The Old Order Amish are one of the most familiar religious groups in America today. Spread out across thirty U.S. states (including Wisconsin) and Ontario, the Amish population is doubling every twenty years. While many outsiders are aware of certain visible aspects of Amish culture, including their distinctive dress, use of horse-and-buggy for transportation, and limitations on technology, in this presentation we will explore the faith and values that are at the heart of their society. Along the way we will clarify a number of misunderstandings about the Amish, including many propagated by popular media.
Mark L. Louden is a Professor of German at the UW–Madison and co-directs the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies there. A fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch, he received his undergraduate and graduate education at Cornell University and taught at the University of Texas at Austin before joining the UW faculty in 2000. His main research and teaching interests include Germanic linguistics and German-American studies. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language.
History of the Amish in America
All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outlines the basics of the Amish faith and helps to define what it means to be Amish. For an Amish person, the Ordnung may dictate almost every aspect of one’s lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques. The Ordnung varies from community to community and order to order, which explains why you will see some Amish riding in automobiles, while others don’t even accept the use of battery-powered lights.
Symbolic of their faith, Amish clothing styles encourage humility and separation from the world. The Amish dress in a very simple style, avoiding all but the most basic ornamentation. Clothing is made at home of plain fabrics and is primarily dark in color. Amish men in general wear straight-cut suits and coats without collars, lapels or pockets. Trousers never have creases or cuffs and are worn with suspenders. Belts are forbidden, as are sweaters, neckties and gloves. Men’s shirts fasten with traditional buttons in most orders, while suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Young men are clean shaven prior to marriage, while married men are required to let their beards grow. Mustaches are forbidden. Amish women typically wear solid-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, covered with a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, and wear it in a braid or bun on the back of the head concealed with a small white cap or black bonnet. Clothing is fastened with straight pins or snaps, stockings are black cotton and shoes are also black. Amish women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewelry. The Ordnung of the specific Amish order may dictate matters of dress as explicit as the length of a skirt or the width of a seam. Technology & the Amish
The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders. Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies. It is common for Amish communities to allow the use of telephones, but not in the home. Instead, several Amish families will share a telephone in a wooden shanty between farms. Electricity is sometimes used in certain situations, such as electric fences for cattle, flashing electric lights on buggies, and heating homes. Windmills are often used as a source of naturally generated electric power in such instances. It is also not unusual to see Amish using such 20th-century technologies as inline skates, disposable diapers and gas barbecue grills, because they are not specifically prohibited by the Ordnung.
Technology is generally where you will see the greatest differences between Amish orders. The Swartzentruber and Andy Weaver Amish are ultraconservative in their use of technology – the Swartzentruber, for example, do not even allow the use of battery lights. Old Order Amish have little use for modern technology, but are allowed to ride in motorized vehicles including planes and automobiles, though they are not allowed to own them. The New Order Amish permit the use of electricity, ownership of automobiles, modern farming machines, and telephones in the home.
Amish Schools & Education
The Amish believe strongly in education, but only provide formal education through the eighth grade and only in their own private schools. The Amish are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade based on religious principles, the result of a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. One-room Amish schools are private institutions, operated by Amish parents. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing, math and geography, along with vocational training and socialization in Amish history and values. Education is also a big part of home life, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child’s upbringing.
Amish Family Life
The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture. Large families with seven to ten children are common. Chores are clearly divided by sexual role in the Amish home – the man usually works on the farm, while the wife does the washing, cleaning, cooking, and other household chores. There are exceptions, but typically the father is considered the head of the Amish household. German is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school. Amish marry Amish – no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare. Published on Oct 16, 2014“The Amish: Shunned,” an American Experience production, focuses on a half-dozen people who left the Amish world.
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The Amish continue to intrigue their technology-current neighbors by keeping alive ways and beliefs that many modern Americans regard as irretrievably lost to progress. In this colorful, award-winning documentary, newly revised and augmented, Mennonite historian John L. Ruth takes us sympathetically into the Amish mindset. Appreciative neighbors, a well-known physician, an artist, and respected scholar John A. Hostetler, author of Amish Society, provide insightful commentary on the survival of an alternative to the kind of world we have made. As the Amish increase exponentially in numbers, some migrate toward more open farmland. Those staying in centuries-old communities where the land is too crowded to farm have developed an amazing variety of cottage industries. But all changes are made very carefully, in order not to undermine the spiritual covenant and communitySomebody asked for the initial release of the film. They suggested the ’70’s! I think there are hints in the film that this could not have been the 70’s. The clothes and cars of the “worldly” give it away. PLUS at 44:48 there is a newspaper report from 2001!
The original release was 2000. It is a low budget film and I did not upload it in HD since my broadband is quite slow, and it would’ve taken me forever to do so. That probably gives it a somewhat 70’s feel. Sorry about that