Amish facts for kids
An Amish family riding in a traditional Amish buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
(2019, Old Order Amish)
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (notably Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York)
Canada (small population in Ontario)
|Pennsylvania German, Bernese German, Low Alemannic Alsatian German, Amish High German, English|
The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to, but distinct from, Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology.
The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish. In the second half of the 19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites.
In the early 18th century, many Amish, and Mennonites, immigrated to Pennsylvania. This migration was a reaction to religious wars, poverty, and religious persecution in Europe, but later moved, motivated by land issues and by security concerns tied to the French and Indian War. Many eventually settled in Lancaster County. Other groups later settled elsewhere in North America.
The first Amish immigrants went to Berks County, Pennsylvania. Today, the Old Order Amish, the New Order Amish, and the Old Beachy Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as "Pennsylvania Dutch".
With World War I came the massive suppression of the German language in the US that eventually led to language shift of most Pennsylvania German speakers, leaving the Amish and other Old Orders as almost the only speakers by the end of the 20th century.
As of 2000[update], over 165,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States and about 1,500 lived in Canada. A 2008 study suggested their numbers had increased to 227,000, and in 2010, a study suggested their population had grown by 10 percent in the past two years to 249,000, with increasing movement to the West. Most of the Amish continue to have six or seven children. Between 1992 and 2017, the Amish population increased by 149 percent, while the U.S. population increased by 23 percent.
Amish church membership begins with baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 23. It is a requirement for marriage within the Amish church. Once a person is baptized within the church, he or she may marry only within the faith. Church districts have between 20 and 40 families and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member's home. The district is led by a bishop and several ministers and deacons.
The rules of the church, the Ordnung, must be observed by every member and cover many aspects of day-to-day living, telephones were the first important technology that was rejected, soon followed by the rejection of cars, tractors, radios, and many other technological inventions of the 20th century, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity as well as regulations on clothing.
Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. As present-day Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, and humility, all under the belief they are living what they interpret to be God's word.
Members who do not conform to these community expectations and who cannot be convinced to repent are excommunicated (excluded). In addition to excommunication, members may be shunned, a practice that limits social contacts to shame the member into returning to the church. Almost 90 percent of Amish teenagers choose to be baptized and join the church.
Generally, a heavy emphasis is placed on church and family relationships. The Amish typically operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education after grade eight, at age 13 or 14. Until the children turn 16, they have vocational training under the tutoring of their parents, community, and the school teacher.
Higher education is generally discouraged, as it can lead to social segregation (separation) and the disconnection of the member from the community. However, some Amish women have used higher education to obtain a nursing certificate so that they may provide midwifery services to the community.
Amish church groups seek to maintain a degree of separation from the non-Amish world, i.e. American and Canadian society. Non-Amish people are generally referred to as "English".
Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity), often translated as "submission" or "letting-be".
Gelassenheit is perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, to be self-promoting, or to assert oneself.
The Amish's willingness to submit to the "Will of Jesus", expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism so central to the wider American culture. The Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on the community.
Modern innovations such as electricity might spark a competition for status goods, or photographs might cultivate personal vanity. Electric power lines would be going against the Bible, which says that you shall not be "conformed to the world".
Way of life
Amish lifestyle is regulated by the Ordnung ("order"), which differs slightly from community to community. What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another. The Ordnung is agreed upon - or changed - within the whole community of baptized members prior to Communion which takes place twice a year.
The Ordnung includes matters such as dress, permissible uses of technology, religious duties, and rules regarding interaction with outsiders. In these meetings, women also vote in questions concerning the Ordnung.
Bearing children, raising them, and socializing with neighbors and relatives are the greatest functions of the Amish family. Amish typically believe that large families are a blessing from God. Farm families tend to have larger families, because sons are needed to perform farm labor. Community is central to the Amish way of life.
Working hard is considered godly, and some technological advancements have been considered undesirable because they reduce the need for hard work. Machines such as automatic floor cleaners in barns have historically been rejected as this provides young farmhands with too much free time.
The Amish are known for their plain attire. Men wear solid colored shirts, broad-brimmed hats and suits that signify similarity among one another. Amish men grow beards to symbolize manhood, marital status, and promote humility. They are forbidden to grow mustaches because mustaches are seen by the Amish as being affiliated with the military, which they are strongly opposed to, due to their pacifist beliefs.
Women have similar guidelines on how to dress, which are also expressed in the Ordnung, the Amish version of the Law. They are to wear calf-length dresses, dull colors along with bonnets and aprons.
Prayer caps or bonnets are worn by the women because they are a visual representation of their religious beliefs and promote unity through the tradition of every women wearing one.
The color of the bonnet signifies whether a woman is single or married. Single women wear black bonnets and married women wear white. The color coding of bonnets is important because women are not allowed to wear jewelry, such as wedding rings. All clothing is sewn by hand.
Amish cuisine is noted for its simplicity and traditional qualities. Food plays an important part in Amish social life and is served at potlucks, weddings, fundraisers, farewells, and other events. Many Amish foods are sold at markets including pies, preserves, bread mixes, pickled produce, desserts, and canned goods. Many Amish communities have also established restaurants for visitors.
Soups, often featuring egg noodles, are characteristic of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvanian Dutch homes have traditionally had many broths on hand (vegetable, fish, poultry, and meat) from the saving of any extra liquids available. The Pennsylvania Dutch developed soup making to such a high art that complete cookbooks are written about their soups alone; there was an appropriate soup for every day of the year, including a variety of hot and cold fruit soups.
Soups are often thickened with a starch, such as mashed potatoes, flour, rice, noodles, fried bread, dumplings, and Riwwels or rivvels (small dumplings described as "large crumbs" made from "rubbing egg yolk and flour between the fingers"), from the German verb for "to rub.
Some popular Amish dishes are:
- Amish potato salad
- Apple butter
- Baked Apple
- Beef or venison jerky
- Bova Shankel
- Brown butter noodles
- Bacon gravy
- Chicken and waffles
- Corn fritters
- Cup cheese
- Gingerbread, ginger snaps, ginger cake
- Pot roast spiced with ginger
- Hog maw
- Lebanon bologna
- Peanut butter schmear
- Pepper cabbage
- Pork and sauerkraut
- Potato filling
- Potato rolls
- Pot pie
- Red beet eggs
- Schnitz un knepp
Amish life in the modern world
As time has passed, the Amish have felt pressures from the modern world. Issues such as taxation, education, law and its enforcement, and occasional discrimination and hostility are areas of difficulty. The Amish way of life in general has increasingly separated from that of modern society. On occasion, this has resulted in discrimination and hostility from their neighbors, such as throwing stones or other objects at Amish horse-drawn carriages on the roads.
The Amish do not usually educate their children past the eighth grade, believing that the basic knowledge offered up to that point is sufficient to prepare one for the Amish lifestyle. Almost no Amish go to high school and college. In many communities, the Amish operate their own schools, which are typically one-room schoolhouses with teachers (usually young, unmarried women) from the Amish community.
The Amish are subject to sales and property taxes. As they seldom own motor vehicles, they rarely have occasion to pay motor vehicle registration fees or spend money in the purchase of fuel for vehicles.
Under their beliefs and traditions, generally the Amish do not agree with the idea of Social Security benefits and have a religious objection to insurance. On this basis, the United States Internal Revenue Service agreed in 1961 that they did not need to pay Social Security-related taxes. In 1965, this policy was made into law.
Self-employed individuals in certain sects do not pay into or receive benefits from the United States Social Security system. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in 1982 that Amish employers are not exempt, but only those Amish individuals who are self-employed.
The Amish and the Native Americans
The Northkill Amish Settlement, established in 1740 in Berks County, Pennsylvania, was the first Amish community in the new world.
As early as 1809 Amish were farming side by side with Native American farmers in Pennsylvania. The Amish and Quakers were known to incorporate Native Americans into their families to prevent them from ill-treatment, especially after the Removal Act of 1832.
The Amish, as pacifists, did not participate in warfare with Native Americans, nor displace them directly, but they were among the European immigrants whose arrival resulted in their displacement.
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