General Information

The Amish church, a branch of the Mennonites, is a Protestant religious group descended from the 16th-century Anabaptists. The Amish take their name from Jacob Ammann, a Swiss Mennonite bishop who in 1693 broke away from the main body of Mennonites, feeling that they had strayed from the strict austerity of their forebears. Ammann's followers began emigrating to Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Germany about 1710, and by 1787 had established 70 congregations there. The Amish later spread to Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario in Canada. Today they still exist in all these areas (and others), numbering about 40,000.

The Old Order Amish, who form the majority, reject infant baptism, the swearing of oaths, and military service, and live apart from the rest of society in agricultural communities. They worship in private houses, and each congregation is served by a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon (all male). Avoiding modern technology and worldly amusements, they practice simple farming and handicrafts--Amish quilts are notable examples of American Folk Art--and speak a German-English dialect (Pennsylvania Dutch). The horse and buggy is their normal mode of transportation. The Conservative Amish, a smaller sect, differ from the Old Order Amish mainly in their adoption of English and Sunday schools. The Amish are known for their practice of meidung (shunning of those who have violated church law) and for their use of hooks and eyes instead of buttons. Recognizable by their sober yet picturesque appearance--the men with full beards and broad-brimmed hats, the women in bonnets and long skirts--the Amish occupy a distinctive place among traditional religious groups in the United States and Canada.

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General Information

The Amish are a North American Protestant group of Mennonite origin. The Amish have maintained a distinctive and conservative agricultural way of life despite the influences of modern industrial society.

The name Amish is derived from Jakob Amman, a Swiss Mennonite bishop. He insisted that discipline within the church be maintained by excommunication. This entailed the avoidance, or shunning, by the faithful of those excommunicated. Conventional social relationships with the excommunicated, such as eating at the same table, buying and selling, and, in the case of a married person, marital relations, were forbidden. The Amish, subject to persecution in Europe, migrated in the 18th century to Pennsylvania, where their descendants are called Pennsylvania Dutch (the German deutsch, "German," was misunderstood as "Dutch"). They then spread into Ohio, other midwestern states, and Canada. A rural people, their skill in farming is exemplary.

The most conservative are known as Old Order Amish. They dress in a severely plain style, using hooks and eyes instead of buttons to fasten their clothes. They ride in horse-drawn buggies instead of automobiles, and the adult males wear beards. Religious services are held in homes; foot washing is practiced in connection with the Communion service; discipline is enforced by shunning; and marriage with outsiders is condemned. Other Amish groups, such as the Conservative Mennonite Conference and the Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches, are milder in discipline and less set apart from the world. All share the practice of believer's, or adult, baptism and often refuse to take part in civil affairs - to vote, serve in the military, and so forth. The Old Order Amish numbered about 80,800 in the early 1990s; the Beachy Amish about 7000.

The Amish have sometimes come into conflict with the larger society. In particular, they have resisted compulsory education requirements as a threat to their separate way of life. In the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the state sought to require the children of an Amish family to attend school until the age of 16. The parents were willing to allow them to attend through the eighth grade but argued that high school education would make them unfit to carry on the Amish tradition. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed that their right to the free exercise of their religion is protected and that the state's concern for compulsory public education must yield to that consideration.

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The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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