The Old Order Amish are among the most conservative descendants of the 16th-century Anabaptists. The Old Order are usually distinguished from the Amish Mennonites (now largely absorbed into the Mennonite Church [MC] or various conservative Mennonite groups), Beachy Amish and the New Order Amish by their strict adherence to the use of horses on the farm and as a source of transportation, their refusal to allow electricity or telephones in their homes, and their more traditional standard of dress, including the use of hooks-and-eyes fasteners on some articles of clothing. For all practical purposes, "Amish" has come to be synonymous with "Old Order Amish" in the eyes of most observers in North America.
In 2012 there were 28 Old Order settlements in the United States and the province of Ontario in Canada. Settlements are defined geographically and culturally; i.e., a settlement consists of all individual church districts (congregations) that are located in a given region. Districts within settlements are usually, but not always, in agreement on basic principles of church life and discipline. As a result of genetic research, which required a complete settlement census in order to trace the history of a disease through family lines, many of these communities are producing directories which include information such as addresses, birth dates, church membership status, and the occupation of the head of the household. More than 200 directories have been published. In some settlements as many as six editions have been produced over a period of 40 years. In these large settlements there is much diversity from district to district in Ordnung (church discipline) and in some communities multiple affiliations exist side by side.
In the 20th and 21st centuries the Old Order Amish population grew very rapidly. In 1900 there were approximately 3,700 Amish in North America. By 2008 the estimated figure had increased from 127,800 (adult membership approximately 56,200) in 1990 to 231,000 in 2008. The Amish population doubles every 20 years, consequently demographers suggest the Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world. They prohibit the use of contraception and have low infant mortality rates. The average Amish woman can expect to have at least seven live births.
A rapid increase in the Amish population has been one factor that has led to gradual change and innovation in Amish society. Population pressures have increased the price of land and led to shortages of available farmland in some settlements. The Amish respond to this pressure by adopting farm management strategies of the larger society such as reducing the farm size and field crop production, placing more emphasis on the production of milk by increasing the size of a dairy herd, or specializing in the production of hogs or organic produce for market.
Another response to demographic and economic pressure has been migration to a new area of the country. In 12 years (2000-2012) the Amish established 171 new settlements. However, not all attempts to establish a new settlement are successful. In the same decade 35 settlements ceased to exist.
An alternative to migration for many young Amish people has been to seek employment outside agriculture. By 1990, fewer than half of the heads of households in the three largest settlements were farmers. Many Amish have worked in small businesses which specialize in the construction of horse-drawn farming implements, buggies, blacksmithing, construction work, cabinetry, etc. Others seek employment in industry. In the large settlements (specifically in northern Indiana and eastern Ohio) certain industries, particularly recreational vehicle and mobile home industries, have consciously decided to seek Amish employees who are reliable workers and refuse to join labor unions. While Amish factory workers do not typically live in towns, they tend to live on smaller plots of land, have more leisure time and more cash available than their agricultural counterparts.
In many areas changes in Amish life have occurred as a result of government intervention. When local governments decided to consolidate public schools, many Amish chose to develop their own private schools. The state has also made inroads into agriculture. In many jurisdictions the government has established regulations concerning acceptable substances used to shoe horses, or has ruled that all slow-moving vehicles used on public highways must have prescribed symbols attached to them. Other governments have insisted that grade-A milk which is used for direct human consumption may not be cooled using the traditional method of immersing milk cans in very cold water. Reactions to these intrusions in Amish life have not been uniform, but in many instances the Amish have adapted modern technology to fit their preference for maintaining a distinctly different subculture. Rather than introducing mechanically powered bulk milk tanks, the traditional cooling method is used to produce milk for indirect human consumption in the form of cheese. In some settlements Amish-run cheesemaking operations have made it possible for Amish farmers to continue to make a living in the preferred manner.
Some external intervention into Amish life cannot be dealt with directly and must simply be tolerated. Tourism, for example, has become a burden for Amish in many settlements. While tourists purchase products produced by the Amish (e.g., baked goods or quilts), they also congest country roads, interrupt schools and small businesses and, perhaps most obtrusively, take photographs. Many tourists are simply unaware of the Amish prohibition against being photographed. The Amish response to these intruders is to accept them as unavoidable. Furthermore, tourism has, at least indirectly, created additional nonagricultural employment for Amish.
Publications have been an important voice of the Amish. A non-Amish publisher in Sugarcreek, Ohio, has published The Budget, a weekly newspaper, since 1890. Amish scribes from nearly every settlement report about important events in their locality to the nationwide Amish readership of this paper. Amish-produced publications with a large readership in 1998 are Die Botschaft and The Diary published in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and three monthly periodicals (Family Life, Young Companion, and Blackboard Bulletin) published in Aylmer, Ontario by Pathway Publishers. One extension of the work of Pathway Publishers has been to establish a historical library (1972). The stated goal of the library is to collect all materials written by, for, and about the Amish. Recently settlements have begun to establish their own periodicals with information such as where church services are to be held, funeral and wedding notices, and reports of accidents.
Finally, in many communities the Amish have acculturated into the dominant culture to some extent. They have borrowed technology as well as ideas from their non-Amish neighbors. Examples of the former include the increase in the use of diesel or gasoline engines to provide power for machinery. Indoor plumbing, gas stoves, and refrigerators are found in more and more Amish homes. In some Amish homes secular as well as non-Amish religious print materials are found. Ideas which are not part of their culture are making their way into the Amish community.
While acculturation is occurring, there is no evidence that Amish culture is on the verge of disappearing. Amish people clearly understand the boundary between their culture and the non-Amish world. While change may be necessary and, in some instances unavoidable, it is made cautiously and with a great deal of discussion within the community.
See also Old Order Amish for an earlier more detailed description of the Old Order Amish written in the 1950s by John A. Hostetler. See Amish Division for a description of the origins of the Amish. See Amish Mennonites for a history of the Amish from their origin to the 20th century.
“Amish Studies.” The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Web. 7 January 2012. http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/Books.asp
Hurst, Charles E. and David L. McConnell. An Amish Paradox. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
Johnson-Weiner, Karen. Train Up a Child. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Kraybill, Donald B. and Marc A. Olshan. The Amish Struggle with Modernity. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1994.
Kraybill, Donald B. and Steven M. Nolt. Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Luthy, David. Amish Settlements Across America. Aylmer, Ont.: Pathway Publishers, 2008.
Meyers, Thomas J. “Amish Tourism: Visiting Shipshewana is better than going to the Mall.l" Mennonite Quarterly Review 77 (2003): 109-126.
Nolt Steven M. and Thomas J. Meyers. Plain Diversity: Amish Cultures and Identities. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
Amish Studies (Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 20-22. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
To cite this page:
MLA style: Meyers, Thomas J. "Amish." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2012. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A4574ME.html.
APA style: Meyers, Thomas J. (January 2012). Amish. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A4574ME.html.