The Amish People & Culture

The history of the Amish people can be traced back hundreds of years and unlike most cultures that evolve to adapt to the ever-changing world, the Amish have stayed true to their roots. The Amish religion originated from the Mennonite religion, which encourages nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and pacifism. The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations whose roots began in central Europe. When Swiss-German Mennonite leader, Jacob Amman insisted on the practice of Meidung, which is the strict shunning of excluded members, this brought about a division in the Swiss Mennonite movement in 1693 and led to the establishment of the Amish. Amman felt the Mennonites were drifting away from their beliefs. Nevertheless, the two groups are still very closely related and many times may live right next to each other. Their roots and standards for a simple life and diligent work are very closely aligned and have remained much the same throughout the centuries past.

The Amish separate themselves into as many as eight different orders, but the majority are affiliated with one of five religious orders: Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Beachy Amish, and Swartzentruber Amish. Of these groups, the Old Order Amish are the largest group and the Swartzentruber Amish are considered the most conservative.

The Amish follow the Christian faith as any other person of the Christian faith. The Bible is the main study book. The Ordnung, a list of rules dictates all aspects of their life from their way of dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques. This list of rules varies from among the different orders and communities. Some of their beliefs do not allow them to pose for photographs because they feel it violates the biblical teaching against making graven images. They also don’t believe in photographs for fear that it will promote self-pride. Many will put their hands or hats over their faces, look away or take evasive action to avoid having their picture taken.

There are approximately 150,000 Amish in North America, with the largest group residing in Ohio and other large populations in Pennsylvania, northern Indiana and Iowa. They are known as the plain people because of the plain colored clothing they wear. As a symbol of their faith, Amish clothing styles encourage humility and disconnection from the world. Their clothing is homemade of plain, dark fabrics. Amish men are not allowed to wear belts, sweaters, neckties and gloves, while Amish women are not allowed patterned clothing or jewelry. The Ordnung of the specific Amish order may also provide other strict orders regarding dress, even dictating the length of a skirt or the width of a seam. The Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch among themselves and live within highly personalized relationships, and avoid anything more than casual contact with strangers. They are happy living without the conveniences of the 21st century such as electricity, cars and telephones.

The Amish are disapproving of technology because they feel it weakens the family structure. Modern conveniences such as television, automobiles, and even tractors are considered to be a temptation that causes vanity, inequality and can create a disbanding of their close-knit communities. Most Amish rely on horse-drawn machinery and get around on horse-drawn buggies. While the Amish aren’t allowed a phone in the home, many still have access to one that is usually kept in a wooden shanty between farms. Electricity is sometimes utilized, usually for the use of electric cattle fences, flashing lights on buggies or heating home. Nevertheless, they rely on windmills as their source of naturally generated electric power. Other modern devices such as disposable diapers and barbecue grills may also be allowed because the Ordnung does not specifically prohibit them.

The Amish do not believe in education beyond the eighth grade because they believe that the knowledge offered up to that point is sufficient to prepare for the Amish lifestyle. Amish schools are usually one-room schoolhouses with young unmarried women from the Amish community as teachers. These schools educate children in many crafts and can be considered vocational education.

Among the crafts that the Amish specialize in, their quilts have become very popular and profitable. Their quilts also reflect the Amish way of life in the way that they mirror their religious philosophy that forbids them from being too “flashy” or “worldly.” Only solid colors are used and sometimes the church may restrict the use of certain colors that are considered too flashy. Like their clothing, quilts usually use a lot of dark colors like black and blue with most of the attention being paid to the stitching forms and patterns.

Among their lasting traditions, their dedication to the production of heirloom quality furniture has remained true. Amish furniture making is mostly known for being constructed from solid wood, using no particle board or laminate, and the great attention paid to the details of the wood. Each piece of wood is hand selected and special attention is paid to the grain. Amish furniture is valued for its heirloom quality that can be passed down and valued by different generations. It first gained attention in the 1920’s when early folk art was becoming popularized.

The techniques used by Amish woodworkers do not require electricity; their tools are hydraulically and pneumatically powered by running on diesel generators. However, the detail and finish are applied by hand, therefore ensuring the finest quality. A common characteristic of Amish furniture is the five-piece English dovetail joints on drawers and steel ball bearing drawer glides. Amish craftsmen acquire their skills from generations before them. Starting early in their life, many Amish dedicate their lives to helping in the family shop where if they are woodworkers, they pick up specific design details.

Among many other styles, the Amish create Mission and Shaker styles. The Mission style features classic, straight lines, exposed joinery and features a clean design; similarly, the Shaker style is very simple and is designed with functionality and durability in mind.