Since moving to Wisconsin in 2009, I still thrill to the sight of a quick-moving horse-drawn buggy, and the loud sound of click-clopping on modern-day roads, driven by an individual dressed usually in black, with suspenders, and straw hat. The only modern item on the buggy is a large “slow moving vehicle” sign that I used to see on the back of tractors in Louisiana.
The majority of Amish in the United States are in Pennsylvania (Lancaster County) and Ohio, with about 10,000 Amish in Wisconsin, and in the Midwest. Their numbers around the world are growing, especially in Africa and Indonesia.
They are well known for many things: food, superior craftsmanship (handmade solid furniture, cabinets, etc.) and more likely remembered for their strict, religious lifestyle.
Where did they come from?
During the time of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, groups broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Most notable leaders were Martin Luther in Germany, and Ulrigh Zwingli in Zurich. These groups advocated a religion of forgiveness and a return to simple Christian fellowship. Two divisions that came out of those groups were the Mennonites and the Amish. Both have differences and similarities.
Members do not vote, serve in the military, pay taxes, contribute to Social Security, have electricity, and do not believe in higher education beyond the eighth grade. They believe strongly in family relationships, manual labor, religion, and conformity.
Their clothing is very plain, with zippers and other adornments not allowed. Women and girls wear dark dresses with bonnets, long full skirts, capes and aprons. They do not wear jewelry. Men and boys wear dark suits, coats without lapels, suspenders, white or plain shirts, black shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. Young married men begin growing beards.
They do not oppose modern medicine, so if their home remedies are not sufficient, they take pills, go to doctors, and enter a hospital.
Usually there is a school, where a member of the Amish community teaches the younger children.
The Amish live on family farms and are well known for their home cooking, sewing and quilting, and craft skills, especially in furniture making. They sell many of their products at roadside stands, local craft shows, or contract with area merchants.
Marriages are a time of great joy and solemnity. Young couples have conservative courtships by attending evening singings together. The wedding is in the bride’s home, with prepared feasts, simple vows, and sermons. Funerals and burials are considered a part of life and are respectfully conducted for several days.
There are many other facts about the Amish but not room to describe them here. Suffice it to say that wide ranges of traditionalism and modern conformity to today’s conveniences do exist.
A town by the name of Cashton, south of where I live, has a few hundred Amish families. I have seen a few of the Amish in the library where I work, and in the town of Sparta where I live. And, not to burst anyone’s bubble, I have seen a few appearances here and there of the Amish in Burger King and Walmart!
Still, the Amish and Mennonite Old Order Communities offer a very different (and fascinating) alternative to our modern life. Their people have a strong faith, and their belief in God, each other, and their community, keeps them together. If not, they would have disappeared long ago.
Until next time…