At the time of the beginning of the Swiss Brethren movement (1525) and for several decades later the wearing of the beard was common practice among all classes of society except the Catholic clergy. Hairdressers devised various modes for trimming the beard and the hair. According to Goebel, letting the beard grow was a distinguishing sign of all Anabaptists (M. Goebel, Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der Rheinisch-Westphälischen Ev. Kirche I, Coblenz, 1849, 147), although he gives no proof for this, attaching it merely as an additional note to his statement that Thomas Müntzer (1523) required the wearing of the beard according to the example of Christ and as an outward expression of Christian simplicity and discipline. Later Amish based the wearing of the beard upon such Scripture passages as Leviticus 19:27 and Leviticus 21:5, where the trimming of the corners of the beard is forbidden to the men of Israel. It is doubtful, however, that this was the original ground for this regulation.
One of the rules passed at a ministers’ conference of the Swiss Brethren held in Strasbourg in 1568 (confirmed at Steinselz in 1752 and at Essingen in 1755) forbade the trimming of the hair or beard according to the worldly fashions. Since the American Old Order Amish of today still follow literally these rules, they wear the beard and the hair of the head according to the plainer 16th-18th century pattern. They usually shave the upper lip but not the neck. Most of them never trim the beard and they wear the hair longer than was done in the mid-20th century styles. All Amish men are required to let the beard grow as a prerequisite to marriage, and in the strictest groups even unmarried members must wear it. The older Conservative Amish men traditionally wear the beard, but it has never been required by the conference. The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, requires the beard of all male members, beginning at baptism; usually the full beard (including mustache) is worn. The Hutterian Brethren also require the beard; among the Russian Mennonites, who did not customarily wear the beard, they were called Bartmennoniten (Friesen, Brüderschaft, 13, note 5). In the Netherlands the Swiss Amish immigrants of the early 18th century who settled in Groningen were called baardmannen in contradistinction to the Frisian Mennonites among whom they settled.
Following the French Revolution, Napoleon’s soldiers are said to have worn the mustache without the beard to heighten their appearance of fierceness. Apparently at that time the descendants of the Swiss Brethren began wearing the beard without the mustache. But among some of the Amish, those of the Wayland, Iowa, community, for instance, it was not an uncommon practice even as late as the beginning of the 20th century, to wear a full beard including the hair on the upper lip. European Mennonites in the 19th century gradually dropped all traditional restrictions and regulations regarding the beard, hair, and mustache; the mustache became quite common in the 20th century, especially in Germany and Russia. Among the Mennonites (Mennonite Church) of North America and related groups the wearing of the lone mustache was always forbidden prior to the 1950s. The smooth-shaven face became so common in 20th-century America that Europeans thought of it as typically "American." The general adoption by American Mennonites of the smooth-shaven face was a part of the general cultural accommodation process; the resistance of certain conservative groups to the smooth-shaven face was likewise a part of their resistance to this general accommodation.
During the latter part of the 19th century when certain groups of Amish in America, later called Amish Mennonites, began to depart from the strict rules of the 1568 conference, they began to wear their hair shorter and shorter and also to trim the beard. At first they trimmed the beard so that it was not more than an inch or two long. Finally some began to shave off the side whiskers and still kept the chin whiskers but trimmed them rather short. The Amish who came from Alsace-Lorraine and settled in certain communities in Ohio and Illinois, wore a characteristic pointed chin beard, larger however than a goatee.
Although not quite a typical instance, the Wayne County, Ohio, Amish congregation furnished an example of the change from the Old Order to what was then known as the "New Order." In the summer of 1889, the congregation, meeting at Pleasant Hill and Oak Grove on alternate Sundays, was threatened with division. Finally a committee of seven laymen was chosen to recommend changes in the discipline. The committee met on 26 December and adopted a number of resolutions. One of these considers as "sinful, the practice of making the hairdress of the men a matter of pride as one often sees." But the resolution goes on to say that since "we find no Scripture against shingling the hair, that is, cutting it short, we are willing to tolerate it if it is done in moderation." This referred, of course, to the men's hairdress. Another resolution relating to the wearing of the beard permitted the young men in the congregation to shave but declared it to be in line with the Scriptural order for brethren as they become older and especially after they enter the marriage state to wear a regular beard, "as always had been the rule and order." The resolution, however, forbade the wearing of a mustache without the beard. Near the close of the 19th century wearing the "lone mustache" was a common practice among young men from Amish families who did not unite with the Amish Church or who for some reason left the church. In order to make the distinction between themselves and their former friends as great as possible, they shaved off the beard and allowed the mustache to grow. They usually were able to cultivate a large heavy mustache and wore it as a sign of their independence.
As time went on and Amish Mennonites associated more with Mennonites, who had discontinued the use of the beard much earlier, the Amish Mennonite beard became smaller and shorter until at last it almost disappeared. As the beard grew smaller the hair of the head was cut shorter and more in the prevailing "barber pattern." In the earlier years in keeping with the Amish practice of making the home the center of activity, the father or the mother had been the family barber, cutting the hair straight across the forehead in front and round at the back of the head.
The beard no longer is a distinguishing feature between Mennonites and the former Amish Mennonites in America who have assumed the name Mennonite. Here and there in the 1950s among the latter one occasionally found an aged brother still wearing a beard. Some of the Amish Mennonites, who continued to wear the beard well into the 20th century, gave as reasons that it was one of the distinguishing marks between the sexes and that the wearing of the beard was in conformity with the Scripture prohibiting the members of one sex from copying modes of dress commonly worn by the other. Some have claimed that the smooth-shaven face is effeminate and not "manly."
For a general discussion of Beard see Encyclopedia Britannica (1947 ed.) and Encyclopedia Americana (1946 ed.). In the article Beard, the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907 ed.) discusses the religious significance of the beard among the Jews and Catholics.
Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 13, note 5.
Goebel, Max. Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der rheinisch-westfälischen evangelischen Kirche. Giessen ; Basel : Brunnen-Verl., 1849: I.
Leatherman, A. H. Why I Wear a Beard? Wadsworth, Ohio, ca. 1900, a small privately printed tract.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 255-256. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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