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A Peculiar People

Iowa's Old Order Amish

Elmer Schwieder, Dorothy Schwieder, Tom Morain

Publication Year: 2009

Now back in print with a new essay, this classic of Iowa history focuses on the Old Order Amish Mennonites, the state’s most distinctive religious minority. Sociologist Elmer Schwieder and historian Dorothy Schwieder began their research with the largest group of Old Order Amish in the state, the community near Kalona in Johnson and Washington counties, in April 1970; they extended their studies and friendships in later years to other Old Order settlements as well as the slightly less conservative Beachy Amish.

A Peculiar People explores the origin and growth of the Old Order Amish in Iowa, their religious practices, economic organization, family life, the formation of new communities, and the vital issue of education. Included also are appendixes giving the 1967 “Act Relating to Compulsory School Attendance and Educational Standards”; a sample “Church Organization Financial Agreement,” demonstrating the group’s unusual but advantageous mutual financial system; and the 1632 Dortrecht Confession of Faith, whose eighteen articles cover all the basic religious tenets of the Old Order Amish.

Thomas Morain’s new essay describes external and internal issues for the Iowa Amish from the 1970s to today. The growth of utopian Amish communities across the nation, changes in occupation (although The Amish Directory still lists buggy shop operators, wheelwrights, and one lone horse dentist), the current state of education and health care, and the conscious balance between modern and traditional ways are reflected in an essay that describes how the Old Order dedication to Gelassenheit—the yielding of self to the interests of the larger community—has served its members well into the twenty-first century.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii

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A Peculiar Peoplein a Brave New World: Iowa’s Old Order Amish in Recent Years

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pp. ix-xix

Against the background of a modern America that glorifies competition, individual freedom, and the newest gadget for anything, the Old Order Amish seem quaint, old-fashioned, or at the very least puzzling. They do not invest in tax-deferred portfolios, worry about their children’s ACT scores, or debate the relative merits of competing cable TV services. They do not send...

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pp. xx-xxiv

The history of the Amish has been a part of the story of Iowa since the early 1840s. The first Amish families moved into Lee County even before the days of Iowa’s statehood. Through the years they have expanded in number and settlements and have suffered several schisms, but they have always retained the distinctive qualities that long ago earned for them the name, the “Plain...

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CHAPTER ONE. The Old Order in Iowa

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pp. 1-8

Driving southwest along Iowa Highway 1 from Iowa City to Kalona, travelers can see the many farmyards containing buggies and other horse-drawn equipment. They might notice big, well-kept farmhouses and, in many instances, a small house located adjacent to a larger home. A closer look would reveal that no electricity or telephone lines were running from roadside poles to the houses or outbuildings....

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CHAPTER TWO. Origin and Growth

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pp. 9-22

Iowa's Old Order Amish Mennonites have a long and often tumultuous history. While the of the Mennonite Church are in the Swiss Anabaptist movement of the early 1500s, the group known as Amish began in the late 1600s. A strong difference of opinion existed among Mennonite groups regarding the practice of shunning or avoidance of excommunicated members. Some individuals like Jakob Ammann...

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CHAPTER THREE. Religious Practices

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pp. 23-36

Early Sunday morning in an Old Order Amish community a long string of black buggies can be seen moving slowly down the road, all headed for a particular farmstead. This procession means that it is church meeting time for the Plain People. This particular day is an important one to the Amish as they come together to worship with other members...

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CHAPTER F0UR. Economic Organization

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pp. 37-53

The Old Order Amish in Iowa live simply and take care of their own. These are perhaps the two characteristics that should be noted in describing their economic life-style and explaining their economic success. They reject most modern devices such as tractors and automobiles, believing that the old ways are more economical and...

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pp. 54-79

In all cultures family structure is significant, but to the Old Order Amish it is crucial because in their society the family controls the entire range of life activities. Socialization of the young is almost totally controlled by parents because of their belief that Amish people should be separated from the world. Within that sphere, most parents provide formal education for their offspring through the maintenance of...

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CHAPTER SIX. Mobility and New Communities

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pp. 80-93

From the beginning of their history the Amish have been a highly mobile people. From observing Old Order Amish settlement patterns in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest, it can be seen that mobility is still a part of their life-style. Since the early 1950s the Old Order have initiated fourteen new settlements in Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota...

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CHAPTER SEVEN. The School Controversy

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pp. 94-112

In American society during the past several decades, a tendency has developed to diminish parental responsibilities in the area of social and educational development. Increasingly parents are turning over to nonfamily agencies the responsibility of caring for and educating their offspring. Preschool programs, day-care centers, and summer camps as well as the public schools have been assuming an ever-increasing...

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CHAPTER EIGHT. The Vital Issue: Education

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pp. 113-128

The settlement reached in the Buchanan County school controversy in 1967 paved the way for other Iowa Amish communities to establish their own schools. Since that time the number has increased gradually until in the spring of 1974, there were sixteen schools maintained by the Old Order and Beachy Amish in the state. A year-by-year exemption has...

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CHAPTER NINE. The Beachy Amish

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pp. 129-140

A frequent distinction made between Amish members is whether they are "house Amish" or "church Amish." The terms indicate a basic difference between the Old Order and the Beachy groups, as the Beachy worship in churches and the Old Order conduct religious services in their homes. Adhering to many of the religious beliefs and...

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CHAPTER TEN. The Plain People in the Midwest

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pp. 141-151

Throughout the Midwest, the Old Order Amish are becoming increasingly visible. Many eastern Amish families faced with soaring land prices, particularly in Pennsylvania, are looking to areas like Missouri, southern Iowa, and southern Minnesota where land is available and reasonably priced. A number of Amish families have also...

Appendix A. An Act Relating to Compulsory School Attendance and Educational Standards

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pp. 153-154

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Appendix B. Church Organization Financial Agreement

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pp. 155

...is a member in good standing of our Church Organization, and as suchmember, under the rules of such Church Organization, is entitled to beamount to which he shall become entitled to on account of a fire orwindstorm loss on his farm buildings will be paid by our organization tosuch fire or windstorm losses on account of his ceasing to be a member...

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Appendix C. The Dortrecht Confession of Faith

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pp. 156-168

WHEREAS IT IS declared, that' 'without faith it is impossible to pleaseGod" (Heb. 11:6), and that "he that cometh to God must believe thathe is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,"therefore we confess with the mouth, and believe with the heart,together with all the pious, according to the Holy Scriptures, that there...


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pp. 169-177


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pp. 178-183


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pp. 185-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781587298486
E-ISBN-10: 1587298481
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298059
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298058

Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: Expanded

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Subject Headings

  • Amish -- Iowa -- History.
  • Amish -- Iowa -- Social conditions.
  • Iowa -- History.
  • Iowa -- Social conditions.
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