What’s All in a Name: Kinship in the Nineteenth Century

Martin Lutz

As a Swabian from Stuttgart in southwestern Germany, I am frequently asked about my Anabaptist roots by Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites I encounter during archival field trips. Lutz is not an Anabaptist household name, compared to Hofer, Krehbiel or Janzen. There are a few Lutz’s among American Anabaptists though. For example, during my research I came across a Mennonite named Clarence Lutz from the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. My father, from whom I inherited my last name, hailed from a small Franconian village in the region of Hohenlohe in northeastern Württemberg, not far from Anabaptist centers in the early modern period. But as far as I know, there are no direct Anabaptist connections in my family.

It would be another story to delve more into the question of why it seemed so unusual to American Anabaptists for an outsider would be interested in their history. Here, I will focus on a different topic: the role of kinship in modern societies.

Until recently, historiography held that kinship was a distinctly pre-modern form of social identity and organization. For the European context, this narrative suggested that kinship groups were a common, possibly dominant way of structuring social relationships in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Modernization processes such as the emergence of the modern state, the market and voluntary associations then gradually replaced kinship’s societal functions.

Social historians David Sabean, Simon Teuscher and others have convincingly argued against this perspective: Far from losing ground, kinship structures outlived the threshold to modernity in Western societies. Indeed, Sabean and Teuscher consider the nineteenth century as a “‘kinship-hot’ society, one where enormous energy was invested in maintaining and developing extensive, reliable, and well-articulated structures of exchange among connected families over many generations.”1

In my previous work, I have looked at the case of the Siemens entrepreneurial family2 where these patterns appear as an important element in shaping business strategy in the nineteenth century. The Siemens Stammbaum (family tree) and various family institutions have since then played a considerable role in tying the various branches of the vast kin group (and its wealth) together.3

It appears that similar notions of kinship evolved among the Amish and Mennonites in nineteenth century America. I recently took a closer look at David Beiler’s memoir “Eine Vermahnung oder Andenken” from around 1860.4 Beiler was a prominent Amish bishop who was involved in the formation of the Old Order congregations in the 1860s and 1870s. He might be most famous for his book Das wahre Christentum, and his memoirs offer a rare glimpse into the perception of change by an Amishman in the nineteenth century. Less prominent in the scholarly literature is the Familien-Chronik at the end of Beiler’s memoir where he gives a detailed account of his ancestors.

For his and his wife’s paternal and maternal ancestors, Beiler outlines the Herkunft (ancestry) and Geschlecht (lineage). For each line, there is one distinct progenitor (Stammvater) listed as the point of origin. For example, Beiler’s great-grandfather Jakob Beiler, a Swiss Anabaptist, immigrated to America in 1737. On his maternal side, the progenitor was Samuel König, also an immigrant. Whenever the information available to him allows it, Beiler then lists the number of sons and daughters in each household (Haushaltung), and how many lived long enough to found their own families. It is somewhat striking how Beiler’s Familien-Chronik resembles contemporary European efforts to document and construct familial ancestry. As with the Siemens Stammbaum, it represents an effort to build shared ancestry as an imagined community, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s words.

The sociological and anthropological literature stresses the ongoing role of kinship relations among twentieth century Amish and other Anabaptist groups.5 The ubiquitous Mennonite “name game” certainly reveals the importance of ancestry even in the twenty-first century. Steven D. Reschly’s work on nineteenth century Amish demonstrates how these patterns were a crucial aspect in communal boundary maintenance and transmission of property across generations.6 This literature implies that the Amish kinship system is a rather specific form of social organization distinct from the majority society in the modernizing context of the United States and Canada.

As part of my overall research agenda, I am interested in how social relationships shaped economic interaction in the nineteenth and twentieth century. While the Siemens industrialists and the Amish farmer David Beiler appear to be on the opposite ends of a spectrum, I am convinced that their joint reference to the kin group holds important lessons for economic and social historians. If we follow Sabean’s and Teuscher’s larger interpretation of kinship in the nineteenth century, it would appear that Beiler’s Familien-Chronik fits perfectly with these larger developments in the Western world. At least in Beiler’s case, American Anabaptists appear to be as “kinship-hot” – and indeed as “modern” – as the emerging bourgeois class in Central Europe.


1. David W. Sabean and Simon Teuscher, “Kinship in Europe: A New Approach to Long Term Development,” in Kinship in Europe: Approaches to Long-Term Developments (1300-1900), ed. David W. Sabean, Simon Teuscher and Jon Mathieu (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007); Chapter I, 13.

2. Martin Lutz, Carl von Siemens: Ein Leben zwischen Familie und Weltfirma, 1829-1906 (München: C.H. Beck, 2013).

3. Siemens-Familienstiftung and Werner Siemens-Stiftung, Stammbaum der Familie Siemens: Aus Anlaß der 600jährigen Wiederkehr des ersten urkundlichen Nachweises des Namens Siemens in Goslar, 1984 neu bearbeitet von Sigfrid von Weiher (München: Selbstverlag, 1985).

4. David Beiler, Eine Verwahrnung oder Andenken, 1862, II-MS-29, Eastern Mennonite University Archive.

5. In the older literature, John A. Hostetler stresses the small-scale and genealogical embeddedness of Amish society. John A. Hostetler, Amish Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 12 For more recent discussions see: Vlatka Škender, “Flesh, Freundschaft, and Fellowship: Towards a Holistic Model of the Amish Kinship System,” Journal of the Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 8, no. 1 (2020); John A. Cross, “Amish Surnames, Settlement Patterns, and Migration,” Names 51, 3-4 (2013).

6. Steven D. Reschly, The Amish on the Iowa Prairie, 1840 to 1910 (Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2000), 119.

A Theology of Suffering: Suffering and Martyrdom in Sixteenth-Century Anabaptist Hymnody

Alec Loganbill

Whoever wants to have fellowship with [Christ]
and be a partaker of his kingdom
must also do like him
here on this earth.
Whoever would inherit with him
must have much pain here
for the sake of his name.1

The strong connection between suffering and salvation displayed in this Swiss Brethren Anabaptist hymn is underscored throughout sixteenth-century Anabaptist hymnody. Such a connection was inspired by Anabaptists’ developing theological beliefs and by their experiences of persecution and suffering in early modern Europe. The writing and singing of hymns were popular and powerful means of religious expression for early Anabaptists, whose music could be heard everywhere from worship spaces to prison cells to the burning stake. They wrote and sang hymns to declare their faith, memorialize their martyrs, and connect to other believers. As music historian Rosella Reimer Duerksen has observed, in the case of Anabaptists, “hymnodists practiced little restraint or sophistication, but presented their views and beliefs freely in the stanzas which they penned.” 2 Thus, their compositions offer an unadulterated look into the hearts and minds of lay people rather than the formal doctrine found in other confessional hymnals of the Reformation. The lack of any formal doctrine in Anabaptist hymnody is also reflective of the fact that, as historian John Rempel has noted, “little time was taken for doctrinal or liturgical formulation; what mattered was spiritual rebirth and a life of surrender.”3 This grassroots form of religious expression and experience emphasized passionate spirituality, concern for living a holy life, and, perhaps most strikingly, the powerful and effective motifs of suffering and martyrdom.4

Among the developing doctrinal and theological ideas with which Anabaptist hymnodists interacted, adult baptism appears as one of the most prominent, for it was both the distinguishing feature of the confession theologically and politically. In the sixteenth century, adult baptism, or believer’s baptism, was “cited more often than any other doctrine as the crime condemning an Anabaptist to execution.”5 The connection between baptism and death was not lost to hymnodists, who frequently set baptism in a context of suffering. In addition to the baptismal sequence of grace followed by water, Anabaptists understood there to be a third rite of baptism: that of blood.

The Lord Jesus Christ, therefore,
assigns three witnesses for us.
The two are called water and Spirit.
The third, blood, that is, suffering.6

In a very real way, Anabaptists thought of baptism as the first step on the path to martyrdom. Baptism was a commitment to a godly life and a suffering life, a statement of faith that was a violation and rejection of the state church punishable by death. The emphasis of suffering in sixteenth-century Anabaptism, especially among the Swiss Brethren, was both a response to their experiences as a persecuted people and their theological formulation that true Christian discipleship demanded that Christians follow in the way of Christ, suffering as Christ suffered.

The importance of believer’s baptism was stressed in the context of martyr hymns, like in the account of the imprisonment, trial, and execution of Claesken Gaeledochter. In recounting Claesken’s inquisition, the hymnodist stresses her commitment to believer’s baptism, intimate knowledge of Scripture, and personal and passionate spirituality—all of which are common themes in Anabaptist martyr hymns.

About her baptism he did question;
But she, without alt’ring her course,
Courageously the Scriptures told:
That of new life and repentance
Both John and Christ most clearly tell;
‘Repentance first!’ was taught the people.7

Not confined to a baptismal context, Anabaptists’ theology of suffering consistently appears throughout their robust oral and literary traditions, most especially in their hymns.8 Like other confessions of the Reformation, Anabaptists connected their own suffering to the larger narrative of Christian persecution. One Passau hymnodist recounted the lineage of Christian suffering, declaring that “it began with Abel.”9 The author goes on to write:

Afterwards, all the prophets
and other pious also—
some were killed,
other experienced especially great humiliation
through fear and distress, cross and affliction.10

Anabaptist hymnodists accounted for the suffering of martyrs as well as their own affliction. In doing so, many hymns depicted imprisonment, torture, and execution in graphic detail. Stanzas told of burning, beheading, drowning, and stretching on the rack, along with other forms of physical torment. One of the most gruesome examples appears in the hymnal account of Elisabeth van Leeuwarden:

They had two thumbscrews put on
When for a long time she refused to confess,
So that they smashed thumb and fingers
Till the blood spurted out from her nails.11

However grim this theology of suffering may seem, it was often closely linked to messages of consolation and hope. The acceptance of “innocent suffering,” as one wrote, was not only a manifestation of discipleship but necessary for salvation.12 This union between suffering and salvation simultaneously inspired, sustained, and consoled sixteenth-century Anabaptists. Often, consolatory hymns took the form of prayers, pleading for God to grant peace to the suffering:

In anguish and distress,
Give us the bread of heaven,
And in the pain of death
Let peace to us be given.13

Anabaptist hymnodists also looked directly to Christ to inspire their work, as in this stanza, adapted from the Sermon on the Mount:

When you are slandered and abused now,
Persecuted and beaten for my sake,
be joyful, for see, your reward
is prepared for you on heaven’s throne.14

Many hymns that connected suffering to consolation and salvation were created by those who immediately needed such a message, namely, the imprisoned. The most famous collection of such hymns is the Ausbund, the primary hymnal of the Swiss Brethren. The core of this hymnal was first published in 1564 and consisted of fifty-three hymns, which were composed by Swiss Brethren Anabaptists imprisoned in Passau between 1535 and 1540 and include hymns written by well-known early Anabaptist leaders such as George Blaurock, Felix Mantz, and Michael Sattler, and others.15

Motifs of sorrow and distress underscore much of the Ausbund, a clear reflection of the immediate situation of the hymns’ authors. These understandable themes, however, are offset by “a note of triumph [and] of a conviction that [the authors’] past of sorrow and tribulation is leading them to everlasting life.”16 In one hymn, Michael Schneider joins the reality of bondage and suffering with the hope of salvation in the opening and closing stanzas:

We cry to you, Lord God,
and lament to you all our distress,
which now confronts us
in dungeons and in stocks
where they have stuck us.
Give our spirit power and much strength
that it may lay hold of the goal
which has long stood before us,
so that we might obtain it.
O God, Release the captives! Amen.17

Schneider’s urgency, religious conviction, and belief in the salvation of and from suffering were common themes often repeated in many of the hymns composed in Passau.

While the composition of many hymns was often an individual practice of meditation and expression, singing hymns was nearly always communal. For early Anabaptists across Europe, the singing of hymns was decidedly a shared practice, be it in a congregational, familial, or clandestine setting.18 Because of the wide variety of Anabaptist hymnody, songs were sung to worship God, express religious ideas, commemorate martyrs, and give comfort and hope to the persecuted and imprisoned. Dutch martyrologist Hans de Ries believed that “songs of the cross” were “profitable to be sung at times when the congregation [was] burdened with the cross and suffering.”19 Anabaptists readily recognized and employed the power that singing hymns could have for a community of believers. Simply, the hymns of the Ausbund and other hymnals were written by the suffering, for the suffering.

Related to the motif of salvation and suffering was the prevalence of a belief in imminent eschatology. Several hymns in the Ausbund expressed the hymnodist’s belief that Christ would soon return and usher in the Kingdom of God. Here, hymnal messages were intended to instill a sense of urgency to convert, repent, and “console the suffering and encourage them to endure a little longer.”20 Michael Schneider conveyed the urgency of repentance in the face of imminent eschatology on multiple instances throughout the Ausbund:

God burned Sodom
for its sinful deeds.
You should accept this.
It is certainly an example
for all who live godlessly
in this time.
God will give them their reward.
The fire is already prepared.21

In another hymn, which anticipates the New Jerusalem in a remarkable forty-six verses, Schneider consoles his audience:

You, Church of God, keep your pure covenant,
namely the covenant of your groom, Christ.
For a short time be patient and suffer.
He will soon give your rest.22

Prominently, Anabaptists experienced and expressed their suffering through the drama of martyrdom, which included not only execution but also imprisonment and prosecution. Although Protestants and Catholics of the sixteenth century also published their own extensive martyrologies, those of Anabaptists were unique in that they were preserved primarily through song. When Anabaptist hymns were published, they rarely appeared with musical notation but rather with a familiar tune designation. Believers preserved these tunes, often adopted from popular folk songs, and the lyrics through communal singing and rote memorization.23 Anabaptism’s distinctive separatism, strong in-group orientation, and low literacy levels among believers contributed to hymnal martyrology for Swiss Brethren and Dutch Anabaptists in the sixteenth century.24

The extant of hymnal martyrologies was not long-lasting among some Anabaptist groups, however. Hans de Ries, who published a new Dutch Mennonite martyrology in 1615—one that became the basis of the Martyr’s Mirror—refashioned much of the content from earlier hymnals into prose. Although no information was lost, a certain distinctiveness was. This editorial decision reflected a transition in Dutch Mennonite life: the stories of martyrs were no longer memorized and sung in secret by illiterate Christians; instead, they were studied openly by the educated.25 The Swiss Brethren and their descendants, on the other hand, continued publishing updated versions of the Ausbund in America until 1785 and in Europe until 1838, which helped to maintain a “theology of suffering…long after the actual experience of martyrdom had become relatively rare.”26 Generally, however, the intense attention paid to the theology and experience salvation and suffering, sustained through early believers’ hymns, faded with their own martyrdom. Nevertheless, an interest in Anabaptist martyrdom is still alive among many present-day Anabaptists.

Despite the near absence of sixteen-century hymns in modern Anabaptist worship and experience, these songs were absolutely foundational to the experience of the Christians who wrote and sang them. The composition and singing of original hymns provided consolation, meaning, and continuity to a persecuted religious movement still in its infancy. The themes of suffering and martyrdom pointed to a distinctive and immensely meaningful aspect unique to this Reformation-era confession. Beyond the narratives which many of these hymns outlined, early Anabaptist hymnodists also unveiled their own understandings of the larger narrative of the unfolding of the Kingdom of God, as well as their place in it. Viewed from the twenty-first century, these hymns provide a unique glimpse into the temporal and existential realities of the first Anabaptists.


1. Galen A. Peters, ed., The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund: Some Beautiful Christian Songs Composed and Sung in the Prison at Passau, Published in 1564, trans. Robert A. Riall (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2003),62.

2. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, “Anabaptist Hymnody of the Sixteenth Century: A Study of Its Marked Individuality Couples with a Dependence upon Contemporary Secular and Sacred Musical Style and Form.” Ph.D. diss., Union Theological Seminary, New York, 1956, 268-269.

3. John D. Rempel, “Anabaptist Religious Literature and Hymnody,” in A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, ed. John D. Roth and James M. Stayer (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007), 391.

4. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, “Doctrinal Implications in Sixteenth Century Anabaptist Hymnody,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 35, no. 1 (January, 1961), 38.

5. Ibid., 44.

6. Peters, The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund, 266.

7. Hermina Joldersma and Louis Grijp, eds. and trans., Elisabeth’s Manly Courage: Testimonials and Songs of Martyred Anabaptist Women in the Low Countries (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2001), 91.

8. John D. Roth, “Marpeck and the Later Swiss Brethren,” in Roth and Stayer, A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, 352.

9. Peters, The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund, 409.

10. Ibid.

11. Joldersma and Grijp, Elisabeth’s Manly Courage, 119.

12. Duerksen, “Doctrinal Implications in Sixteenth Century Anabaptist Hymnody,” 42.

13. Quoted in Paul M. Yoder, et al., Four Hundred Years with the Ausbund (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1964), 45.

14. Quoted in Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 203.

15. Yoder, et al., Four Hundred Years with the Ausbund, 5-6.

16. Ibid.,6.

17. Peters, The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund, 143-148.

18. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, s.v. “Hymnology of the Anabaptists,” accessed March 2, 2019, https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hymnology_of_the_Anabaptists.

19. Quoted in Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 239.

20. Duerksen, “Anabaptist Hymnody of the Sixteenth Century,” 259.

21. Peters, The Earliest Hymns of the Ausbund, 133.

22. Ibid.,244.

23. Yoder, et al. Four Hundred Years with the Ausbund, 7.

24. Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 212.

25. Ibid., 237.

26. Roth, “Marpeck and the Later Swiss Brethren,” in Roth and Stayer, A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700, 352.

Joseph W. Miller and a Case for Reframing Amish Compulsory Education

Regina Wenger

In stark black and white, a photographer captures three Amish men clad in their dark hats and plain coats as they ascend the marble Supreme Court steps. It is a study in contrasts. The photographer snapped this picture during the 1972 proceedings of Wisconsin v. Yoder—a case involving the Amish and compulsory education. The Court unanimously ruled that education laws stood in violation of the Amish parents’ First Amendment rights to freely practice their religion. Wisconsin v. Yoder stands as a landmark ruling on religious liberty. But is religious freedom the only reason these fathers found themselves in this peculiar place?

Fair Use (AP Photo/John Duricka)

Though religious liberty may be the reason provided when Yoder and company walked up those stairs, it would be a mistake to believe that the Court’s explanation is the only one. Since the 1910s, the Amish have endured fines and jail in an effort to educate their children. In reality, the steps these men took to the Supreme Court mark only the last stage in a civil dispute between the Amish and the government regarding education. One might assume, alongside the Court, that religious freedom—however amorphous the concept—serves as the primary lens through which to interpret Amish educational practices. However, I think that to more accurately understand Yoder, and conflicts about the Amish and compulsory education more broadly, the issue needs reorienting within earlier twentieth-century educational contests over state and parental authority. An examination of one of the earliest incidents of the Amish violating compulsory education laws illustrates this necessary context.

It’s 1915. Just southeast of Cleveland is the village off Middlefield, Ohio. East of the village, in the Hayes Corner district, sat the farm of Joseph W. Miller. He, his wife Salome, and their children formed part of the Old Order Amish community that settled in Middlefield around 1886.1 The Miller children, like many of their peers, attended school as often as the weather and farm work allowed. But that situation was changing.

Beginning in the 1890s, governments in the State of Ohio and across the country increased their oversight of public education. These top-down pressures blended with local interests to radically transform American public education. Through efforts like reforming rural schools and combating child labor through compulsory education laws, professional and lay reformers turned to public education to edify the state and society. “In the process,” observes historian Tracy Steffes, “they defined children’s education and welfare as a public interest that transcended the family and community and justified new state interventions.”2 Joseph W. Miller, and other parents like him, grappled with deteriorating parental rights over their children’s education.

In 1900, Middlefield Township, where the Miller children attended, contained eight school districts: one in the village and the others in the surrounding area.3 This organizational structure underwent a massive overhaul in 1914, when Ohio consolidated its school system, specifying core content and eliminating a majority of its one-room schoolhouses.4 Geauga County, and thus Middlefield Township, quickly complied with the new structure.5 For the first time, pupils needed to show competency in particular subjects and attend school regularly. The 1915-1916 school year would be different than any before.

Ohio law required that schoolchildren know “reading, spelling, writing, English grammar, geography, and arithmetic.”6 Yet the previous spring, Miller had heard something from his oldest daughter Mary that troubled him greatly. She had said that, in geography, she had been taught that the earth was round. Based on Revelation 7:1,7 Miller believed the earth was flat. He determined that, since Mary was 12, she did not need more schooling, especially since what she was learning conflicted with biblical teachings. So in the fall of 1915, when Miller sent his four school-age children off to school, Mary stayed home.

On October 14, 1915, Fred B. Hamilton, the Middlefield truancy officer, arrested Miller for failing to send Mary to school, and as a result, preventing her from taking the state content exam. Earlier that day, Hamilton deposed himself before the justice of the peace E.H. Brigden, stating:

On or about the 14th day of October 1915, at the County of Geauga aforesaid, one Joseph Miller, being then and there the parent, to-wit:- the father of one Mary Miller a minor between the age of eight and sixteen years of age, who [h]ad not passed a satisfactory 7th grade test in studies enumerated in section No. 7762 General Code, failed to cause said minor to attend public, private, or parochial school altho [sp] said Joseph Miller had been given notice by a truant office[r] as provided by law.8

As a result of Fred Hamilton’s testimony, Justice Brigden issued a warrant for Joseph Miller’s arrest. With Miller now in custody, Hamilton appeared before Justice Brigden, who “convicted, fined, and dismissed” Miller.9 However, the brevity with which Justice Brigden processed Miller obscures deeper issues at work.

Looking at the section violation with which Justice Brigden charged Miller provides a key into the case. Ohio first passed a compulsory education law in 1877, seeking to ensure that minors attended school for at least part of the year.10 Then, due to increased concern for child labor, Ohio passed an amended law in 1890.11 When states passed these laws, they fell into two categories, one being “laws regulating schooling and the curriculum,” which “proscribed” types of education, like private education, or “prescribed” the specifics of education, such as content areas to be taught.12

The 1910 General Code of Ohio contains a whole chapter on compulsory education, listing twenty-two sections of code. Justice Brigden indicted Joseph Miller for infringing upon Section 7762, which states that “All parents, guardians and other persons who have care of children, shall instruct them, or cause them to be instructed in reading, spelling, writing, English grammar, geography and arithmetic.”13 However, the next section of code stipulated that children attend school for a specific numbers of weeks.14 Thus, by charging Miller with disobeying Section 7762 instead of Section 7763, Justice Brigden framed the case as one regarding curricular content, rather than simple truancy. It was because Mary failed the state content exam that her father faced charges. Still, for the next month Miller refused to send Mary to school. So, on November 13, he again found himself at a hearing in Justice Brigden’s court.15 The State prosecutor, Hubert O. Bostwick presented his evidence against Miller, who was found guilty and fined $20.16

Over the next several months, Miller found himself party in a series of motions, trials, and appeals over his daughter’s education. Two lawyers took Miller’s case, navigating it from the Township level, to the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, and finally the state’s Court of Appeals. It generated interest from the Amish and “English” community alike.17 However, the trail on Miller’s case goes cold after April 7, 1916, with one exception. An undated journal entry from the Ohio Court of Appeals says the following:

Upon consideration thereof the Court finds that there was an error in the proceedings below in that the Justice of the Peace and the Court of Common Pleas failed to find that the complaint therein as filed did not constitute an offence against the laws of Ohio.

The judgment of the Court of Common Pleas and of the Justice of the Peace is reversed and the plaintiff in error, Joseph Miller is discharged.

Reversing the earlier decisions, a three-judge panel reviewed the evidence and ruled in Miller’s favor.18 I wonder, if he had lost, whether Miller might have taken his case one more level to the Supreme Court of Ohio?

Folder noting the information regarding Miller’s appeal to the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives.

In pursuing legal recourse to prevent Ohio from mandating his daughter attend school and learn content that violated his beliefs, Joseph W. Miller mirrored the concerns of many other parents, though his identity as an Amishman infused his approach with particularities. Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists parents also contested the state’s power to abolish private education and set medical requirements for schoolchildren.19 The question of parental control of education remained very much in flux during the time of Miller’s trials.20

Ohio ruled on the constitutionality of compulsory education in the 1890 case Ohio v. Patrick F. Quigley, citing the logic of parens patriae, thus using parental neglect as the instrument to supersede parental authority in favor of the state best insuring the child’s welfare.21 By 1903, courts favored asserting the police powers of the Fourteenth Amendment as a method to curb parental control of education.22 This resulted in a blank check for state governments to dictate all aspects of educational policy.23 Though Miller eventually achieved a legal victory in 1916, the State of Ohio continued to consolidate and control education. Only in 1922 did the Supreme Court’s decision in Meyer v. Nebraska finally put a check on unlimited state control.

Miller’s identity as an Amishman imbued him with a particular worldview and educational philosophy, but in his attempt to preserve these ideals, he skirted the bounds of Amish tradition and discipline. As summarized by Steven Nolt, the Amish hold a premodern, communal worldview that stands in stark contrast to our own.24 The most basic unit in a community is the family, so the maintenance of the Amish way of life begins at home. According to Amishman Joseph Stoll, the Amish believe that the responsibility to educate children belongs to parents, not state-run schools.25 However, as historian Albert Keim stated,

“Consolidation appeared to the Amish as a major threat because it often ushered in new curricula and, in their view, faulty pedagogical methods…”26 While throughout the nineteenth century pubic education proved relatively compatible with Amish educational philosophy, by the early twentieth century that was no longer the case. This transition likely accounted for the mixed reports of Miller’s motivations for keeping Mary at home. One article cited the need for farm labor, the other religious reasons.27 Miller and other Amish joined their neighbors in asserting parental rights in education, but soon state power created a profound cultural shift that eventually overwhelmed most opposition. Nevertheless, Amish religious beliefs enabled their persistent challenge of the state’s authority.

Even as he stood firmly within the Amish tradition, Miller’s actions during his trial transgressed normative behaviors within Amish communities. First, he accepted legal counsel to argue his case. It’s important to remember that the Amish, for reasons of faith, preferred not to hire attorneys. To do so would be participating in the “violence of the court system,” an objectionable practice in Amish communities.28 Though in later legal cases involving compulsory education some Amish hired attorneys, considering Miller’s case falls at the beginning of Amish struggles over education, to have lawyers present appears to be unprecedented behavior. Second, Miller chose to appeal his case multiple times. Typical Amish practice would have Miller accepting the decision of the court and moving on with his life. After all, he viewed himself as a subject rather than a citizen of the United States.29 Yet, in exceptional circumstances, if obedience violates the Amish faith, then resistance is justified.30 Miller and his community likely deemed this relatively new conflict over compulsory education as exceptional. Unknowingly, Miller and other early Amish opponents of compulsory education laid the groundwork for contesting the practice that would eventually carry them in the 1970s all the way to the Supreme Court.

While the Court’s 1972 decision in Yoder to view Amish noncompliance with compulsory education a matter of religious freedom is important, to use that as the only lens for understanding the conflict remains problematic. Doing so divorces the topic from its origins in an issue—parental control of education—not exclusive to Amish religious belief. Occurring within a period of educational transition, the negotiation of state versus parental rights was contested for all Americans regardless of religious affiliation. Centering parental rights as important to understanding Amish compulsory education also offers a possible explanation for why appeal to the First Amendment became their chosen recourse in Yoder. The most notable Supreme Court jurisprudence asserting parental rights in education—Myers v. Nebraska (1922) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925)—concerned matters of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. However, the precedents established by both cases did not alleviate the conflict the Amish had with the state once compulsory education became entrenched in American public education. Instead, framing the matter as a First Amendment issue from which an assertion of parental rights emerged made for a viable constitutional case. Joseph W. Miller’s dispute with Middlefield Township over his daughter’s attendance and required content knowledge situates contests over Amish compulsory education as not only a matter of religious freedom, but also as an issue originating from the conflict over state and parental rights at the beginning of the twentieth century.


1. Steven M. Nolt, A History of the Amish (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1992), 192. This group of Amish emigrants came from a larger community located Holmes County, Ohio. Frederick Stewart Buchanan, “The Old Paths: A Study of the Amish Response to Public Schooling in Ohio,” University Microfilms, Inc. (Ann Arbor, 1967), 7. A newspaper article lists the Millers’ residence as Hayes Corners. Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Amish May Build Own School since Court Fines One Geauga County Members of Religious Sect,” December 12, 1915: 1, 4.

2. Tracy L. Steffes, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2012), 2.

3. “Middlefield Township: Geauga County, 1900.” Historic Map Works.com. Stranahan, H. B. and Company. 1900. http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/20303/Middlefield+Township/Geauga+County+1900/Ohio (accessed April 27, 2015). Rick Seyer, History of the Village, 2014, http://www.middlefieldohio.com/our-community/history.

4. Buchanan, “The Old Paths,” 33.

5. Buchanan, 35.

6. The General Assembly of Ohio, The General Code of the State of Ohio Being an Act to Revise and Consolidate the General Statutes Ohio Passed (Columbus: HeinOnline, 1910), Section 7762, 1643.

7. “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” King James Version.

8. Deposition transcript, The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives, [undated].

9./a> Hearing transcript, The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives, November 13, 1915.

10. Steven Provasnik, “Judicial Activism and the Origins of Parental Choice: The Court’s Role in the Institutionalization of Compulsory Education in the United States, 1891-1925,” History of Education Quarterly 46, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 311-47, 320.

11. Provasnik, 319-20.

12. Provasnik, 314-15.

13. The General Assembly of Ohio, The General Code, 1910, Section 7762, 1643.

14. The General Assembly of Ohio, The General Code, 1910, Section 7763, 1643. This amounts to a period of 120 days, 60 days shorter than the contemporary requirement of 180 days.

15. Hearing transcript, The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives, November 13, 1915.

16. U.S. Census Bureau,Year: 1910; Census Place: Chardon, Geauga, Ohio; Roll: T624_1185; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 0056; FHL microfilm: 1375198. Hearing Transcript, The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives, November 13, 1915.

17. “Amish May Build Own School,” Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Amish Man Appeals Case,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 18, 1915: 2. “Would Convince World Is Round,” Geauga County Record, December 17, 1915.Criminal Transcript, The State of Ohio v. Joseph W. Miller file, Geauga County Archives, November 19, 1915, 2. “Amish May Build Own School,” Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Amish Man Appeals Case,” Cleveland Plain Dealer.

18. Donald R. Ford, “A Brief History Appellate Review in Ohio and the Eleventh District Court of Appeals,” Court of Appeals in Ohio Eleventh Appellate District, Supreme Court of Ohio, January 2007, http://www.11thcourt.co.trumbull.oh.us/pdfs/11th%20District%20Court%20History.pdf, 22, 24.

19. Steffes, 142.

20.Provasnik, 328.

21. Provasnik, 330.

22. Provasnik, 336.

23. Provasnik, 337.

24. “1) That ideas expressed in words are brighter and truer than ideas which take their form in personal and community life 2) That people who accept the ideas of the eighteenth century’s so-called Age of Reason are the “enlightened” ones of the world 3) That the individual is the supreme unit, individual rights the most sacred rights, and human life the richest when individuals are most autonomous.” Nolt, 196, citing the work of Theron Schlabach.

25. Joseph Stoll, “Who Shall Educate Our Children?,” in Compulsory Education and the Amish: The Right Not to Be Modern, 16-42 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), 18.

26. Albert N. Keim, “From Erlanbach to New Glarus,” in Compulsory Education and the Amish: The Right Not to Be Modern, 1-15 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), 14.

27. “Amish May Build Own School,” Cleveland Plain Dealer.“Would Convince World Is Round,” Geauga County Record.

28. Nolt, 231. In general, Amish try to avoid all legal entanglements. They will not sue, and the community, not the courts, sorts out quarrels between Amish members. See: Paton Yoder, “The Amish View of the State,” in The Amish and the State, ed. Donald B. Kraybill, 23-42 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 36-38.

29. Donald B. Kraybill, “Negotiating with Caesar,” in The Amish and the State, ed. Donald B. Kraybill, 3-20 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 14. Yoder, 37.

30. Kraybill, “Negotiating with Caesar,” 14. Yoder, 37.

Some Reflections on Early Anabaptists and the Creeds

This past summer I found myself reviewing a number of classic early Anabaptist works as I researched and wrote a chapter on Anabaptist eschatology. As I researched and read I was struck by an unrelated phenomenon—the prevalence of the creeds in several of these writings. In the four years since I first began attending a Mennonite Church, I have sometimes heard Anabaptists referred to as non-creedal Christians. It is certainly true that, when asked to describe what it means to be Anabaptist, most Anabaptists will understandably give an answer that prioritizes doctrines and practices that are not common to the majority of Christian churches, particularly pacifism or credobaptism. Similarly, when drawing doctrinal boundaries around their churches (something they were as ready to do as the state churches, though not at the point of a sword), Anabaptists have tended to appeal to Scripture directly, since its authority superseded any creeds and confessions, however valuable.1 Nevertheless, insofar as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds can be said to summarize the essentials of the Christian faith, the earliest Anabaptists upheld these teaching with only a few exceptions.

Of these exceptions, the anti-Trinitarianism of Adam Pastor and of the Polish Brethren was never particularly popular, and in Pastor’s case resulted in his being banned. The more significant exception is Melchior Hoffman’s Christology—his assertion that Christ took no human flesh from Mary, who served only as a vessel, and instead possessed his own, celestial flesh. Menno Simons also adopted and promulgated this Christology—indeed it was one of the most significant features the Mennonites inherited from their predecessors the Melchiorites as they sifted through the legacy of Münster and determined what to retain and what to rebuke. Despite Menno and Dirk Phillips’ defense of this doctrine, support for it faded over the ensuing centuries, as the Dutch Mennonites made common cause with Swiss Anabaptists.2 This teaching was not necessarily irreconcilable with the letter of the Apostles’ Creed (they did still believe Christ to be born of the virgin Mary) but it was unquestionably a departure from the way these creeds had historically been interpreted. Nevertheless, the Dutch Anabaptist Thieleman Janzs van Braght, writing in the seventeenth century, had no trouble including the Apostles’ Creed in the Martyrs’ Mirror as a distillation of true, simple faith, and he described the three representative seventeenth-century confessions of faith that followed as elaborations on this core creed.3

The most enthusiastically creedal of the early Anabaptists was undoubtedly Balthasar Hubmaier. He referred often to the Apostles’ Creed, or the Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith. He considered acquiescence to and understanding of these articles a prerequisite for baptism and included them in his Christian Catechism, published in early 1527.4 During his 1526 imprisonment in Zurich, he even produced a devotional writing centered entirely around the Apostles’ Creed. He expanded upon the creed’s articles and transformed it into a prayer by changing the pronouns for God from the third to the second person, expressing the comfort and hope that he found in these doctrines.5 He also found the Apostles’ Creed polemically useful and appealed to it to advocate against the doctrine of transubstantiation and for believers’ baptism.6 As far as Hubmaier was concerned, the form of Christianity for which he advocated was not only compatible with these twelve articles, it was in fact more faithful to them than Catholic, Zwinglian, or Lutheran forms of Christianity.

The Hutterite Theologian Peter Riedemann likewise drew extensively on the Apostles’ Creed when he wrote his Confession of Faith during his imprisonment in the early 1540s. The Creed formed the scaffolding of the first part of the confession, as he elaborated on each clause: his beliefs on God the Father, the creation of Heaven and earth, Christ the son, the incarnation, and so forth. In choosing this framework, Riedemann appealed to many beliefs he held in common with his captors, but he also provided a distinctly Anabaptist gloss on these beliefs, emphasizing the importance of gathering a church without spot or wrinkle.7 He then went on to elaborate the points where Hutterite teaching diverged, including believers’ baptism, community of goods, and opposition to warfare.

The text of hymn 2 in the Ausbund, as printed in Lancaster in 1856 by Johann Baer and Sons.

Hymnody has long been a method of doctrinal formation for Anabaptists, and the second hymn of the Ausbund provided the faithful in Switzerland with the opportunity to rehearse the teachings of the creeds. The hymn is described as “the Christian faith, in song form,” and consists of three verses, one for each person of the Trinity. It appears to be an attempt to harmonize the two principal Christian creeds: it contains elements unique to the Apostles’ Creed, such as Christ’s descent into hell, as well as to the Nicene Creed, such as the description of Christ as “begotten, not made” and “of one substance with the Father” and the mention of baptism. At times, it elaborates further than either Creed. Nearly half of the stanza on God the Father lists “things visible” he has created—plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, and humans—before concluding with a mention of “things invisible.”8

The first generation of Anabaptists all converted as adults, after having already received some amount of Christian spiritual formation. These creeds formed part of the foundation that they brought with them into their new understanding of Christianity. Even as they were foundational, however, they were largely taken for granted—unlike nonresistance or believers’ baptism, the creeds were never under attack by either Catholics or magisterial Protestants. The creeds, then, could be seen as a quieter, less visible part of early Anabaptist identity—not particularly useful to distinguish Anabaptists from other Christians or explain the persecution they suffered, but nevertheless a useful description of the God in whom they trusted and the future for which they hoped.


1 They did, however, consistently engage in the work of attempting to formulate confessions that they felt faithfully reflected Scripture. See Karl Koop (ed.), Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition, 1527-1660, second edition (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2019).

2 For more, see C. Arnold Snyder, “Christology” in Anabaptist History and Theology: Revised Student Edition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1997), 375-390.

3 Thieleman Janzs van Braght, Het Bloedig Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doopsgesinde of Weereloose Christenen (Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts et al., 1685). https://books.google.com/books?id=UxmlV7PyedoC Support for the Melchiorite formulation of the Incarnation was already reduced by this point. The seventeenth-century van Braght includes take no firm position but instead acknowledge the longstanding debate among the Brethren on this question and content themselves with describing Christ’s incarnation as miraculous, however unknowable the specifics might be.

4 Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Christian Catechism which Everyone Should Know Before He Is Baptized” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 349; Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Form for Baptism in Water of Those Who Have Been Instructed in Faith” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 387.

5 Balthasar Hubmaier, “The Twelve Articles of the Christian Faith, Phrased in the Form of a Prayer at Zurich on the Water Tower” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 235-240.

6 Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Letter to Oecolampad” in Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, edited by H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 70.

7 Peter Rideman, Confession of Faith, translated by Kathleen E. Hasenberg (Bungay, Suffolk: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956), 38.

8 Ausbund, Das Ist Etliche Schöne Christliche Lieder, Wie Sie in Dem Gefängnis zu Passau in dem Schloss von den Schweizer-Brüdern und von Andern Rechtglaubigen Christen Hin und Her Gedichtet Worden (Lancaster: Johann Baer and Sons, 1856), 5-8. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ausbund/VKZXSla-jKoC

Health and Well-being in Amish Society: Assessing Cultures of Well-Being

“Assessing Cultures of Well-Being” was a panel during session three of the 2019 Amish Conference, Health and Well-being in Amish Society, held June 6 through 8, hosted by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. A full listing of the presentations, as well as abstracts, can be found on the Young Center’s website.

“Mobile Internet Is Worse than the Internet; It Can Destroy Our Community”: Old Order Amish and Ultra-Orthodox Women’s Responses to Cell Phone and Smartphone Use, Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar

  • Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar is a senior lecturer at Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel, and teaches courses in research methods, communication, religion, and gender. Shahar presented a case study on the use of cell phones and smart phones among women in the Old Order Amish of Pennsylvania and the Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. The study investigated three questions: what is the usage pattern of cell phone and smart phone among the women in these communities; what are the women’s perceptions on the use of cell phones and smart phones; and what symbolic meanings do the women attribute to these devices. The study was conducted from 2012 to 2019 and used participant observation, interviews, and surveys.
  • The study found the following patterns: five percent of the Amish women own a cell phone, but sixty percent of them responded positively to the question “Have you ever used a mobile phone.” Ninety percent of the surveyed Ultra-Orthodox women owned a cell phone, and one hundred percent had made use of one. No one in either group owns a smart phone.
  • The perception of mobile phones is largely negative. Complaints include that the content is not good, the phones take too much time, and the phones are counter to community values. One Ultra-Orthodox participant reflected, “The smart phone is the most dangerous device . . . it has impure content, everything is there.”
  • Shahar concluded that Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women help us view the mass use of mobile phones from an outside perspective, such as by treating smart phones as transitional objects (working from an Attachment theory context) that move towards enmeshment in body and soul.

“The Dawdihaus: A Noun and a Verb, the Life and Voices of Loved Ones that Extend Generations. A Study in Rural Health and Rural Gerontology among the Amish and Other Plain People,” Claire Marie Mensack

  • Claire Marie Mensack is a community health educator with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and is an adjunct assistant professor at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. Mensack started by placing the Amish treatment of the elderly in the context of the rapidly aging United States population in which everyone is living longer, but are living longer with more disease and disability. In this context, the Amish are part of aging populations because the Amish use hospice and other sources of medical care. The Dawdihaus (lit. grandfather house) is a family dwelling, either attached or separated from the main house, used by the aging parents of adult children. This allows aging individuals to remain in close proximity to their family. It can be understood as one outcome of Amish collectivism.
  • Mensack pulled case studies from three communities: The Nebraska Amish in the Kishacoquillas Valley (also known as Kish Valley or Big Valley); the Delaware Amish; and the Union Grove North Carolina Amish (New Order Amish, established in 1995, only in partial fellowship with other New Order Amish settlements). Coming from a public health background, Mensack used a “walk along, go along method” commonly used to study health issues, focusing on how place and space influence health.
  • In the Nebraska Amish case study, the Dawdihaus was added by a family in 1999, twenty-five years after the main house was built. When the couple moved into the Dawdihaus , they moved their oldest daughter into the main house. In the Dover Delaware Amish case study, a family also built a Dawdihaus in 1999, but thirty-nine years after the main house was built. Again, the oldest daughter and her family moved into the main house. Notably, in the North Carolina group, the parents did not choose to move into a Dawdihaus —their children met separately and decided to move their parents into one.
  • In the question and answer session, Donald Kraybill noted that among Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish, it seems to be the youngest son who takes the main house when the parents move into the Dawdihaus. This is not a prescribed transition, however, and varies with the family and their circumstances.

“Anomie, Egoism, and the Amish: A Durkheimian Examination,” Robert A. Strikwerda 

  • Robert A. Strikwerda is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and director of the Global and Local Social Justice Program at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. He gave a theoretical consideration of Anomie and Amish society that followed a Durkheimian model, and he included a primary consideration of Amish suicide rates.
  • The Amish have a high degree of integration and regulation, with a culture of “giving way” as a mode of discipline. Face-to-face interaction is key, which is why church districts are kept small. The Amish context does allow some agency, which prevents an unhealthy amount of integration. This can be seen in the individual’s choice to join the church and to choose a spouse. Agency in Amish communities can also be seen in permitted geographic mobility as well as free choice in business.

“Diddy In A Buggy”: A Rapper, The Amish, and The Fresh Air Fund

Tobin Miller Shearer

Hip-hop artist, rapper, and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs reminisced about his experience with the Fresh Air Fund (FAF) during an interview with talk show host Jimmy Kimmel on August 1, 2018. Combs described his time among the Plain people as a “beautiful” experience that formed his identity. He recalled milking cows, picking berries, riding buggies, and eating large Amish meals, all of which – in the absence of electronics – “taught him how to just relate with each other.” He concluded his reminiscence with a “shout-out to the Fresh Air Fund.”

Combs sounds nostalgic in the interview despite Kimmel’s repeated attempts to poke fun at the experience. Rather than a means to obtain cheap child labor – Kimmel suggested that the Amish had “somehow bamboozled this charity into sending you there to work” – Combs mentioned how often he thought about his host family and how they had contributed to his life. When Kimmel joked that Combs should hitch a horse to his Bentley to recreate the buggy rides of his youth, the rap star and actor stayed serious, emphasizing that he “truly appreciated” his summer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Combs’s memory holds only positive associations with his summer hosting venture.

The juxtaposition of a world-wise, very wealthy, hip-hop artist with the world-wary, frugal, hymn-singing Amish captured the media’s attention. In addition to dozens of accounts on entertainment portals ranging from People magazine to Billboard.com, the venerable BBC News also reported on the exchange five days after the interview appeared. Always media savvy in their fundraising efforts, the FAF tweeted out a link to the Kimmel interview within forty-eight hours.

The story told by Combs echoes the prevailing narrative about the Fresh Air Fund. It is a tale composed with nostalgia, sung without discord, resonate with racial harmony. Since its founding in 1877, the Fund has brought city children to the country for summer stays – most of them of the one- to two-week variety. Combs purported two-month stay is much rarer. Beginning in the 1940s and 50s as white flight resulted in increasingly black and brown urban centers, the Fund shifted from sending white ethnic children from the city to white rural hosts to sending African-American and Latinx children from the city to white rural hosts. As told in thousands of glowing newspaper accounts generated by the Fund for distribution to regional newspapers, happy hosts welcomed happy children to rural and suburban communities invariably happy to host them.

There was no room for another narrative in the Fund’s accounts. Nostalgia from public figures like tennis champion Arthur Ashe, crooner Bing Crosby, comedian Jimmy Durante, actor Lauren Bacall, and singer Ethel Merman only offered positive testimonies.

Photo 1 - Eastern Mennonite Missions Train Station Pick-up

Eastern Mennonite Missions Train Station Pick-up (circa late 1950s): Edith and John Boll with unidentified Fresh Air participant at Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, train station. Used by permission of Eastern Mennonite Missions, Salunga, PA (EMM – Record Room, File Cabinets middle isle, Drawer marked, Information Services Picture File, File: Archives – Home Ministries, Children’s Visitation Program).

And the Amish and Mennonites frequently starred in those accounts. A 1958 press release praised the Mennonite family who hosted a family of five fresh air boys from New York City for an off-season Christmas visit replete with a feast of turkey and stuffing, sweet pickles, peas, carrots, cranberry sauce, plum pudding, fruit cake and ice cream for dessert. Summer’s Children, a 1964 promotional film produced by the Fund, featured Mennonite and Amish families. In 1976, the Fund’s executive director Lisa Pulling noted that Mennonites made Pennsylvania the “most popular place to go” other than New York itself. That same year, newspapers across the country featured a column by popular writer George Will in which he praised the Amish for their Fresh Air hosting in glowing terms every bit as nostalgic as those offered by Combs. After describing the “creak and jingle of harnesses, and the clippity-clop of hooves on pavement,” Will described the family of Benuel Smucker in Ronks, Pennsylvania, who “have no truck with modernity, including electricity, a fact which does not bother their guests from the Big Apple — twin eight-year-old black boys.” Combs was far from the only African-American child to have discovered the appeal of rustic, rural havens.

As the burst of interest in Combs’s story makes evident, the prospect of placing urban children of color with pristine symbols of the nation’s agrarian past – scholar and poet Julia Kasdorf refers to the Amish as “whiter than white:  innocent, pure, plain—Puritans but without their unhappy edge” – has mass appeal. When placing innocents with innocents, everybody wins. There is no racial loser; no antagonist; only the celebration of borders crossed and friendships won.

However, that formula of doubled innocence did not always balance. Children grew homesick and begged to return to the city. Busloads cheered upon crossing back over into New York City. Neighbors, townspeople, and sometimes hosts used racial epithets to refer to their charges. Accusations of theft abounded. Administrators had to remind the hosts that they were not just getting free labor. Assured that they were getting a vacation, some guests balked at the demands of chores and refused to toil without compensation. Up until the mid-1980s, the Fresh Air Fund paid little attention to screening hosts for a history of sexual abuse even while intensively screening the children for STDs and other communicable diseases. The narrative related by Combs is, at the very least, more complex than he suggested.

As much as I was fascinated to hear Combs talk about his Fresh Air experience, it was not the content of the narrative itself that drew my attention. While my research suggests a far more problematic story than the one he told – particularly when the model itself continues to be one-way, short-term, urban-negative, and racially paternalistic – it was the nostalgic way he told the story that I found most gripping.

No matter how hard Kimmel tried to make light of Combs’s reminiscences, he stayed sincere and focused on the positive memories that he held of his time with the Amish. Here was a highly successful entrepreneur whose personal worth tops $800 million, a man who lavishes expensive gifts on his children, a philanthropist who has founded his own program to assist urban youth – one that includes a summer camp each year – and who has given generously to both victims of Hurricane Katrina and students at Howard University. Amid that material success, he harkened back to his time with the Plain people, a group whose lifestyle and commitments seem light years from his own.

But through nostalgia – an emotion defined by sentimental longing and a wistful yearning for better times gone by – Combs made a connection. He saw in his life some measure of charity, hard-work, care for children, and simplicity. He claimed to have learned those values, at least in part, from the Amish; the experience “helped to make me what I am,” he explained in his interview with Kimmel.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. Our current president used its appeal to great effect in his most recent campaign. Yet, as was the case with Combs and the Fresh Air Fund, nostalgic appeals often cover over the complexities and underside of history and, in so doing, create a past that never really existed. That’s why the writing and research of history are so critical at this moment. Without a grounding in as much evidence as can be mustered, we risk basing our decisions on fanciful and false presentations of the past.

Combs said in the interview that he would love to know if his host family realized what he grew up to become. Apparently they do, since his sister, who also stayed with the same Amish family in eastern Lancaster County, recently contacted them.

Should Combs talk with his former hosts, I wonder what they would discuss. As is the case in the vast majority of Fresh Air exchanges, long-term relationships are rare, difficult to sustain, and often end when the children enter adolescence. A great deal of evidence shows that white host families are much more reluctant to host teenagers due to the possibility of interracial romance blossoming. Nonetheless, perhaps they would discuss Combs’s efforts to better the lives of other children from the city. Perhaps they would chat about additional memories Combs carries from his sojourn. They might even talk over the ways in which Combs life remains so far from their own.

But, if I had to guess, I would venture that they would spend at least some small measure of their time simply reminiscing about, in the words of Kimmel, the now incongruous image of “Diddy in a buggy.”

Works Cited

Crandell, Richard F., ed. The Frog Log and Other Stories About Children. New York: Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund, 1962.

“Fresh Idea in ’77 Becomes Fun Fund for City Children.” New York Times, Sunday, May 23, 1976, 51.

Hechler, David. The Battle and the Backlash: The Child Sexual Abuse War.  Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988.

Kasdorf, Julia Spicher. “‘Why We Fear the Amish’: Whiter Than White Figures in Contemporary American Poetry.” In The Amish and the Media, edited by Diane Zimmerman Umble and David Weaver-Zercher, 67-90. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2008.

“Lancaster Holds Film Premier.” What’s In the Air, Fall 1964, 1-2.

Shearer, Tobin Miller. Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.

Will, George F. “Amish Able Hosts to New York Children.” The Post-Crescent, Saturday, August 7, 1976, A-4.

 

[^1]: Richard F. Crandell, ed. The Frog Log and Other Stories About Children (New York: Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund, 1962).

[^2]: “Lancaster Holds Film Premier,” What’s In the Air, Fall 1964.

[^3]: “Fresh Idea in ’77 Becomes Fun Fund for City Children,” New York Times, Sunday, May 23, 1976.

[^4]: George F. Will, “Amish Able Hosts to New York Children,” The Post-Crescent, Saturday, August 7, 1976.

[^5]: Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “‘Why We Fear the Amish’: Whiter Than White Figures in Contemporary American Poetry,” in The Amish and the Media, ed. Diane Zimmerman Umble and David Weaver-Zercher (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2008), 69.

[^6]: David Hechler, The Battle and the Backlash: The Child Sexual Abuse War (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988), 29-54.

[^7]: I explore all these themes in my recent book: Tobin Miller Shearer, Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017).

[^8]: “Sean Combs, “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Combs#Charity_work_and_honors, Wikipedia, accessed August 7, 2018.

[^9]: Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs wants to find the Lancaster Amish couple he spent summers with as a Fresh Air Kid” LNP Monday, August 7, 2018 https://lancasteronline.com/features/entertainment/sean-diddy-combs-wants-to-find-the-lancaster-amish-couple/article_cd3b8412-9973-11e8-8892-4be24b7102d6.html

[^10]: Shearer, 79.

Annual Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies Mini-Conference

 

 
APASA mini-conferences are low-key events that provide an opportunity to share your work and get feedback, meet colleagues who have similar focuses, and discover potential collaborators.


The 2018 Annual Mini-Conference

Holmes County, OH: June 1, 2018

At the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center (“Behalt”)

DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS: Friday, April 13th. CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT.

We invite abstracts and proposals for posters, paper presentations, organized sessions, or panels / round-tables.

AFFORDABILITY
In addition to being within closer reach of most plain Anabaptist scholars, the Holmes County location also allows us to substantially reduce the registration fee to $15 for APASA members (and $35 for non-members).

EXPLORE NEW RESOURCES
If you have not had a chance to visit the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center’s new library wing, this mini-conference will give you the opportunity to get acquainted with its materials and research resources. And if you have not seen the Center’s main attraction—the magnificent 360-degree “Behalt” painting of Amish and Mennonite history—this will be your chance.

Registration: Members-$15; Non-members-$35 (payable on-site)

Meals: Meals will be held at local restaurants. Registration fee does not include meals, which is estimated at $10-$20 per meal.

Lodging: Attendees are responsible for arranging their own lodging if needed. Hotels are available in Berlin, Millersburg, Walnut Creek, Sugarcreek, New Philadelphia / Dover, and Wooster, and advance reservations are suggested due to this being the late spring tourist season.

Will the Amish Vote for Donald Trump?

Javan Lapp

As the 2016 Presidential election heads into its final stretch, Americans are once again debating the merits of different candidates. Deeply held beliefs and perceptions of national identity and priorities are spilling out into everyday conversations wherever people meet or work. As the media and citizenry alike watch the political landscape for clues of emerging trends, the Amish have been featured in occasional speculation about electoral allegiances. Because “Anabaptist Historians” probes Anabaptist histories in an effort to connect the contemporary issues to the past, this post will attempt to provide historical context for the question: “Will the Amish vote for Trump?”

Media Interest

Media interest in the question of Amish support for Trump began in May when the Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper LNP first ran an article reporting on the creation of Amish PAC, a political action committee run by professional political operatives whose goal was to drive up Amish turnout and support for the GOP ticket. The article noted that this new group was an entirely new innovation “because it is being run by political professionals from inside the Washington Beltway instead of by local party workers or campaigns.”1 The creation of Amish PAC did not go unnoticed by other media, and several weeks later Politico carried an article entitled “Amish for Trump.” The premise for the article was spelled out rather clearly in the subtitle/explanation line: “Can Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich allies convince this anti-divorce, tech-shunning group to back the boasting billionaire?”2

Media attention continued to follow the activities of Amish PAC. In July, LNP reported on the Amish PAC’s launching of newspaper ads and billboards.3 These ads have been placed in publications read by the Amish and have explicitly targeted Amish and other Plain group participation in the 2016 election. The strategy of these Amish PAC ads was to introduce Donald Trump as a successful businessman who would stand up to political corruption. In August, The Philadelphia Inquirer took notice of the activities of Amish PAC,4 and US News and World Report carried an article by Kyle Kopko entitled, “Will the Amish turnout for Trump? Don’t Bet the Farm.”5 Kopko’s article reviewed the research he did with Donald Kraybill analyzing the effort to convince the Amish to turnout for George W. Bush in the 2004 election.6

Media attention to Amish support of Donald Trump intensified after Trump held a large rally in western Lancaster County. On September 30, 2016, Trump made held a rally at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pennsylvania. The crowd size was estimated at 6,000 people. Although there wasn’t a specific Amish outreach component to the rally in this strong GOP stronghold, Trump was clearly aware that he was in Amish Country as he made note of the tenth anniversary of the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting.7 Numerous media reports after the rally took note of Amish attendance at the rally, including LNP8 and Al Jazeera.9

Historical Precedent – 2004

Donald Kraybill and Kyle Kopko’s previously cited analysis of the participation of Lancaster County Amish in the 2004 election is a thorough review of a very aggressive effort to use the Amish as a new electoral tool to help boost Republican support in swing state Pennsylvania.  The below points are a few summary points from their research:

  1. While voting is not anathema to all Amish or forbidden by the Ordnung that governs Amish life, there is a strong reluctance to political participation. This reluctance is tied to communal and theological values and is hard to overcome.
  2. The Republican outreach attempts of 2004 were bolstered by strong community advocates and three separate visits Bush made to the area that included direct meetings with the Amish. In these meetings Bush impressed the Amish with humble and folksy demeanor they could relate to and trust.
  3. Many Amish identified with key item’s in Bush’s 2004 platform, especially related to traditional values and opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
  4. In the fall of 2004 approximately 20.6% of voting-age Amish in Lancaster County were registered to vote. The 2,134 Lancaster County Amish that were registered to vote in 2004 represented a large jump from the 598 who were registered to vote in 2000. Nearly all of them (92.6%) were registered as Republicans. Amish voter turnout in 2004 was 62.9%, meaning approximately 13% of voting-age Lancaster County Amish cast a ballot in 2004.
  5. Despite the pre-election rhetoric about the role the Amish could play in a swing state like Pennsylvania, the 1,342 Lancaster County Amish who voted in 2004 was a statistically small number compared to the 144,248 vote margin by which Bush lost Pennsylvania to Kerry.
  6. Kraybill and Kopko also noted that Amish voter registration and turnout percentages were more than double that of Old Order Mennonite groups in the county.

If the historical precedent of 2004 has much relevance to the question of whether Amish will vote for Donald Trump on November 8, we can expect the Amish PAC and politically active Amish to provide the backdrop for interesting conversations in Lancaster County.  To expect a large shift in Amish voter participation, however, would be to expect Trump to have far greater appeal to the larger Amish community than Bush did.  Now there’s a question that history won’t be able to answer until November 9.


  1. Sam Janesch, “New PAC looks to get Amish vote for Donald Trump,” LNP Online, May 15, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/politics/new-pac-looks-to-get-amish-vote-for-donald-trump/article_45bad350-1949-11e6-a23a-33ecffcf4a7f.html 
  2. Katie Glueck,”Amish for Trump,” Politico, May 29, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/donald-trump-amish-voters-223669 
  3. Sam Janesch, “Amish PAC launches newspaper ads to introduce the Plain community to Donald Trump,”  LNP Online, July 14, 2016, “http://lancasteronline.com/news/politics/amish-pac-launches-newspaper-ads-to-introduce-the-plain-community/article_b5b2b7c8-4940-11e6-8b28-a7a06b9a1fc7.html
    http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/have-you-seen-these-donald-trump-billboards-going-up-in/article_ce962892-5403-11e6-af72-4fec2f4dc67e.html 
  4. Michael Matza, “For Donald Trump, the Plain People are plainly in play,” Philly.com, August 15, 2016, http://articles.philly.com/2016-08-15/news/74996709_1_amish-people-donald-trump-amish-horse-and-buggy 
  5. Kyle C. Kopko, “Will the Amish turn out for Donald Trump? Don’t bet the farm,” U.S. News and World Report, August 4, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-08-04/will-the-amish-turn-out-for-trump-dont-bet-the-farm 
  6. Donald B. Kraybill and Kyle C. Kopko, “Bush Fever:  Amish and Old Order Mennonites   in the 2004 Presidential Election,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 81 (July 2007), 165-205.  Also available online at http://www.kylekopko.com/Research_files/Bush_Fever.pdf 
  7. Sam Janesch, “Donald Trump bashes Clinton in rally with 6,000 supporters in Lancaster,” LNP Online, October 1, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/pennsylvania/donald-trump-bashes-clinton-in-rally-with-supporters-in-lancaster/article_7f346dfc-8844-11e6-a77b-93622ea539c0.html 
  8.  Jessica Sarhan, “US Elections: America’s Amish voters,” Aljazeera.com, September 29,2016 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/09/elections-america-amish-voters-160915122802283.html 
  9. Jeff Hawkes and Heather Stauffer, “Thousands lined up for Trump rally at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster County,” LNP Online, October 1, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/thousands-lined-up-for-trump-rally-at-spooky-nook-sports/article_9185f928-87f2-11e6-8311-6bf987b32c25.html 

Shoofly Pie, Pennsylvania Dutch, and the Mennonites

As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine1 by William Woys Weaver is many things: it is a detailed look at the foodways among the Pennsylvania Dutch, a commentary on modern culture, and a cookbook. It is scholarly and snarky. It purposely does not focus on Anabaptists, though it does deal extensively with the Amish in popular imagination. Weaver states in his introduction: “In terms of the larger culinary story, the Amish are mostly marginal anyway because the real centers of creative Pennsylvania Dutch cookery were in the towns and not to be found among the outlying Amish or Mennonite communities, even though today the Mennonites have attempted to preempt the Amish as their cultural public-relations handlers in their Amish and Mennonite cookbooks to press for ‘Christian’ culinary values—whatever that may mean” (7). He is also clear that one of his major criteria for the recipes he highlights in the book was to contrast against the “artificial portrait” created by Amish tourism (8).15094

What Weaver sets about doing in As American as Shoofly Pie is to take food as the avenue into Pennsylvania Dutch culture to discuss its identity markers—historic and current—as well as the class dynamics involved, portrayals in popular culture, and the commercially driven conflation of the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch. He details cooking implements, the “cabbage wall” of sauerkraut defining the borders of Pennsylvania Dutch country, how the Amish imagery became normative for Pennsylvania Dutch tourism, and how the culture is renewing itself. It is an excellent read, both informative and engagingly written.2

I use here the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” instead of “Pennsylvania German” for two reasons: first, because that is the terminology of Weaver, and second, because the “Pennsylvania Dutch” have no connection to the nation-state of Germany, past or present. On the second point, I will offer a story from my wife’s family history:

When Pop-Pop Riegle was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, the camp taught German to the POWs. The guards doubled over in laughter to hear the POWs from New York City try to pronounce words with a New York accent. My grandfather, from what I understand, could converse with the guards easily, because he spoke Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch. The German guards asked him why he was fighting for the wrong side. To them, speaking German meant loyalty to Deutschland. For my grandfather, speaking a German dialect was part of his American culture.

Furthermore, it seems this story is borne out in every ethnography of the Pennsylvania Dutch I have encountered. They all carry a variation of the following: A researcher walks up to some Pennsylvania Dutch women and asks them about how they describe themselves, only to be rebuffed with, “We’re not Pennsylvania Dutch, we’re American.” The Pennsylvania Dutch are an American cultural group consisting of a blend of German speakers, mostly Palatinate and Swiss, who settled together. The eponym “Dutch” has long roots going back into medieval Europe as a term for western German speakers. They can be divided into two broad categories, the Plain Dutch, such as the Amish and Mennonites, or the Gay (Fancy) Dutch, such as my wife’s Lutheran and Reformed forebears.

It is important for Mennonite scholars to remember that Mennonite fish were just one school swimming in Pennsylvania Dutch water. Even though they may have been marginal in shaping Pennsylvania Dutch culture, as Weaver notes, they were still shaped by it. Mennonites all across South Central Pennsylvania were surrounded by people who spoke, ate, and worked in the same ways they did—the majority of them Lutheran or Reformed, but also the Amish, Church of the Brethren, and other plain Anabaptists.[^3]  As Felipe Hinojosa has noted, place matters—both in space and time, as well as culturally. The Swiss-German strain of the Mennonite experience practiced their faith and promulgated their beliefs not in ethnic colonies but surrounded by a shared culture that itself was distinctive from broader America. Surely this has led to a different way of knowing and living as Mennonites. For this reason, scholars dealing with Mennonite identity must familiarize themselves with Pennsylvania Dutch culture. For its insistence on placing the Pennsylvania Dutch culture within the broader national culture, and his disgust at the conflation of the Amish with the Pennsylvania Dutch, Weaver’s As American as Shoofly Pie is an excellent place to start.


  1. William Woys Weaver, As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). 
  2. This is not to say there are no points where I disagree with Weaver.  For example, his repetition of Rufus Jones’ claim that the Amish adapted bonnets from Quakers as “common knowledge” (135) is uncritical at best.
    [^3] Moravians are one of the German groups that maintained a markedly different culture than that of the Pennsylvania Dutch.