides diagnostic services and comprehensive outpatient care for more than two thousand patients in several states.

A similar clinic serving Amish people in Ohio and eight other states, Das Deutsch Center, was initiated by Heng Wang in 2000 in Middlefield, Ohio. Providing state-of-the-art clinical care and diagnostic testing, the center has identified and treated more than seventy rare and genetic disorders in Midwestern Amish communities. These two clinics also serve Page 105  |  Top of Articlenon-Amish children with rare inherited diseases. A handful of other similar clinics other Amish communities in several states are in the early stages of development.

Since 1995 Alan R. Shuldiner of the University of Maryland has conducted scientific investigations of some six thousand Amish people who have cooperated to advance scientific information about various diseases. Many of the Amish participants receive free medical evaluations and screenings for common diseases. The research staff at Shuldiner's Amish Research Clinic have investigated a variety of health issues typical in the larger society such as obesity, longevity, blood pressure, osteoporosis, mood disorders, and diabetes. The clinic's research team has produced dozens of scientific articles yielding new health information that will benefit Amish and English patients alike.

Death and Burial Rituals With the elderly living at home, the gradual loss of health prepares family members for the final passage. Accompanied by quiet grief, death comes gracefully, the final benediction to a good life and entry into the bliss of eternity. Although funeral practices vary from community to community, the preparations reflect core Amish values, as family and friends yield to eternal verities.

The community springs into action at the word of a death. Family and friends in the local church district assume barn and household chores, freeing the immediate family. Well-established funeral rituals unburden the family from worrisome choices. Three couples are appointed to extend invitations and super-vise funeral arrangements: food preparation, seating arrangements, and the coordination of a large number of horses and carriages.

In most settlements a non-Amish undertaker moves the body to a funeral home for embalming. The body, without cosmetic improvements, returns to the home in a simple, hardwood coffin within a day. Family members of the same sex dress the body in white. White garments symbolize the final passage into a new and better eternal life. Tailoring the white clothes prior to death helps to prepare the family for the season of grief. Women often wear the white cape and apron worn at their wedding.

Friends and relatives visit the family and view the body in a room on the first floor of the home for two days prior to the funeral. Meanwhile community members dig the grave by hand in a nearby family cemetery as others oversee the daily chores of the bereaved. Several hundred guests attend the funeral in a barn or home, typically on the morning of the third day after death. During the service, ministers read hymns and scriptures, offer prayers, and preach a sermon.

The hearse, a large, black carriage pulled by horses, leads a long procession of other carriages to the burial ground on the edge of a farm. After a brief viewing and graveside service, pallbearers lower the coffin

An Amish auction in Montgomery County, upstate New York.

An Amish auction in Montgomery County, upstate New York. PHILIP SCALIA / ALAMY

and shovel soil into the grave as the bishop reads a hymn. The spot is marked by a small headstone identical in size to all the others in the graveyard. Close friends and family members then return to the home for a meal prepared by members of the local congregation. Bereaved women, especially close relatives, may signal their mourning by wearing a black dress in public for as long as a year. Although an occasion for grief, death is nevertheless received gracefully as the ultimate surrender to God's higher ways.

Recreational Activities Various social gatherings bring members together for times of fellowship and fun beyond biweekly worship. Young people gather in homes for Sunday evening singing. Married couples sometimes gather with old friends to sing for shut-ins and the elderly in their homes. Work frolics blend work and play together in Amish life. Parents gather for preschool frolics to prepare schools for September classes. End-of-school picnics bring parents and students together for an afternoon of food and games.

Quilting bees and barn raisings mix goodwill, levity, and hard work for young and old alike. Other moments of collective work (cleaning up after a fire, plowing for an ill neighbor, canning for a sick mother, threshing wheat, and filling a silo) involve neighbors and extended families in episodes of charity, sweat, and fun. Adult sisters, sometimes numbering as many as five or six, often gather for a sisters day, which blends laughter with cleaning, quilting, canning, or gardening.

Public auctions of farm equipment are often held in February and March and attract crowds in preparation for springtime farming. Besides opportunities to bid on equipment, the day-long auctions offer ample time for farm talk and friendly fun. Games of cornerball in a nearby field or barnyard often compete with the drama of the auction. Household auctions and horse sales provide other times to socialize. Family Page 106  |  Top of Articlegatherings at religious holidays and summer family reunions link members into familial networks. Single women sometimes gather at a cabin or a home for a weekend of fun. Special meetings of persons with unique interests, often called reunions, are on the rise and attract Amish from many states: harnessmakers, cabinetmakers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, business-women, teachers, the disabled, and the like. The disabled have gathered annually for a number of years.

Among youth, seasonal athletics are common: softball, sledding, skating, hockey, and swimming. Volleyball is a widespread favorite. Fishing and hunting for small game are preferred sports on farms and woodlands. In recent years some Amish men have purchased hunting cabins in the mountains where they hunt white-tailed deer. Deep-sea fishing trips are common summertime jaunts for men in Pennsylvania. Others prefer camping and canoeing. Pitching quoits, a game similar to a ring toss, is common at family reunions and picnics.

Idleness is viewed as the devil's workshop. But the rise of cottage industries and the availability of ready cash has brought more recreational activities to Amish culture. Amish recreation is group oriented and nature oriented. For vacations, the Amish may take trips to other settlements and stop at scenic sites along the way. Some couples travel to Florida in the winter and live in an Amish village in Sarasota that is frequented by travelers from settlements in several states. Trips to distant sites in search of special medical care sometimes include scenic tours. Although some Amish travel by train or bus, chartered vans are the most popular mode. Traveling together with family, friends, and extended kin allow these groups to further cement their bonds.


The immediate family, the extended family, and the church district form the building blocks of Amish society. Amish parents typically raise about seven children, but ten or more children is not uncommon. About 50 percent of the population is under eighteen years of age. A person will often have more than 75 first cousins and a typical grandparent will count more than 35 grandchildren. Members of the extended family usually live nearby, across the field, down the lane, or beyond the hill. Youth grow up in this thick network of family relations where they are rarely alone, always embedded in a caring community in time of need and disaster. The elderly retire at home, usually in a small apartment built onto the main house of a homestead. Because the Amish reject government aid, virtually no families receive public assistance. The community provides a supportive social network from cradle to grave.

A church district comprises 25 to 35 families and is the basic social and religious unit beyond the family. Roads and streams mark the boundaries of districts. Members are required to participate in the district in which they live. A district's geographic size varies with the density of the Amish population. As districts expand, they divide.

A bishop, two preachers, and a deacon share leadership responsibilities in each district without formal pay or education. The bishop, as spiritual elder, officiates at baptisms, weddings, communions, funerals, ordinations, and membership meetings. The church district is church, club, family, and precinct all wrapped up in a neighborhood parish. Periodic meetings of ordained leaders link the districts of a settlement into a loose federation. Leisure, work, education, worship, and friendship revolve around the district, although families may travel to other settlements or even out of state to visit relatives and friends.

Amish society is not bureaucratic. There is no centralized national office, symbolic national figurehead, or institutional headquarters. Apart from schools, a publishing operation, and regional historical libraries, formal institutions do not exist. A loosely organized national committee handles relations with the federal government for all the settlements, and small regional committees funnel funds to the schools, mutual aid, and historical libraries.

The status symbols that mark much of modern American life (education, income, occupation, and consumer goods) are lacking in Amish society, making those families relatively homogeneous. Their agrarian heritage places everyone on more or less equal footing. However, the recent rise of Amish-owned small businesses in some settlements and factory work in others has disturbed some of this social equality by creating three social classes: day laborers who work in shops, farmers who have equity in land, and entrepreneurs who operate some 12,000 Amish businesses. Despite these newer differences, social equality is maintained by adherence to traditional styles of dress and transportation and even the custom of having equal-sized tombstones.

The practice of mutual aid also distinguishes Amish society. Mutual aid means the community bands together to help its individual families. The mutual aid technique perhaps most associated with the Amish is the barn raising. During this activity, all the able-bodied men in a community gather and build a barn in the space of a day or two. The women provide the meals, and the hard work is lessened by many hands and through an atmosphere of celebration. Mutual aid is practiced during harvest times and in times of disaster. For example, if a family's house is destroyed by fire or a storm, all will gather to help clean up debris, rehabilitate the building, or construct a new one. This, in part, illustrates why the Amish have no need for homeowners' insurance. Other forms of mutual aid include quilting bees, preparing the schoolhouse for the new year, and canning vegetables for the winter, not to mention the assistance needed with ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

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Gender Roles Amish society is based upon a soft patriarchy. Although school teachers are generally women, men assume most leadership roles. Women can nominate men to serve in ministerial roles, but they themselves are excluded from formal church roles; however, they can vote in church business meetings. Some women feel that because the men make the rules, modern equipment is permitted more readily in barns and shops than in homes. In recent years some women have become entrepreneurs who operate small quilt, craft, and food stores.

Although husband and wife preside over distinct spheres of domestic life, many tasks are shared. A wife may ask her husband to assist in the garden, and he may ask her to help in the barn or fields. The isolated housewife is rarely found in Amish society. The husband holds spiritual authority in the home, but spouses have considerable freedom within their distinctive spheres.

Education The Amish supported public education when it revolved around one-room schools in the first half of the twentieth century. Under local control, the one-room rural schools posed little threat to Amish values. The massive consolidation of public schools and growing pressure to attend high school sparked clashes between the Amish and officials in several states in the middle of the twentieth century. Confrontations in several other states led to arrests and brief stints in jail. After legal skirmishes in several states, the U.S. Supreme Court gave its blessing to the eighth-grade Amish school system in 1972, stating that “there can be no assumption that today's majority is ‘right’ and the Amish and others are ‘wrong.’” The Court concluded that “a way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different.”

By 2013 the Amish operated more than 2,000 private schools for some 55,000 Amish children. Many of the schools have one room with 25 to 35 pupils and one teacher who is responsible for teaching all eight grades. A few Amish children attend rural public schools in some states.

A scripture reading and prayer opens each school day, but religion is not formally taught in the school. The curriculum includes reading, arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, history, and geography. Both English and German are taught. Parents want children to learn German to enhance their ability to read religious writings, many of which are written in formal German. Science and sex education are missing in the curriculum, as are sports, dances, clubs, music instruction, and computers.

A local board of three to five fathers organizes the school, hires a teacher, approves the curriculum, oversees the budget, and supervises maintenance. Teachers receive about $25 to $35 per day. The cost per child is roughly $500 per year, about 20 times lower than many public schools where per pupil costs often top $104,000. Amish parents pay public school taxes as well as taxes for their own school.

Schools play a critical role in the preservation of Amish culture. They not only reinforce Amish values, but they also shield youth from contaminating ideas. Moreover, schools limit friendships to the students' Amish peers and impede the flow of Amish youth into higher education and professional life. Amish schools promote practical skills to prepare their graduates for success in Amish society. Some selective testing indicates that Amish pupils compare favorably with rural peers in public schools on standardized tests of basic skills.

Amish teachers, trained in Amish schools, are not required to be certified in most states. Often the brightest and best of Amish students, they return to the classroom in their late teens and early twenties to teach. Amish school directors select them for their ability to teach and their commitment to Amish values. These are usually single women, who will quit teaching when they get married. Periodic meetings with other teachers, a monthly teachers' magazine, and ample common sense prepare them for the task of teaching thirty students in eight grades. With three or four pupils per grade, teachers often teach two grades at a time. Pupils in other classes ponder assignments, listen to previews of next year's lessons, or hear reviews of past work. Some textbooks are recycled from public schools while others are produced by Amish publishers. The ethos of the classroom accents cooperative activity, obedience, respect, diligence, kindness, and the natural world. Daily recess often involves softball and other traditional games.

Amish schools exhibit a social continuity rarely found in public education. With many families sending several children to a school, teachers may relate to as few as a dozen households. Teachers know parents personally and the circumstances surrounding each child. In some cases, children have the same teacher for all eight grades. Indeed, all the children from a family may have the same teacher for their entire school career.

Courtship and Weddings The wedding season is a festive time in Amish life. Coming on the heels of the harvest, weddings are typically held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from late October through early December in the Lancaster Pennsylvania settlement. In many other settlements weddings may occur throughout the year, but typically not in July and August. Larger communities may have as many as 150 weddings in one season, and 15 weddings may be scattered across the settlement on the same day. Typically staged in the home of the bride, these joyous events may involve upwards of 350 guests, two meals, singing, snacks, festivities, and a three-hour service. The specific practices vary from settlement to settlement.

The Amish typically marry in their early twenties. A couple may date for one to two years before

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In the late nineteenth century some clusters of Amish formed more progressive Amish-Mennonite churches as industrialization became an influence in everyday rural life. Members of these churches eventually merged with Mennonite churches and made some concessions to twentieth-century culture. The Beachy Amish (founded in 1927 by the bishop Moses M. Beachy in 1927), for instance, support mission work and sometimes travel overseas for it. Some Beachy Amish own cars, although radio and television are still prohibited. The more conservative guardians of the heritage became known as the Old Order Amish.

In the course of the twentieth century, the Old Order Amish diversified their ranks into some 40 different Amish subgroups. Each of these groups has different regulations, accepted practices, and symbols (such as the color of their buggies). The Swartzentruber Amish, for example, were founded in 1917 in Ohio and are among the strictest of the Old Order groups. No indoor plumbing is allowed, and their homes are devoid of almost any unnecessary decoration. Their clothing is dark, and men wear only one suspender instead of two.

Thus, it is difficult to speak about “the Amish,” because so many different groups adhere to that name. The most traditional of these, for example, have outdoor toilets and austere homes, whereas more liberal groups have state-of-the-art bathrooms and—apart from electricity—well-appointed homes. Members of latter group sometimes permit families to install phones in their homes, use electricity from public utilities, and use tractors in their fields.

announcing their engagement. Bishops will only marry a couple if they are both members of the church. The church does not arrange marriages, but it does place its blessing on the pair through an old ritual. Prior to the wedding, the groom takes a letter signed by church elders to the bride's deacon testifying to the groom's good standing in his home district. The bride's deacon then meets with her to verify the marriage plans.

The wedding day is an enormous undertaking for the bride's family and for the relatives and friends who assist with preparations. Efforts to clean up the property, paint rooms, fix furniture, pull weeds, and pave driveways begin weeks in advance. The logistics of preparing meals and snacks for several hundred guests are taxing. According to custom, the day before the wedding the groom slaughters several dozen chickens. The noontime wedding menu includes chicken roast—chicken mixed with bread filling, and served with gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed celery, pepper cabbage, and other items. Desserts include pears, peaches, puddings, dozens of pies, and hundreds of cookies and doughnuts.

The three-hour service—without flowers, rings, or instrumental music—is similar to an Amish worship service. The wedding includes congregational singing, prayers, wedding vows, and two sermons. Four single friends serve the bride and groom as attendants: no one is designated maid of honor or best man. Amish brides typically make their own wedding dresses from blue or purple material crafted in traditional styles. In addition to the groom's new but customary black coat and vest, he and his attendants often wear small black bow ties.

Games, snacks, and singing follow the noon meal. Young people are paired off somewhat randomly for the singing. Following the evening meal another more lively singing takes place in which couples who are dating pair off—arousing considerable interest because this may be their first public appearance. Festivities may continue until nearly midnight as guests gradually leave. Some guests, invited to several weddings on the same day, may rotate between them.

Newly married couples usually set up housekeeping in the spring after their wedding. Until then the groom may live at the bride's home or continue to live with his parents. Couples do not take a traditional honeymoon, but visit relatives on weekends during the winter months. Several newlywed couples may visit together, sometimes staying overnight at the home of close relatives. During these visits, family and friends present gifts to the newlyweds to add to the bride's dowry, which often consists of furniture. Young men begin growing a beard, the functional equivalent of a wedding ring, soon after their marriage. They are expected to have a “full stand” by the springtime communion.

Relations with Other Americans Amish culture and religion stresses separation from the world. Galvanized by European persecution and sanctioned by scripture, the Amish divide the social world into two pathways: the straight, narrow way of life, and the broad, easy road to destruction. Amish life embodies the narrow way of self-denial. The larger social world symbolizes the broad road of vanity and vice. The term world, in Amish thinking, refers to the outside society and its values, vices, practices, and institutions. Media reports of greed, fraud, scandal, drugs, violence, divorce, and abuse confirm that the world teems with values that run counter to theirs.

The gulf between church and world guides practical decisions. Products and practices that might undermine community life, such as high school, cars, cameras, television, and self-propelled farm machinery, are tagged “worldly.” Not all new products receive this label—only those that threaten community values. Definitions of worldliness vary within and between Amish settlements, yielding a complicated maze of practices.

Despite this separation from the world, many Americans are curious about the Amish way of life and millions visit Amish communities each year as tourists. Some 10 million tourists visit Lancaster County in Eastern Pennsylvania annually. Other major sites of Page 109  |  Top of ArticleAmish tourism include Holmes County Ohio (near the town of Worcester); Shipshewana, Indiana; and Arthur, Illinois. Dozens of non-Amish entrepreneurs in these areas have developed Amish-themed enterprises that include tours, films, interpretive centers, restaurants, hotels, and retail shops that cater to tourists. In addition, cyber tourism on film and video on cable channels has grown since 2000. This cyber tourism ranges from accurate documentaries such as The Amish, produced by the American Experience (which aired in February 2012), to fictional and exploitive portrayals of Amish life such as Breaking Amish and The Amish Mafia (both of which aired in 2012).

Philanthropy Building on their beliefs in mutual aid and spirit of sharing and caring, Amish communities also help outsiders by donating to benefits for disaster relief, hosting charity auctions, and joining with Mennonites and other Anabaptists to raise money for international aid and service projects, as well as disaster cleanup in the United States. Amish have participated in raising millions of dollars with the Mennonite Disaster Service and Christian Aid Ministries for relief in Haiti, Bosnia, and even in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

Surnames As a mostly closed community, the Amish have a relatively small number of surnames—around 200—and a few names tend to predominate in particular areas. The most common surnames include Miller, Stoltzfus, Yoder, and Schwartz. Other common names include Hershberger, Hochstetler, Troyer, Schrock, Fisher, Lapp, and Zook.


Amish life is rooted in farming. But since the middle of the twentieth century, some of the older and larger Amish settlements in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have shifted to nonfarm occupations because of the pressures of urbanization. As urbanization devoured prime farmland, prices soared. For example, land in the heart of Pennsylvania's Lancaster Amish settlement sold for $300 an acre in 1940. In the 1990s the same land sold for $8,000, and in 2013 an acre went for $15,000.

Scarce and expensive farmland in some of the older settlements presents a problem, as does the demographic squeeze caused by their growing population. The community has coped with the crisis in several ways. First, farms have been subdivided into smaller units with intensive cropping and higher concentrations of livestock. Second, some families have migrated to the rural areas of other states where farms can be purchased at much lower prices. Third, in some settlements a majority of families no longer farm, but instead work in small shops, rural factories, or in various trades. However, even ex-farmers insist that the farm remains the best place to raise a family.

The rise of cottage industries and small shops marks an historic turn in Amish life. These new

An Amish man in Amish Country, Pennsylvania.

An Amish man in Amish Country, Pennsylvania. ALAMYBEST / ALAMY

enterprises, numbering up to 12,000 by 2013, have dramatically reshaped Amish society. By the late 1990s, such small industries employed more than half the Amish adults in Lancaster County, and by 2013, 60 percent of Amish households received their primary income from small businesses. Amish retail shops sell dry goods, furniture, shoes, hardware, and wholesale foods. Church members now work as carpenters, plumbers, painters, and self-trained accountants.

The new industries come in three forms. Home-based operations lodged on farms or by newly built homes employ a few family members and neighbors. Bakeshops, craft shops, hardware stores, health food stores, quilt shops, flower shops, and repair shops of all sorts are just a few of the hundreds of home-based operations. Work in these settings revolves around the family. A growing number of these small cottage industries cater to tourists, but many serve the needs of Amish and non-Amish neighbors alike.

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Larger shops and manufacturing concerns are housed in newly constructed buildings on the edge of farms or on commercial plots. These formal shops with five to ten employees manufacture farm machinery, hydraulic equipment, storage barns, furniture, and cabinetry. Some metal fabrication shops arrange sub-contracts with other manufacturers. The larger shops are efficient and profitable. Low overhead, minimal advertising, austere management, modest wages, quality workmanship, and sheer hard work grant many shops a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Mobile work crews constitute a third type of industry. Amish construction groups travel to building sites for commercial and residential construction. The construction crews travel in hired vehicles and in some settlements they are permitted to use electric tools powered by portable generators and on-site electricity.

The rise of cottage industries may, in the long run, disturb the equality of Amish life by encouraging a three-tier society of farmers, entrepreneurs, and day laborers. Parents worry that youth working a forty-hour week with loose cash in their pockets will snub traditional Amish values of simplicity and frugality. The new industries also increase contact with the outside world, which will surely prompt even more changes in Amish life. Despite the occupational changes, virtually no Amish are unemployed or receive government unemployment benefits.

Doing business in the twenty-first century also necessarily involves the challenge of technology. Amish business owners in the more progressive affiliations may use third-party providers for websites and email accounts. The shift from farming to business is the most significant change in Amish communities since they immigrated to the United States in the eighteenth century.


Although the Amish support and respect civil government, they also keep a healthy distance from it. On the one hand, they follow biblical admonitions to obey and pray for rulers and encourage members to be law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, government epitomizes worldly culture and the use of force. European persecutors of the Anabaptists were often government officials. Modern governments engage in warfare, use capital punishment, and impose their will through laws. Believing that such coercion and violence is in opposition to the gentle spirit of Jesus, the Amish reject the use of force, including litigation.

When civil law and religious conscience collide, the Amish are not afraid to take a stand and will obey God rather than man, even if it brings imprisonment. They have clashed with government officials over the use of hard hats, zoning regulations, workers' compensation, and building codes for schools. However, as conscientious objectors, many have received farm deferments or served in alternative service programs during times of military draft. The Amish refuse to serve on juries.

The church forbids membership in political organizations and holding public office for several reasons. First, running for office is viewed as arrogant and out of character with esteemed Amish values of humility and modesty. Second, office-holding violates the religious principle of separation from the world. Finally, public officials must be prepared to use legal force if necessary to settle civic disputes. The exercise of legal force runs counter to the Amish stance of nonresistance. Voting, however, is viewed as a personal matter. Although the church does not prohibit it, few persons vote. Those who do vote are likely to be younger businessmen concerned about local issues. In the 2004 presidential election, for example, only 13 percent of eligible Amish adults voted.

The Amish pay federal and state income taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes. Indeed, they pay school taxes twice, for both public and Amish schools. Following biblical injunctions, the Amish are exempt from Social Security tax. They view Social Security as a national insurance program, not a tax. Congressional legislation, passed in 1965, exempts self-employed Amish persons from Social Security. Amish persons employed in Amish businesses were also exempted by congressional legislation in 1988. Those who do not qualify for the exemption, such as Amish employees in non-Amish businesses, must pay Social Security without reaping its benefits. Likewise, the Amish do not receive Medicare and Medicaid.

The Amish object to government aid for a number of reasons. They contend that the church should assume responsibility for the social welfare of its own members. The aged, infirm, senile, and disabled are cared for, whenever possible, within extended family networks. To turn the care of these people over to the state would abdicate this fundamental tenet of faith. Furthermore, federal aid in the form of Social Security or Medicare would erode dependency on the church and undercut its programs of mutual aid, which the Amish have organized to assist their members with fire and storm damages and with medical expenses.

Government subsidies, or what the Amish call handouts, have been stridently opposed. Championing self-sufficiency and the separation of church and state, the Amish worry that the hand that feeds them will also control them. Over the years they have stubbornly refused direct subsidies even for agricultural programs designed for farmers in distress. Amish farmers do, however, receive indirect subsidies through agricultural price-support programs.

In 1967 some Amish lay leaders formed the National Amish Steering Committee in order to speak Page 111  |  Top of Articlewith a common voice on legal issues related to state and especially federal government. The Steering Committee has worked with government officials to resolve disputes related to conscientious objection, zoning, slow-moving vehicle emblems, Social Security, workers' compensation, photo identification, and the wearing of hard hats at construction sites. When the Amish faced voter identification problems in Pennsylvania in 2012, the steering committee worked out an exemption for them with state officials. Likewise, the Steering Committee negotiated an exemption for Amish people from the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, allowing the Amish to forgo purchasing commercial health insurance mandated by the federal government. Informally organized, the Steering Committee is the only Amish organization that is national in scope.


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Arthur Graphic Clarion

Newspaper of the Illinois Amish country.

Allen Mann, Editor
113 E. Illinois Street
Arthur, Illinois 61911
Phone: (217) 543-2151
Fax: (217) 543-2152

Die Botschaft

Weekly English newspaper with correspondents from many states that serves Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities.

Brookshire Publications, Inc.
420 Weaver Road
Millersburg, Pennsylvania 17061

The Budget

Weekly Amish/Mennonite community newspaper.

George R. Smith, National Editor
Sugarcreek Budget Publishers, Inc.
134 North Factory Street
P.O. Box 249
Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681-0249
Phone: (216) 852-4634
Fax: (216) 852-4421

The Diary

Monthly publication that lists migrations, marriages, births, and deaths. It also carries news and feature articles.

Pequea Publishers
P.O. Box 98
Gordonville, Pennsylvania 17529

Keepers at Home

A journal for Amish and other women who abide by the biblical precept to be keepers of the home.

2673 Township Road 421
Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681

Mennonite Quarterly Review

Scholarly journal covering Mennonite, Amish, Hutterian Brethren, Anabaptist, Radical Reformation, and related history and religious thought.

John D. Roth, Editor
Mennonite Historical Society
1700 South Main Street
Goshen College
Goshen, Indiana 46526
Phone: (574) 535-7433
Fax: (574) 535-7438

Plain Communities Business Exchange

A monthly newspaper/magazine that targets Amish, Mennonites, and other plain communities throughout the fifty states. The publication provides a link between wholesalers, retailers, and potential customers.

Phone: (888) 692-2499
Fax: (888) 692-8108
Millersburg, Pennsylvania 17061


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Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (LMHS)

Individuals interested in the historical background, theology, culture, and genealogy of Mennonite and Amish related groups originating in Pennsylvania. Collects and preserves archival materials. Publishes the Mirror bimonthly.

Rolando L. Santiago, Director
2215 Millstream Road
Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602-1499
Phone: (717) 393-9745
Fax: (717) 393-8751


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Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center

A welcome center for tourists in the midst of the largest Amish settlement in the United States that contains many historical artifacts and documents.

5798 County Road 77
P.O. Box 324
Berlin, Ohio 44610-0324
Phone: (330) 893-3192

Mennonite Historical Library

A large collection of Anabaptist historical materials that covers the Radical Reformation, the Amish, and the Hutterites in addition to the Mennonites.

Good Library
Goshen College

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Goshen, Indiana 46526
Phone: (574) 535-7418
Fax: (574) 535-7438

Ohio Amish Library

A library operated by and for the Amish of the community.

4292 SR39
Millersburg, Ohio 44654
Phone: (330) 893-4011

Pequea Bruderschaft Library

An Amish-operated library that is open only on Saturday mornings.

P.O. Box 25
Gordonville, Pennsylvania 17529

The Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups

Elizabethtown College
One Alpha Drive
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022
Phone: (717) 361-1470


Davies, Bess Twiston. “Meet the Modern Amish—Smart, Savvy and Up to Date.” Times (London), May 5, 2012.

Hurst, Charles E., and David L. McConnell. An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Gertrude Enders Huntington. “The Amish Family.” In Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations, 5th ed., edited by Roosevelt H. Wright Jr., Charles H. Mindel, Thanh Van Tran, and Robert W. Habenstein, 437–60. Boston: Pearson, 2012.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Steven M. Nolt. Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Kraybill, Donald B., Steven M. Nolt, and Erik J. Wesner. “Sources of Enterprise Success in Amish Communities.” Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy 5, no. 2 (2011): 112–30.

Kraybill, Donald B., Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt. The Amish. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Stevick, Richard A. Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Umble, Diane Z., and David Weaver-Zercher. The Amish and the Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300018