Old Order Amish
Old Order Amish, a segment of the Amish Mennonites distinguished by their nonconformist attitudes and resistance to social change, and characterized by worship in private homes, a strictly rural way of life, a horse-and-buggy culture, the use of a dialect of the German language, and "plain" dress resembling that of European peoples two centuries ago. They have no meetinghouses (with minor exceptions), and oppose not only higher education, but most forms of organized church activity, formal missionary work, evangelistic services, and many modern inventions including the ownership of automobiles and telephones and the use of electricity, and in some communities the use of tractors for farming. These attitudes and practices distinguish them from all Mennonite and other Amish bodies, although the Old Order Mennonites, the Old Colony Mennonites, and the Hutterites to varying degrees share these attitudes and practices.
"Old Order" Amish is strictly an American term which came into usage as some Amish Mennonite congregations resisted "new" methods of church work as well as "new" forms of social organization and technology. One cannot properly speak of "Old Order" before 1850, and its usage came gradually after about 1870, or following the Amish Ministers' Conferences 1862-78, called Diener Versammlungen, which finally crystallized the differences between the more progressive Amish and the Old Order groups. Since the Old Order Amish worship in private homes they are sometimes called "House Amish," to distinguish them from the "Church Amish," who worship in meetinghouses. About one third of the Amish Mennonites existing in 1850 continued in the Old Order, chiefly those in Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, Elkhart and Lagrange counties in Indiana, and Johnson County, Iowa. These were either (1) the descendants of the colonial Amish who arrived in Lancaster and Berks counties, Pennsylvania, 1738-1756, from Switzerland and the Palatinate, or (2) part of the descendants of those who came from Waldeck and Hesse-Cassel to Western Pennsylvania 1830-1850. The other two thirds, who followed the more progressive "new order," were either (1) almost all of the Amish immigrants of 1820-1860 from Alsace, Bavaria, and Montbéliard who came to Waterloo County, Ontario, Stark and Fulton counties, Ohio, central Illinois, Washington County, Iowa, and their descendants, or (2) a part of the settlements in Lancaster County, Mifflin County, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio, Elkhart and Lagrange counties, Indiana, and Johnson County, Iowa, who separated from the Old Order in 1850-1900. These progressive groups formed Amish Mennonite conferences which ultimately merged with Mennonite (Mennonite Church) conferences in 1916-1925. A later separation from the Old Order (1927-1950) resulted in what is called the Beachy Amish. All these separated groups manifested varying degrees of deviation from the Old Order at the time of separation, although one common mark was the introduction of meetinghouses for worship and the shift away from the Ausbund to more modern hymnbooks. They have also developed varying degrees and speed of change since the time of separation. In spite of these successive separations and the loss of many individuals to the more progressive Amish and Mennonite groups, the Old Order Amish have continued to grow, because of their high birth rate and high retention of children in the group. In 1956 they had approximately 17,000 baptized members, almost uniformly above the age of 18, with a total population of some 50,000 in the 1950s (225,000 in 2008).
In 1956 there were about fifty geographic Old Order Amish settlements in North America. Each settlement was divided into autonomous "church districts" (congregations) having 15-30 families or an average of about 75 baptized members per district. When a district becomes too large for the management of worship in private homes it is geographically divided. Each new district as soon as possible institutes its own bishop, and each ordains by lot two to four preachers of its own and a deacon.
In 1956 there were a total of 229 Old Order Amish church districts with 17,054 baptized members, distributed in the following 19 states and one province of Canada, in the counties indicated: Ohio 69, with 6,378 members: Holmes, Tuscarawas, and Wayne together 44, Geauga 13, Stark 4, Madison 3, Trumbull 2, Defiance 1, Ashland 1, Hardin 1; Pennsylvania 52, with 3,979 members: Lancaster with Berks and Chester 32, Mifflin 6, Lawrence 4, Mercer 2, Lebanon 3, one each in Crawford, Somerset, Juniata, and Snyder; Indiana 48, with 3,068 members: Elkhart and Lagrange 24, Marshall and Kosciusko 10, Daviess and Martin 5, Adams 3, Allen 2, Howard and Miami 2, Jay 1, Newton 1; Iowa 11, with 794 members: Johnson and Washington 6, Buchanan 5; Illinois 9, with 672 members: Moultrie and Douglas 9; Kansas 6, with 343 members: Reno 5, Anderson 1; Ontario 5, with 260(?) members: Perth and Waterloo 3, Elgin 1, Grey 1; Michigan 5, with 226 members: St. Joseph 1, Hillsdale 3, Oscoda 1; Delaware 4, with 250 members: Kent 4; Missouri 4, with 131 members: Pike 2, Pettis 1, Daviess 1; Oklahoma 4, with 160 members: Custer 2, Mayes 2; New York 3, with 113 members: Chautauqua 2, Waterloo 1; Maryland 3, with 171 members: St. Marys 2, Garrett 1; Tennessee 2, with 88 members: Lawrence; Virginia 2, with 160 members: one each in Augusta and Fauquier; Wisconsin 2(?): one each in Taylor and Clark; Arkansas 1, with 12 members: Searcy; Florida 1 (seasonal): Sarasota; North Dakota 1, with 4 members: Rolette; Oregon 1, with 28 members: Yamhill. The Old Order Amish migrate readily and there are therefore a considerable number of extinct communities, and new communities constantly forming.
By 2002 there were over 1200 Old Order Amish church districts in 23 states and the province of Ontario in Canada, with a total baptized membership (not including children) approaching 75,000. Annual listings of districts are provided in The New American Almanac published by Ben J. Raber of Baltic, Ohio.
Technological inventions which radically changed American groups and institutions did not affect the Amish to a great extent until the 20th century. Because of their isolation and somewhat self-sustaining social, economic, and religious communities they were able to resist change or greatly retard it. Among the culture traits which the Old Order Amish have resisted in the past, and with which some communities have compromised only after a long struggle and others not at all even to the present day, are the following: buttons on coats and vests, wearing a mustache, men's suspenders in various forms, hats for women, "store" clothes, talon fasteners, "bosom" shirts, detachable collars, modern styles of underwear, patterned dress goods, fine shoes, low shoes, ladies' high-heeled shoes, parted hair, parted hair except in the center, meetinghouses, four-part singing, hymnbooks with printed musical notes, laymen's use of Bibles at preaching service, Sunday schools, revival meetings, high-school education, central heating, carpets, window curtains, storm windows and screens, writing desks, upholstered furniture, brightly painted farm machinery, painted wagons, top buggies, "falling" buggy tops, buggy springs, rubber-tired buggies, buggy steps, fancy buggies, whipsockets, dashboards, sausage grinders, lawn mowers, bicycles, windmills, sewing machines, steam threshers, tractors with tires, tractors for field work, tractors at all, elaborately decorated harness, musical instruments, telephones, electricity, automobiles, and many others. Various interpretations by local leadership on these material cultural items have resulted in numerous divisions among the Amish.
There is evidence that the Old Order Amish not only have retained many of the older traits in their entirety, but have even modified some of them in the direction of greater conservatism. The prescribed length of the haircut for men, for example, is longer today in some localities than it was 100 years ago. This phenomenon may be a kind of reactionary protest against change, which plays some part in cultural survival.
The most conservative of all contemporary Old Order groups are the two districts of "Old School" or "Nebraska" Amish found in Mifflin County, PA (see Gosper County, Nebraska), who do not permit suspenders, colored shirts (they wear white only), traction engines of any kind, projecting roofs on their buildings, screens on windows or doors, curtains, lawn mowers; hair must be shoulder length for men; and women wear black kerchiefs and flat straw hats instead of white prayer caps and bonnets. Buggy tops must be white as distinguished from the yellow tops of the "Byler" group and the black tops of the "Renno" group. Other regional very conservative O.O.A. settlements are the one in Lawrence County, PA, and five districts of the "Swartzendruber" Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.
Other traits that the Old Order Amish have preserved are a strictly uniform order of worship service, the use of the genuflection at the conclusion of the benediction, silent prayer, and the use of prayer-books by the ministers in public worship; silent prayer in the homes at the beginning and end of each meal, in some instances tombstones carved by their own members and burial of the dead without embalming, bundling during courtship (in a few local groups), and the "grandfather house," which means provision for retirement of the parents into a small house or wing on the farm which they owned and operated.
Among the 19th-century Amish ordained men known to have been most staunch in holding to the "old way" and adamantly opposed to change were David Beiler (1786-1871) of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Abram Pitsche (Peachey) (1800-1884) of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania; Abner Yoder (1814-1883) of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and after 1866 of Johnson County, Iowa; Moses B. Miller (1819-1902) of Somerset County, Pennsylvania; Hannes (John) Yoder of Wayne County, Ohio, and others.
The Old Order Amish subscribe to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith of 1632 and in formal doctrine differ little from the other Mennonite groups of Swiss descent. They however practice the strict interpretation of avoidance or shunning (Meidung) of excommunicated members. At communion time in the spring and autumn they also practice feetwashing. Women wear the prayer cap at all times, and small girls begin to wear the cap as soon as they can walk. The youth are admitted to the church at the age of about 17-20, with baptism, usually once a year in the spring after a period of formal instruction by the ministers. Worship services are held fortnightly in the homes of members; on alternate Sundays the families stay at home or visit relatives. Worship starts at about eight-thirty in the morning and dismisses at about one o'clock, followed by a light lunch served in the home. The time varies slightly between localities. The needed store of backless benches is moved from one home to the next.
In theology the Amish have retained the basic doctrines of their forefathers,
but have certain characteristic emphases. One of these is the denial of assurance
of salvation; they commonly hold that one can only hope to be saved, that it
is pride to claim certainty of salvation. There is also little teaching or
preaching of conversion, and no pietistic type of piety. There is a strong
emphasis on living a righteous life, being and doing good, and obeying the
rules of the church.
The Amish ministers follow a traditional outline of Scripture passages and hymn selections from the Ausbund arranged for thirty Sundays (meetings only every other Sunday) and special days and events such as Christmas or weddings, Ein Register von Liedern and Schriften, die in den Amischen Gemeinden gebraucht werden, first printed edition Elkhart, 1913, but actually much older.
The Old Order Amish, with other Mennonite bodies, have maintained a reputation as excellent farmers, particularly so in Pennsylvania and in the larger settlements. However, this cannot be said for some of the smaller scattered groups. They maintain family-sized farms and do not engage in large-scale farming operations or invest in business enterprises outside their farming operations, except for a few industries related to farming such as mills, blacksmiths, wool carding, etc. Each father wants to own his farm and attempts to make it possible for each of his sons to acquire a farm. The better farms are therefore passed on to succeeding generations by inheritance. The Amish pay high prices to secure additional farms in their settlements and often supplant Mennonite neighbors.
Social scientists, e.g., Walter Kollmorgen, Charles P. Loomis, and Maurice Mook, in the mid-20th century took considerable note of the Amish as an interesting sociological phenomenon. This interest has continued to the present. Well over sixty doctoral theses in university libraries treat some phase of Amish life. The most outstanding community research on the O.O.A. to date was probably that made by Walter Kollmorgen for the United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, published in September 1942, dealing with the Lancaster County Amish. A number of writers of textbooks in sociology and anthropology have used the Kollmorgen report as the basis of their discussion, among whom are C. P. Loomis, John Gillin, Meyer F. Nimkoff, and Earnest W. Burgess. Mores recent scholars have included John A. Hostetler and Donald B. Kraybill.
The general findings developing out of past social research may briefly be summarized as follows: The Amish community maintains certain features of stability through isolation and in-group loyalty. Their stability is accredited to their strong positive interests, religion and farming. Though the group has successfully maintained a distinguished subculture of its own, one of the basic problems of this culture is adaptation to changing situations. There is a gradual slow infiltration of Amish culture by outside patterns, bringing about disintegration of the old values, with the prospect that if acculturation continues the Amish society will eventually disappear. This process is, however, exceedingly slow; more common is the process of breaking away.
The question is frequently asked why the Amish in Europe have completely lost their identity as Amish, while they at the same time survived in America as a group with a distinct and separate culture. (All the Amish in Europe have been assimilated into the Mennonite, Protestant, and Catholic religions.) The reason is not hard to see. The Amish Mennonites in Europe never lived in compact settlements. The scarcity of purchasable land prevented them from forming primary community groupings, since families who fled from one place to another rented or purchased property wherever they were given asylum. Each Amish family became a social unit unto itself, and geographic distance made intercourse between Amish families difficult. As family units (as against community in the New World) the Amish were in an unfavorable position to withstand the pressure toward conformity to the general culture and to European governments in their programs of national unification. However, the European Amish did earlier have a strong sense of separation from the world and its culture in general.
The Amish deviation from Swiss Mennonitism in Europe was largely an ideological difference; in material culture the differences were slight. It was not until their development in America that sharp differences in cultural practices appeared between Mennonites and Amish. The Amish have survived in the New World chiefly because they found freedom--freedom to purchase land, to develop their conservative religion, and to form primary communities where families lived in close proximity to each other. The dominant form of social organization in America is therefore community rather than family.
That the community in America has been an important factor in the maintenance of Amish tradition is well illustrated in the development of a distinct Old Order Amish costume. In Europe where family instead of community organization was dominant the Amish wore much the same general style of clothes as their rural non-Amish neighbors. They were seldom conscious of a distinctive costume, except for hooks and eyes. In general appearance and dress the Amish were somewhat similar to thousands of other emigrants from their homeland at the time of their emigration, although there is evidence from the reports of travelers who visited Amish families in Alsace that the Amish were in general culturally backward and looked different in dress to some extent. In America they found themselves for the first time conscious of a really different dress from their frontier neighbors, the Scottish-Irish, Huguenots, Quakers, and the English. This consciousness of difference from others in dress gave them new ground on which to recognize their own kind from others. As protection against change in the strange environment of the New World they traditionalized the dress styles they brought with them, while the world about them accepted the changing styles.
The practice of wearing a beard was common in Europe until about the 18th century, and the Amish who questioned innovations kept the beard as a symbol of something sacred after it disappeared from the general culture. The same was true of hooks and eyes; buttons were first used by the ruling classes as ornamentation, and so it was quite natural that the Amish should retain the old and shun the new. The Amish dress coat, the Mutze, broadfall trousers, and black wide-brimmed hats, are adaptations from the ordinary dress of the Palatines a century and longer ago. By comparing old drawings of regional costume in Europe the similarity in dress is established beyond doubt.
The dress of the Amish woman is almost identical with examples in Palatine museums. The white Häubchen (prayer cap) of the Amish, the Halsduch, Leppel, and the "scoop" hat, were the ordinary dress of the common people in Alsace, the Palatinate, and other parts of Europe. The Amish bonnet of today is an exception; since the Amish migrations to America preceded the bonnet era they adopted this headpiece apparently from a New World source. Both men and women refuse to wear the newer type of overcoat. Amish women still wear only shawls, or in the case of some of the younger women, short coats. Older men and ministers wear the cape overcoat.
It has been pointed out that the Amish attitudes of hostility toward change and their reverence for past traditions is a function of the primary community group. Another principle of Amish survival which seems to be a function of the community has been the perpetuation of the original protest between the Swiss Mennonites and leaders of the Amish division in 1693-97. One of the original protests of the Amish was and still is whether expelled members should be banned in domestic relations or only from the communion table. There is scarcely a community of Old Order Amish in America where there are no Amish Mennonites or former Old Order Amish members near by, and so the "Meidung" controversy has been a perpetual one in local communities. The many divisions and variations of practice even among the Old Order Amish themselves are the result of various interpretations of Meidung. In small Amish communities, particularly in the midwestern states, where associations with non-Amish neighbors are numerous, strict Meidung has been discontinued in favor of a more moderate practice: if the excommunicated member joins another Christian (usually Mennonite) denomination the Meidung is dropped.
Even though their practices differ on some points, the Old Order Amish nevertheless maintain certain generalized attitudes of tolerance toward the Mennonites. The Amish are more sympathetic and socially nearer to the Mennonite faith than to the larger Protestant or Catholic bodies. This explains why Old Order Amish parents frequently permit their nonconforming sons and daughters to become members of the Mennonite Church. By leaving the Amish church entirely, the nonconformist not only obtains freedom from traditional practices, but the Old Order Amish group in turn is protected from any further "harmful" association with him. This has probably been an important factor in the survival of the very conservative groups of Amish.
Even though a large proportion (probably one third) of the offspring of Old Order Amish parents do not join the church of their parents, the Old Order Amish are still listed as one of the fastest growing religious bodies in the United States. This is, of course, due to their high birth rate and high retention of children in the group. The Amish do not keep written records of their members, and there is no official enumeration of their own giving membership statistics. The New American Almanac published annually at Baltic, Ohio, lists Amish ministers and congregations. However, since the Almanac is based upon voluntary reports from the local informants the figures are not always reliable. Since membership is restricted to adults, no one knows exactly what the Amish population is, including children and unbaptized young people. Research done in Pennsylvania communities in collaboration with Maurice A. Mook, Professor of Anthropology of the Pennsylvania State University, suggests that actual population is three times the membership.
Amish families are considerably larger than those of the general population in rural areas, as evidenced by the few studies that have been made. A study of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, Amish revealed that the average number of births for Old Order Amish families was 7.0, while in a near-by non-Amish rural area the figure was 5.5. Mook reports that in the Atlantic community in Lawrence County, PA, the average number of births was 7.4, and Howard Good found that in Elkhart County, IN, the figure was 8.7 births per completed family; there was no noticeable decline in the number of births per family when three generations were compared.
Until the 1950s the only major conflict of the Amish with the state has been their refusal to comply fully with the compulsory school laws. Old Order Amish parents send their children to elementary schools but object to having their youth enter high school. In recent years parents have gone to jail in support of their stand and a large number of local parochial schools have been built in areas where school consolidation has been put into effect. Amish insistence upon the one-room country school is based upon their desire to maintain the integrity of their way of life, to keep their youth from secular influences such as movies and radio, and to keep them from influences beyond the control of their family and community. They contend that farming and housekeeping do not require higher education and that too much "book learning" is not good for their youth.
The Old Order Amish co-operated with the Conservative Amish Mennonite Conference in publishing Herold der Wahrheit in 1912-1955, when the latter transferred its interest to the Beachy Amish. Some individuals among the Old Order Amish have shown-considerable interest in missionary work, and following several Amish missions conferences a monthly periodical entitled Witnessing was begun in 1953 with Harvey Graber as editor.
Bookstores are operated by Old Order Amish in a number of communities. A major Amish publisher is the Pathway Publishing Co. of Aylmer, Ontario. Other publishers and printers are located in major centers like Lancaster, PA and Holmes County, Ohio. Because of the widespread use and regular demand for five German books, the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, have purchased the plates for these books and engage a printer and bookbinder as needed. The five are Ausbund, Ernsthafte Christenpflicht, Lustgärtlein, Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch, and the Holman Bibel.
In the matter of nonresistance the Amish have been very stable. Their record on refusal of military service in any form has been almost 100 per cent. In World War II they accepted Civilian Public Service in the United States and Alternative Service in Canada.
The Old Order Amish have long practiced mutual aid, both by lending without interest to young farmers starting out, and by organized fire and storm insurance societies. The first of the latter was apparently the Amish Mennonite Aid Society of Iowa, founded in 1885. The Amish Aid Society of Eastern Pennsylvania started in the early 1890's, and the Amish Aid Plan of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oregon in 1890. The largest aid societies are those of Ohio and Indiana-Michigan.
See also Amish (an update written in 1990), Amish Division, Amish Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites (Swiss-High German, Pennsylvania)
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Getz, J. C. "Economic Organization and Practices of the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania." Mennonite Quarterly Review 20 (1946): 53-60, 98-127.
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Stoltzfus, Grant. "History of the First Amish Mennonite Communities in America." Mennonite Quarterly Review 28 (1954): 235-62.
Mook, Maurice A. "Extinct Amish Mennonite Communities in Pennsylvania." Mennonite Quarterly Review 30 (1956): 267-76.
Miller, D. Paul. "Amish Acculturation." Unpublished M.A. thesis, U. of Nebraska, 1950.
Mast, J. B. The Letters of the Amish Division. Oregon City, 1950.
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Amish Studies (Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, USA)
"." Penn State On Demand panel discussion moderated by Patty Satalia with Donald Kraybill, Richard Page, David Weaver-Zercher, Stephen Scott and Julia Kasdorf. 58:45 minute streaming video in QuickTime or WindowsMedia.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 43-47. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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