The Amish––an insular, underserved minority population living in approximately 30 states across rural America––adhere to a turn-of-the-century life. If you find yourself on some of the country roads in Lancaster County, PA, one of the largest traditional practicing* Amish communities, you might feel transported back in time to The Little House on the Prairie.
Here are 5 facts about Amish culture and religion that you might not have been aware of, or at least not in detail or context.
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1. Traditional practicing* Amish individuals aren’t allowed to drive cars. But some communities allow their members to own vehicles for business purposes; a non-Amish person is employed to drive.
You might see the Amish driving down the road in horse-drawn buggies. The horse and buggy is traditional, harkening back to the beginning of the 20th century; a car is not.
A car is a modern convenience capable of driving the faithful down a path of sin. A car can also literally drive the Amish far, hundreds of miles, away from their family and from the Church. Therefore, the Amish prohibit the car and stick with the horse and buggy.
2. Traditional practicing* Amish conform to a traditional style of dress, which varies from community to community. You might notice bearded men dressed in long pants that are held up with suspenders instead of belts, and closed with buttons or hooks and eyes instead of zippers. You might also notice their heads covered by black broad-brimmed hats on Sundays for church services and yellow straw hats on . . .
. . . weekdays during the summers.
Amish men are clean-shaven until they marry. Once married, they grow a beard but they won’t ever grow a mustache.
You might notice women in long, solid (not patterned) dresses, often with long sleeves and in dark colors. Their heads will be covered with a cap. While married women are generally required to wear darker colors, depending on the community, girls are permitted to wear brighter, more vibrant colors.
The young Amish boys you might see––with long pants, suspenders, and straw hats––will look like miniature versions of their fathers. The young girls, likewise, resemble miniature versions of their mothers. In some communities (mostly only in Lancaster County), little girls won’t wear caps. However, the vast majority of Amish communities require girls to wear caps from birth.
3. A traditional Amish home isn’t allowed to have electricity or a telephone. A phone booth might be on the property outside the house, often near the road. This allows neighboring Amish to share and access the phone. It also discourages individuals from spending time on the phone instead of working.
Homes are lit with kerosene or propane gas lamps and heated with wood-burning stoves. The belief is that with no TVs, radios, or computers, the focus will stay on work and the family rather than on the pleasures of life. One’s worth and chance of getting into heaven are measured by how productive or studious one is, not by how much one enjoys fine art, music, or higher education (all of which are forbidden by the religion).
4. There are no Amish chapels.** If you drive through Lancaster County, PA or almost all other Amish communities, you won’t find any Amish churches or see any Amish steeples.
The Amish have a travelling church system in which families take turns hosting services in their homes.
5. Nearly all Amish communities have their own one-room schoolhouse(s). Less than 1% of Amish children attend public school. The Amish child is taught reading, writing and basic arithmetic, but not STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Amish school teachers are graduates of the Amish one-room schoolhouse themselves, with no other formal training or education. ALL education (whether in Amish or public school) STOPS at the conclusion of the 8th grade, and afterwards children are sent to work for the family on the farm or other occupation.
The Amish Heritage Foundation is fighting to change that. You can help us ensure that every child, regardless of religion, receives an adequate education. If you would like more information, join our weekly newsletter or give $1 to our matching grant campaign to help raise awareness about this issue.
Bonus Fact: The Amish are prohibited by the religion to have their pictures taken. So if you find yourself on vacation in Amish Country, smile, nod, and if the opportunity presents itself, strike up a conversation. But it’s best to remember that they are people, human beings. And not just a tourist attraction.
If you would like more information about the Amish or about efforts to overturn the Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder, which allows for the educational deprivation of American children, join us at The Amish Heritage Foundation.
*Traditional Amish use horses and buggies for transportation and are prohibited from having electricity, cars, and cameras (except for ~1% of communities that allow electricity and the internet for business purposes only in the businesses, not in the homes).
Practicing refers to someone who practices the Amish religion, as opposed to someone who was born and raised in the Amish Church but is no longer part of the Church or someone who identifies as culturally, but not religiously, Amish.
**A few of the oldest traditional Amish communities have church buildings instead of services in homes.
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