Are you in this? Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today

Laureen Harder-Gissing

4540“Are you in this?” asked a popular British propaganda poster from the First World War. A nattily dressed young man, hands in pockets, walks through a landscape in which other men and women are actively fighting, nursing, and manufacturing armaments. Their society is fully engaged in war. His non-participation is clearly shameful.

From October 19-22, 240 delegates gathered at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City to hear 70 presentations. Historians described forgotten voices of dissent and conscientious objection, while today’s defenders of conscience and civil liberties drew connections between the long-ago war and their current work. Music began the conference with a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem, and ended it with hymns and songs of peace sung by the Hutterian Baker and Silverwinds Youth Choirs from Manitoba. Their music accompanied the moving story of two American Hutterite conscientious objectors who died in prison.

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Inscribed brick to be added to the museum’s Walk of Honor (Photograph by Laureen Harder-Gissing)

The site of the conference added to the atmosphere. The museum sits at the base of a dramatic Egyptian Revival-style monument, the Liberty Memorial, which opened in 1926. The state-of-the-art museum, constructed in 2006, tells the story of the war to a modern audience. On Sunday morning, a memorial service for war dissenters was held at the entrance–a glass bridge spanning a field of poppies. The conference ended with a bus tour of Fort Leavenworth where 16 imprisoned conscientious objectors died.

Did the conference succeed in unmuting voices? While the traveling exhibit “Voices of Conscience” told stories of peace witness in the Great War, conference participants observed that voices of dissent are nearly absent from the museum’s permanent exhibits. During the memorial service, Hutterite delegates partially rectified this by unveiling a stone in memory of the Hofer brothers who died at Fort Leavenworth. The stone will join the “walk of honor” at the museum’s entrance.

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A base historian at Fort Leavenworth describes wartime conditions in the former prison hospital. (Photograph by Laureen Harder-Gissing)

Some religious voices were unmuted. In addition to papers about traditional peace church members, papers about Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and mainline church members uncovered additional stories of religious dissent.

While the conference predominantly focused on American and British history, papers on opposition to the war in Germany and African diaspora communities hinted at a broadening of diversity. While the role of women in leadership in the anti-war movement was explored, much ground in terms of gender was left untouched.

The conference did not succeed in unmuting all voices, but I believe it helped participants sharpen our hearing. Whether we are primarily engaged as historians or activists (or both), becoming attuned to muted voices of conscience and dissent is a valuable skill. After all, there are many ways in which we are “in this” still.

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Sunday’s memorial service took place on the museum’s glass bridge. The bridge floats over a simulated field of poppies. (Photograph by Laureen Harder-Gissing)

Some Clarity on an Old Mystery

John D. Thiesen

Samuel S. Haury (1847-1929) was the first missionary sent out by a North American Mennonite denomination, working among Arapaho and Cheyenne people in what is now Oklahoma starting in 1880. His mission career lasted only seven years, however, ending in scandal in 1887. The end of Haury’s career has only been publicly known in vague generalities. The most specific explanation is found in Lois Barrett’s 1983 history of General Conference home missions, where she says Haury resigned because of “his sexual indiscretion with another missionary at Cantonment.”1

Darlington school children and teachers;

Darlington school children and teachers; left to right at top, Dian Luginbuel (m. Jacob Meschberger), Maria Lehrman (m. Jacob Warkentin), Susie Richert (m. C. H. Wedel), S. S. Haury, Barbara Baer Voth and baby Frieda, H. R. Voth (top of head cut off). Mennonite Library and Archives Photo Collection 2003-0081

The archival record does actually allow for a bit fuller explanation. Haury was located at Cantonment, Indian Territory, where the General Conference had a school for Cheyenne and Arapaho children. Haury was in charge of all of the Cheyenne-Arapaho mission activities. Another missionary, Heinrich R. Voth, was located at Darlington, where Haury had started the first Mennonite mission school several years earlier. In a letter on May 14, 1887, from Haury to Voth, Haury says, “C. Krehbiel [chair of the mission board] has already informed you of my approaching departure from the mission, and of the sad cause, brought about by my own conduct and fault. The consequences are terrible. My heart is shattered. Pray for a deeply fallen one.”2

A week later, May 21, there is another letter to Voth: “Our departure is not yet specified. I expected to get my dismissal in today’s mail but it did not come. I hope that it will come soon. It would be best under these circumstances to leave tomorrow. But we will hardly be able to get away by the first of June.”3

The timeline of events seems a little muddied, however, since a letter also dated May 21, 1887, from Haury to the mission board, says: “I write these lines in deep shame and humiliation. I have already given the president of the board verbally and the secretary in written form my confession of my deep fall. . . . My deep fall consists of marital infidelity with Christina Hirschler, sister of my dear wife, so that she is already about 6 months pregnant.”4 This letter circulated among the members of the mission board, scattered from Kansas to Pennsylvania, through at least June 10.

A week later we find the sole surviving voice from one of the women concerned, Susie Hirschler Haury writing to H. R. Voth on May 28, in English (most of the other correspondence is in German): “We will go away soon, & it will be no more than natural that everybody at the Agency & at the schools will want to know why we have. Please tell them that we felt we could not remain or something to that effect. I would not ask you to tell an untruth, Never, but there is no need of having it spread among outsiders. It is not on my or our account I ask this, but on account of the Mission work & Christianity’s sake. For such people as live in the Agency & in this country generally, hearing anything of that kind, would call ‘the whole thing a fraud.’ Having had no Christian experience, they cannot know of the hearts-anguish such a person that has fallen, has in his own chamber & in the silent nightwatches.”5 Voth reassured her the next day that he would comply with her wishes.6

Samuel Schmidt Haury (1847-1929) and Susanna Hirschler Haury (1861-1944)

Samuel Schmidt Haury (1847-1929) and Susanna Hirschler Haury (1861-1944). Mennonite Library and Archives Photo Collection 2006-0096

Susie Hirschler Haury gave birth to a son Paul on Jan. 28, 1887.7 This means that if her sister Christina was 6 months pregnant in mid-May, then that event must have occurred in mid- December 1886 when Susie was about 8 months pregnant. Presumably her sister Christina had come out to help with household tasks before and after the birth. Paul died on June 14, 1887. “This morning at about 5:00 the Lord took our little son Paul to himself, after several days of severe suffering and a 2 hour hard death struggle. The burial will be tomorrow afternoon about 2:00, Lord willing, and would like to ask you sincerely and urgently to lead this service. The service should be in English.”8

The Haurys must have finally left Indian Territory sometime around the end of June. A letter from G. D. Williams, the Indian agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, to J. D. C. Atkins, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, on Aug. 12, 1887, gives a perspective from outside of Mennonite circles:

In accordance with instructions of Office letter of the 9th ult. [July 9] I have the honor to report that in the latter part of May last there were rumors about Cantonment, involving the moral character of Mr. Haury. As he had the entire confidence of this community as well as my own, and standing so high in his Church I gave them no credence. June 4th Mr. Haury advised me, by letter, of his resignation as Missionary among these Indians, without alleging any cause. On the 22nd day of June last, in company with Inspector Gardner, I visited Cantonment and learned beyond question that the charges were true.

During the second day of inspection of Indian houses, a number of the head men of the Cheyenne talked with Inspector Gardner about the matter, saying that they did not wish any more such men sent among then and that they desired Mr. Haury sent away. They were assured that he was about to depart, which he did in a few days thereafter.

These Indians do not entertain the highest sentiment regarding chastity, and while I do not believe the unfortunate act within itself would deter them from sending their children to the school, they will use it as an incontrovertible argument against a mission school under the same patronage and decline to support it. This applies more particularly to the Cheyennes who are largely in the majority at Cantonment and who have no earnest desire for the education of their children.

They grasp any excuse for withholding their children; for two years past they have given as a reason that the buildings were old, damp and unhealthful, but as soon as a new building was erected they would fill it.

In view of this I submit that they will use the late unfortunate occurrence with great effect among their people. I do not believe the scandal will in the least injure the mission school located at the Agency and in charge of the Rev. Mr. Voth, as for several years past Mr. Haury has not, in the Indian mind, been identified with it, and I am constrained to believe that the Cantonment Mission will not soon recover from the recent blow and that its success for the next year or two is in the gravest doubt.

The present “picket” structures at Cantonment will serve another year with some few repairs – but a new building is needed and I believe it should be conducted solely by the Government to insure [sic] its success.9

The leading historian of the Arapaho, Loretta Fowler, offers some further explanation of Williams’ comments.

When Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs directly challenged officials, they often did so by appropriating elements of the dominant ideology. For example, in the delegates’ attempt to counter Agent Woodson’s disparaging description of Cheyennes and Arapahos, they turned his own discourse against him: Woodson was lazy, neglected his work, was fiscally imprudent, and fell short of the ideals of monogamy and sobriety. He spent idle hours dancing while trying to prevent the Cheyennes and Arapahos from having dances. This same tactic was used in regard to local boarding school superintendents and even to missionary Haury, who was caught in an adulterous relationship.10

Fowler gives no sources for her comment about Haury’s “adulterous relationship.”

On Aug. 16, 1887, H. R. Voth wrote to a Captain J. M. Lee, who had apparently had some previous role in the Cheyenne-Arapaho area and remained friends with Voth.

Mr. H. has fallen very deeply. He had had unlawful intercourse with his sister in law, the sinful deed bearing bitter fruit. Mr. H. acknowledged his guilt voluntarily to the Mission Board, was of course promptly discharged, & had to leave. Although covered with shame & disgrace, yet accompanied by the deep sympathy & genuine regret of thousands of friends, his field of faithful labor and is now living in obscurity. The child was born a few weeks ago, but did not live long. That is, in a few words, the deplorable history which ended in such an extremely tragical manner, Mr. Haury’s evidently successful career as an Indian Educator and missionary.11

Haury moved to St. Louis to attend medical school.12 There is one major postscript to the 1887 scandal. At a meeting of the Kansas Conference (predecessor to today’s Western District area conference) at First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, Nov. 5-6, 1889, there is this resolution:

  1. At the request of the brother, S. S. Haury, that the Conference use its influence in favor of his admission into the Mennonite denomination, the Conference resolves that as such it is ready to offer him the hand gladly and to let his reception take place in a public meeting to which all of the conference churches are herewith invited, on the 13t h inst. in the Alexanderwohl Church by Elder Chr. Krehbiel with the assistance of Elder Jak. Buller, as commissioners of the Conference.13

Two persons recorded the actual event at Alexanderwohl. Johann Jantzen, a Mennonite minister from Beatrice, Nebraska, who was attending a ministers’ meeting, noted the event in his diary:

In the Alexanderwohl church, the former missionary Haury, who had been separated from the church, was re-accepted. He seemed very repentant. Elder Balzer read Psalm 51 and had the opening prayer. Elder Gaeddert preached on John 10:12, a very nice exposition. Elder Christian Krehbiel carried out the acceptance and Elder Stucky closed with prayer. It was a large gathering and a very large church, recently built. On the way back [to Newton] we had very nice weather and better roads; we stopped at the Bethel College foundation [construction site], it is around 15 feet high now, with 3 feet in the ground.14

Then, H. R. Voth’s father Cornelius described the event in a letter to his son, mixed in with news about the farm and crops, in a Nov. 17, 1889, letter:

We still have 20 acres of corn to [cut?] and also so much work to prepare the cattle for winter. Now dear son, I must write to you a little about the acceptance of S. S. Haury into the community [Gemeinschaft] on the 13th last Wednesday in our church (it was a nice day), there were quite many people present, especially many elders and preachers because the day before in our school was the preachers’ conference, it was really a sad sight how deeply humiliated Haury was, an evil picture of how sin can bring a person down, it was too bad that you could not be present and also at the conference, since there is always something to learn for our life, I certainly believe Haury has genuine repentance, he cried many tears and was very broken down, there were also many tears from the assembly with him, it was a moving performance, to begin Elder Buller read Psalm 51, how we are kept, then Elder Gaeddert preached very seriously and Christian Krehbiel did the actual acceptance, Elders Buller, Gaeddert and Newton elder Toews stood around him and greeted him with hand and mouth [holy kiss?] and with moving words of encouragement, may the dear Lord protect everyone from such a heavy burden since one sees what serious sins bring about. They are again gathering potatoes which will be brought to Newton on Tuesday and sent to you.15

It is completely unclear what kind of reconciliation service took place on Nov. 13, 1889. It was not an Alexanderwohl congregational matter but something more general, Kansas/Western District conference or General Conference. There is no evidence that Haury was ever a member of Alexanderwohl church. He joined First Mennonite in Halstead on Mar. 30, 189016 and then transferred to First Mennonite in Newton on Nov. 21, 1897.17 These record books do not indicate where he was a member before 1890, but it was probably Summerfield, Illinois. The Summerfield membership records have been lost.

The Hirschler family was fairly prominent in General Conference Mennonite circles. The father of Christina and Susanna, Daniel A. Hirschler (1821-1888), was a minister at Summerfield, Illinois.  Their brother John S. Hirschler (1847-1915) was also a widely-known minister. A brother, Daniel B. Hirschler was an Oklahoma missionary. A niece (daughter of John S. Hirschler), Anna, married Gustav A. Linscheid and they were later Cheyenne missionaries. Another sister, Anna (1854-1896), was married to Peter S. Haury, brother of Samuel S.18

Two additional pieces of misinformation about the Haury incident deserve to be clarified. One rumor that apparently circulated in the Berne, Indiana, Mennonite community tied Haury to another sister-in-law, Elisabeth Welty Hirschler, wife of Daniel B. Hirschler. The rumor claims that Haury fathered the child Dorothea Hirschler born Nov. 20, 1885. Daniel and Elisabeth Hirschler were mission workers in Cantonment.19 But obviously this does not fit the chronology of Haury’s departure almost two years later nor the contents of the Haury and Voth correspondence. Presumably someone in the community knew, well after the event, that Haury had had a sexual relationship with his “sister-in-law” and extrapolated to the wrong sister-in-law.

The second piece of misinformation appears in Donald Berthrong’s 1976 The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal. Berthrong stated that Haury “had been involved with school-girls at Cantonment.” But the only source he cites for this is the letter from Williams to Atkins of August 12, 1887, quoted above, which makes no mention of school girls.20 Obviously Berthrong had not seen Haury’s letter of resignation or the other mission-related correspondence, so he was reading into the Williams letter assumptions that were unsupported by his evidence.

Jim Juhnke also references this student-involvement rumor but footnotes Berthrong so apparently he did not have an independent source for it.21

Christina Hirschler (1865-1941) married Louis M. Ledig in 1891, and they moved from Summerfield to Upland, California, in 1895. They had one son. Samuel and Susie Haury also moved to Upland when he retired in 1913. 22


  1.  Lois Barrett, The Vision and the Reality: The Story of Home Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church (Newton, Kans.: Faith and Life Press, 1983), 22. 
  2.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63, Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kans. 
  3.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  4.  General Conference Mennonite Church, Board of Missions records, I.A.1.a, folder 29 “Correspondence 1887 Jan-June.” 
  5.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  6.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, copy book 2, p. 675. 
  7.  GRANDMA database 
  8.  Haury to Voth, June 16, 1887, H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 24. 
  9.  Oklahoma Historical Society, Cheyenne Arapaho Agency microfilms, reel 17, vol. 20, 236-239. 
  10.  Loretta Fowler, Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 46. 
  11.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, copy book 2, p. 763-764. 
  12.  Haury to Voth, Sept. 13, 1887, H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 63. 
  13.  Minutes of the Kansas Conference, Nov. 5-6, 1889, English translation. 
  14.     Jantzen, Johann (1823-1903) Collection, MS.549 
  15.  H. R. Voth papers, MS.21, folder 2. 
  16.  Halstead Kirchenbuch, 90 (Mennonite Library and Archives). 
  17.  First Mennonite Stammbuch (Mennonite Library and Archives). 
  18.  See Melvin J. Voigt, From Whence We Came ([Del Mar, California: Voigt, 1989), esp. p. 12. Voigt is aware of the Samuel S. Haury scandal but seems to have no indication that it involved anyone else in the Hirschler family. 
  19.  Email from David Habegger to John D. Thiesen, 15 Sep 2006. Printed copy in S. S. Haury papers, MS.76, folder 1. 
  20.  Donald J. Berthrong, The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 144. 
  21.  James C. Juhnke, “General Conference Mennonite Missions to the American Indians in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 54 (April 1980): 126. 
  22.  Voigt, From Whence We Came. It seems like that would have been awkward situation. 

An Invitation to the “Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions” Conference

Rachel Waltner Goossen

It’s been twenty-two years since historians from the U.S. and Canada collaborated on the first academic conference focusing on women of Anabaptist traditions.  A sequel comes this summer: an interdisciplinary conference, Crossing the Line:  Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries, slated for June 22-24, at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Scholars from around the globe as well as students and others interested in women’s and Anabaptist/Mennonite history will gather for cross-disciplinary panels, sessions, and conversations.  The conference theme invites us to consider how Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, and related groups have bumped up against – and traversed – physical and figurative borders, right up to the present day. 

crossing-the-line-header

Crossing the Line is a conference about women from Anabaptist traditions. Panels will emphasize the rich diversity of Anabaptist women’s experiences.

In 1995, a landmark scholarly conference titled The Quiet in the Land? Women of Anabaptist Traditions in Historical Perspective drew 256 participants from Canada, the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands. Hosted at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, this early collaborative effort among Mennonite scholars featured artistic performances, especially drama, music and poetry. Approximately one hundred academic presentations explored the richness of women’s experience and interests drawn from Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Amish, Hutterite, Brethren in Christ, German Baptist, and Jewish perspectives. 

At the conclusion of the 1995 conference, participants were enthusiastic about the variety of methodological and interdisciplinary approaches on display, but noted that a future conference would need to cast a more inclusive net.  Many called for greater attention to international stories and viewpoints, pointing out that a critical mass of individuals in Anabaptist traditions lived outside of U.S./Canadian communities.  Others critiqued the Millersville gathering for failing to incorporate LGBT history, although other forms of inclusion/exclusion were dominant themes of the conference. 

Strangers at Home

Strangers at Home came out of a landmark 1995 conference on Anabaptist women.

By the final day of the conference, one observer noted the gathering’s big-tent flavor:  “Many perspectives have been expressed underneath this canopy . . . . We have not been concerned with boundaries.” Johns Hopkins University Press was attracted to the gendered theme of the conference and subsequently published an edited collection, Strangers at Home:  Amish and Mennonite Women in History (2002), which highlighted European- and North American-focused scholarship (a notable exception was Marlene Epp’s “’Weak Families’ in the Green Hell of Paraguay”). 

Intensifying an international reach this time around, the June 2017 conference will focus on boundaries and border-crossings. Women from the Global South will participate. Students and scholars from a dozen countries are among the panelists and plenary speakers.  Each day, an invited scholar will address implications of border- and boundary-crossings.  Hasia Diner, New York University Professor of History, will speak on gender systems in ethno-religious immigrant communities. Cynthia Peacock of India, affiliated with Mennonite Central Committee for nearly four decades and a representative for Mennonite World Conference, plans to address church leadership in South Asia. And Sofia Samatar, a Somali-American writer and English professor at James Madison University, will be drawing from her own Arab and Mennonite heritage for her presentation, “Crossing Ethnicities.”

Sofia-Samatar

Sofia Samatar, professor of English at James Madison University, will be one of several plenary speakers at Crossing the Line.

Academic presentations on a wide array of topics, as well as an art exhibit, poetry readings, original dramatic performance, modern dance and ballet performances, and Shendandoah Valley cultural tours round out the conference offerings. In the spirit of the 1995 gathering, organizers of the upcoming Crossing the Line gathering hope the event will contribute to “mentoring relationships that crossed traditions and disciplines and age groups,” according to planning committee co-chair Kimberly Schmidt.

Watch this Anabaptist Historians blog site for regular updates and postings from participants throughout and after the conference. Participants may register for the entire conference or for a daily rate.  Registration, schedule, sponsorship, and lodging details are available via the conference website.

Rachel Waltner Goossen is a member of the conference planning committee and professor of history at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

Tell Me Your Stories and I’ll Tell You Mine

This is a response to “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege” by Ben Goossen.

Steve Ness

As librarian and archivist at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (LMHS), a question that I hear quite often is, “Do the genealogical records in your library only include Mennonites?” My response is to encourage any researcher with an ancestral connection to southeastern Pennsylvania (and Lancaster County in particular) to spend some time digging into the many genealogical resources that we make available. While our focus is on the history of the Mennonites of this area, the genealogies and other resources in our collections contain many non-Mennonites as well. Any good genealogist will understand that they cannot claim that all of their ancestors were of a particular denomination any more than they can claim that they were all admirable.

Any good genealogist will understand that they cannot claim that all of their ancestors were of a particular denomination any more than they can claim that they were all admirable.

Ben Goossen, in his post, “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege,” states that little has been written about how Mennonites have historically approached the field of genealogy. I agree that it is a subject that warrants proper investigation.1 Despite the dearth of research, however, Goossen makes the claim that, “Over the past century, white Mennonites have expressed uncommon interest in their ancestry.” I suspect that this cannot be substantiated and that Mennonite interest in genealogy is not significantly different than one would find among the rest of the population.

As is the case with many historical societies, the majority of visitors to the LMHS library arrive with the purpose of conducting genealogical research. A conservative estimate would be ninety percent. Of these, probably fewer than half consider themselves to be Mennonite. Some suspect or have been told that they have some Mennonite or Amish ancestry; some already know that they do, and some are surprised to learn of a Mennonite connection. This is due to historic migration patterns that have interwoven Mennonites into the fabric of broader Pennsylvania German culture in southeastern Pennsylvania. Many people across the United States—both Mennonite and non-Mennonite—have ancestral connections to this area which they value.

If Mennonite family and religious identity is so tightly bound, why aren’t more Mennonite individuals, congregations, and institutions expressing greater interest in their history?

Many LMHS members are not Mennonite and, despite the fact that the Historical Society serves as the official repository for Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) records, LMC and ACC congregants represent a disappointingly-small percentage of LMHS membership overall. If Mennonite family and religious identity is so tightly bound, why aren’t more Mennonite individuals, congregations, and institutions expressing greater interest in their history? Even one of the examples Goossen provides of a “Mennonite genealogical publication”—Theodore W. Herr’s 1908 book on the descendants of Hans Herr—was neither written by a Mennonite nor printed by a Mennonite publisher.2

Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States.  A 2008 poll cited by USA Today identifies only gardening as being more popular.3 The air time that major television networks have provided for shows focused on genealogy is additional evidence of its general appeal. The article’s author recognizes that genealogy has been used as a tool for exclusion but, unlike Goossen, emphasizes instead the value of genealogical research in helping us—all of us—understand better the stories of our past that help to shape us today.

Is there such a thing as “Mennonite Genealogy?” I am doubtful. Certainly there is privilege in the ability of white Mennonites to trace many of their ancestral lines back multiple generations with relative ease. I would argue that honest engagement with our past reveals a richer diversity in our stories than we might first imagine. Rather than seeing genealogy as a tool to build walls, we should embrace it as a technique to learn from and value the stories of everyone. Let’s sit down and listen to each other. You tell me your stories and I’ll tell you mine.


Steve Ness is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite College (B.S., History and Social Science) and Clarion University (M.S.L.S., Library and Information Science). His ancestry includes persons who were Amish, Church of the Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, United Brethren, and others.


See also:


  1. Such research should include a more comprehensive examination of Christian Z. Mast, whose words in A Brief History of Bishop Jacob Mast… sound troubling to our twenty-first-century ears. Good historical research will look more carefully at the context in which Mast was writing, how the words quoted by Goossen fit with Mast’s other writings, and how representative Mast was of the larger Mennonite community at that time. Until such research is done I think it wise to temper condemnation. 
  2.  The book was republished twice by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society—in 1980 and 1994. The third edition contained updates and corrections by Phillip E. Bedient, former emeritus professor at Franklin and Marshall College and member of the United Methodist Church. 
  3. Rodriguez, Gregory. “Roots of Genealogy Craze.” . Online at  http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/05/12/genealogy-americans-technology-roots-porn-websites-column/9019409/. 

David Rempel Smucker Responds to “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege”

This is a response to “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege” by Ben Goossen.

David Rempel Smucker

Mennonites doing genealogical research may or may not have undesirable attitudes about racial privilege. Goossen works from one case—Christian Z. Mast—out of the thousands of Mennonites who have done genealogical research. In my twenty-two years (1981-2003) of assisting people doing historical and genealogical research at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society library and archives (Lancaster, Pa.), I encountered many people in the following two categories: Mennonites who discovered information about non-Mennonite ancestors, and non-Mennonites who discovered their Mennonite and Amish ancestors. Both gained an enlarged sense of lineage from their genealogical study. These researchers emerged with an expanded identity that incorporated people of varied religious and ethnic persuasions.

These researchers emerged with an expanded identity that incorporated people of varied religious and ethnic persuasions.

Goossen also calls the vigorous interest in family history research among Mennonites “uncommon,” as if that interest is higher than that of other denominations. My years at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society acquainted me with many other denominational and ethnic groups with historical and genealogical organizations. Of course, the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is perhaps the denomination with the most interest in genealogy. In my experience, they were very generous in their willingness to share their vast historical resources with all researchers. They also quickly discovered how many contemporary Mormons had non-Mormon ancestors, and vice-versa.

To suggest that “Mennonite family history research is intimately connected to issues of racial privilege,” as Goossen does, is far too sweeping. It is similar to saying that I know a racist plumber, so I conclude that plumbing has an affinity to racism. Christian Mast’s ideas on race and culture are mistaken and lamentable, but one case does not constitute sufficient proof. Nor does that racism totally ruin the genealogical value of his book.  To show that Mennonite genealogy in Germany in the 1930s was influenced by Nazi ideology on race does not support generalizations about all Mennonite genealogy.  


David Rempel Smucker, Ph.D., former staff of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, a resident of Winnipeg, Manitoba.


 

See also:

 

Who Calls Whom Racist, and What’s the Privilege With That?

This is a response to “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege” by Ben Goossen.

Philipp Gollner

I would rather not smoke a pipe with Mr. Mast. He’ll compliment me on my German accent, and how tall and “sterling” I am. Privilege, for this outsider. But I would rather not chat it up with “Genealogists against Inequality” either. They’ll tell me that it’s really, really, really, ok that I don’t have Mennonite relatives. They’ll say “diversity” thirty-four times. And, oh no, we’re not a tribe. Only peace and justice, that’s what we’re tracking.

I cheer Goossen’s probing of the artifacts of Mennonite belonging. Mennonite material culture remains understudied, even as Mennonites’ merging of ethnic and religious cultures continues to yield plenty of sacred stuff.

On a larger scale, however, I wonder if there aren’t eerie similarities between early twentieth-century version of American Mennonite purity and contemporary highbrow Mennonite longings for the post-ethnic. And I suspect that any real investigation of privilege in Mennonite history in the United States is ill-served by the N-word (that is, Nazi)—because too often, the N-word hits bottom as a convenient, anachronistic catch-all; because most “Mennonite ethnicity” in North America is much older and more complex; and because Mennonite privilege, even purity, are now passed on through more than blood.

Might enlisting genealogy again in the cause of a more perfect church—a post-ethnic one, this time—continue, not disrupt, this puritan streak of Mennonite mapping?

Those with enough brains to write, and enough politics to pull in the church, mapped Mennonite racial purity in early twentieth-century America. They weren’t only keepers of memory—they also pruned the family tree, made it more presentable. They were activists for the church’s present relevance and its future purity. (Mast, by the way, represented a progressive group that soon dropped the term “Amish” altogether.)

Might enlisting genealogy again in the cause of a more perfect church—a post-ethnic one, this time—continue, not disrupt, this puritan streak of Mennonite mapping? Doesn’t it simply perpetuate the original Mennonite desire for a fresh break, a clean sheet? And could such an exculpation make authentic relationships with non-white Anabaptists, who often rely on the messy transmission of ancestry and culture for a vital faith community, even more awkward?

More importantly, the building blocks of Mennonite aristocracy have changed from Blut und Boden to subtler forms of privilege: educational opportunities, denominational connections, the right ideas. Mennonite parents of my and Goossen’s generation won’t tell their young ones what a “stern” race theirs is. They access other privilege: they will tell their children to be “world-changers,” before they ever show a photo of their great-grandmother. They will humblebrag that their child has never eaten at McDonald’s, but loves vegan curry. Doesn’t know football, but is the bestest peacemaker of them all in second grade. Swims in a pool of Mennonite social capital, but grows up with the assumption that the virtue of studying its history lies chiefly in uncovering its oppressive character.

Therein, too, is purity. Therein, too, is privilege—and its passing on. And to the extent that an openly worn revulsion against the unbearable Teutonism of many North American Mennonite bloodlines helps us white progressives mask this privilege while accumulating another (think: “world changers”), it is no way forward.

I have no Mennonite ancestors. Sometimes I wish I would. The one grandparent who was an National Socialist soldier was a socialist, and deserted in 1944. Sometimes I wish I had a Nazi Other to point at. My daughters are growing up binational, bilingual. Sometimes I wish their belonging was clearer. But my diverse non-Anabaptist students find us educated white Mennos most grating when we preach color-free virtue, not when we are a tribe, warts and all. And most times, I’m with them.

Whither genealogists? I don’t even know if it’s my business as a historian to tell them. Poking Mennonite privilege with the help of history, however, will take more than the obvious scrutiny of race science. Instead, it might make collateral damage out of many of us white progressives.


Philipp Gollner (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) is an Assistant Professor of U.S. History at Goshen College. Most recently, he is the author of “How Mennonites Became White: Religious Activism and Cultural Power.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 90 (April 2016). Catch up with him on twitter, or philippgollner.com


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