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The Amish in the U.S. and Canada: since 1900

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See the previous essay for developments before the year 1900

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Developments during the 20th century:

bullet 1917: World War I: Canada began drafting young men, but gave agricultural releases to Amish youth. These ended in 1918-APR. Most Amish who were subsequently drafted into the armed forces were given indefinite leaves of absence in recognition of their conscientious objector (CO) status. The U.S. entered the war in the spring of 1917, and also started drafting men. The legislation provided for religious conscientious objectors, but there was no formal system for recognizing their status. Amish youth were required to report for duty. Some cooperated by undergoing training; most refused; some were physically and mentally abused in an effort to get them to join the military.

bullet 1921: Ohio schools: Many Old Order Amish felt that high school and post-secondary education were a waste of their children's time. " 'Worldly wisdom' which went beyond the practical knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics posed a real threat to the Amish way of life and to church teaching on humility, simplicity, and mutual aid. Spending time in school for nine months a year with teachers who were hostile to Amish beliefs and traditions was not something that Amish parents wanted for their young people." 1 The state of Ohio passed the Bing Act in 1921 which required all children to attend school until they reached the age of 18. This conflicted with the Amish tradition of terminating their children's education after graduation from grade 8. The Amish compromised by applying for work release permits for their children at age 16.

bullet 1927: The Beachy Amish: This group is also referred to as the Beachy Amish Mennonites. Conflict arose among the Old Order Amish in Somerset County, PA. Some members had left the group and affiliated with a nearby Conservative Amish Mennonite congregation which was somewhat more liberal than the Old Order. Members who left had been strictly shunned. A new associate bishop, Moses M. Beachy was ordained in the Old Order. He announced that he would neither excommunicate nor shun Old Order Amish who had become Amish Mennonites. His church's members deviated further from Old Order traditions, by founding Sunday schools, meeting in a church building, wiring their homes for commercial electricity, relaxing dress standards, and buying automobiles. For the next three decades, the movement spread to Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada.

bullet 1937: Pennsylvania schools: East Lampeter Township in Lancaster County, PA decided to close ten one-room schools and replace them with a single, centrally located, consolidated school. The Amish objected, and the governor compromised by keeping a single one-room school open for them. However, the state passed a new law that year requiring children to be fifteen years of age before they could obtain a work permit and leave school. This was rolled back to fourteen years after the Amish circulated a petition. In late 1938, Lancaster County Amish opened the first of two parochial schools.

bullet 1939: World War II: Canada declared war on Germany in the fall of 1939; the U.S. entered the war two years later. This time, Brethren Mennonite, Quaker and other religious leaders had negotiated a better deal with the government for conscientious objectors. The Canadian Alternative Service Work (ASW) and American Civil Public Service (CPS) programs allowed COs to be assigned to non-military work assignments. Of the 772 Old Order Amish who were drafted, 23 entered the army, 27 chose non-combatant military tasks, and 722 declared themselves COs.

Many Amish refused to use the wartime ration stamps that the government distributed to regulate the purchase of food and other necessities. Their main objection was that the stamps contained images of tanks, planes and other military equipment. They found ways of doing without food and other materials.

bullet 1952: Conscientious objectors: The U.S. draft returned in 1948. In 1952, conscientious objectors were required to work for two years in an alternative  program, called 1-W.  Amish youth were typically employed in cities, where they had almost complete freedom of action outside of work hours. Some became integrated into "The English" (non-Amish) culture and never returned to their families. Others became emotionally troubled by the culture shock of being exposed to non-Amish society.

bullet 1955: Social Security: Congress expanded the Social Security program to include all self-employed farmers. Most Amish felt that government social programs of this type violated their traditions. The Amish had always cared for their own people. Many refused to pay into the system. The federal government placed liens on Amish property and sometimes foreclosed and sold several farms in order to collect premiums. In one memorable incident, government agents stopped Valentine Byler in New Wilmington, PA while he was plowing in his fields and took possession of three of his horses for sale. Anger from "The English" forced the government to back down. Later in the year, Congress exempted the Amish from both Medicare and Social Security.

bullet 1966: Conscientious objectors: Some Amish leaders found that about half of their drafted young men never returned home. The Beachy Amish tackled this attrition by creating retirement homes in five states, and arranging Amish COs to work there without experiencing culture shock. They also founded mission programs in Europe, Canada and Latin America. Their COs partly staffed their North American offices and warehouses. The Old Order Amish tried a different approach. They organized a National Amish Steering Committee to negotiate alternative arrangements with the government. This was a major departure for the Old Order; their basic organizational unit had always been the individual congregation; never before did they have a national group speaking for them. In 1969, the committee was able to arrange a system of farm deferments for its COs.

bullet 1966: The New Order Amish: Doctrinal disputes plagued the Old Order throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Most dealt with:
bullet The policy of shunning Amish who left to join other Amish groups.

bullet Some Amish were experiencing what were called spiritual awakenings and personal encounters with God.

bullet Some believers rejected their historical belief that one can only hope for salvation in this life, by continuing Amish traditions as long as they lived. A minority suggested that a person can be totally assured of their salvation through a conversion experience. Many of the latter group also advocated the use of mechanized farming equipment and the installation of telephones in homes.

In 1966, about one hundred families withdrew from the Old Order in Lancaster County, PA, and formed two new church congregations which they called "New Order Amish." The schism spread to other states. Some chose the name "Amish Brotherhood." They are generally regarded as a sub-group within the Old Order Amish.

bullet 1967: School problems continue:  Motivated by a series of conflicts over Amish schooling in many states, Reverend William C. Lindholm, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in East Tawas, MI, helped organize, and became the first chairperson of, the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (NCARF). They launched a lawsuit, Wisconsin v. Yoder, asking that the Amish be exempted from the state's school codes. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NCARF's favor, thus strengthening religious freedom and parental rights for all Americans. The court noted that the lack of high school education among the Amish had not made them an economic burden on the rest of society. The decision allowed the Amish and Old Order Mennonites to either establish their own schools, or withdraw their children from public schools after they graduate from grade 8. This granting of additional religious freedom is not without cost. It generates hardship to those Amish youth and adults who might want to leave their religion behind and join the larger American culture. With no high school or post-secondary education, their economic options are severely limited.

bullet 1967: Migration to Latin America: Some Amish considered moving away from North America to avoid problems with the military draft, schooling, the gradual secularization of the dominant culture, etc. Peter and Anna Wagler Stoll of Alymer, ON, Canada moved with several other Old Order and New Order families to Honduras. From an agricultural standpoint, the colony was a success. They were considered wealthy by the surrounding Honduran farmers. However, conflicts within the group between the Old and New order members grew and could not be resolved. In the late 1970s, most returned to North America. The New Order Amish who remained in Honduras affiliated with the Beachy Amish.

Also in 1967, seven Old Order Amish families from Indiana moved to the Chaco region of Paraguay. A group of conservative Mennonites had previously settled there.  The group almost doubled in size over the next two years. Again, they were an agricultural success. However, they were unable to form a "spiritually stable congregation." 2 In 1978, most returned to North America; some joined with the local Mennonites; a few formed an independent Amish group.

bullet 1967: Canada Pension Plan: This is a program similar to Social Security in the U.S. Revenue Canada officials started raiding Amish bank accounts in Ontario, attempting to collect unpaid premiums. In 1974, the federal government exempted self-employed Amish from the system. Canadian Amish now have Social Insurance Numbers (ironically referred to as S.I.N. numbers), which the government uses to identify its citizens and residents. However, they are in a numerical series that prevents them from receiving any benefits.


1986: Health Care: The Nurse Practitioner journal published an article titled: "The effects of religious beliefs on the health care practices of the Amish." PubMed provides the following abstract:

"An understanding of the religiocultural belief system of the Amish religious sect is essential if nurse practitioners are to meet the health care needs of Amish patients. The Amish are exempted from social security and reject health insurance coverage, do not practice birth control, and often veto preventive practices such as immunization and prenatal care. A nonjudgmental, open attitude is required on the part of health professionals to encourage Amish families to attend clinics where health monitoring can be maintained and health education provided. As a result of a view of illness that defines it in terms of a failure to function in the work role rather than as a set of symptoms, there is often a delay in seeking medical treatment. Amish men outlive Amish women, in part because of the high birth rate (average of 7 live births/woman). Birth control and abortion are forbidden by religious doctrine, even when pregnancy is life threatening. The Amish church has no rule against immunization, but only 16-26% of Amish children have received immunizations against the common childhood diseases. Reinforcing the rejection of preventive medicine is the low educational status of the Amish people; higher education is prohibited. This further implies that health instructions must be given in simple, clear language. Nurse practitioners must accept the fact that no amount of education will persuade Amish women to practice contraception. To continue to advocate family planning in the Amish community is to risk alienating couples from the health care system." 3

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Current status:

There have been a number of changes over the last few decades that have significantly impacted Amish culture:
bullet The rising cost of farm land has forced some Amish to take outside jobs while remaining in their community. Some developed home businesses, creating traditional Amish crafts for sale. Others founded commercial enterprises.

bullet Tourism has been a mixed blessing. The Amish have lost some of their privacy to the hordes of visiting tourists who are curious about their culture. However, it does bring a lot of revenue to the community.

In his Encyclopedia of American Religions, 6th edition (1999), J. Gordon Melton described four main, currently active Amish groups. In alphabetic order, they are:

bullet The Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches split off from the Old Order Amish in Pennsylvania after Bishop Moses Beachy refused to pronounce the ban on some former Old Order members who had left to join a Conservative Mennonite congregation in Maryland. They are the most liberal Amish group: they meet in churches, use automobiles, tractors, and electricity. In 1996, they reported 8,399 adult members in 138 congregations.

bullet The Conservative Mennonite Conference was formed in 1910 from a group of more liberal Old Order Amish congregations. They use meeting houses, Sunday schools, and English language services. They are located mainly in the Midwest. No membership data is available.

bullet The Evangelical Mennonite Church was organized in 1866 by Bishop Henry Egly in Indiana. They were originally known as the Egly Amish, changed their name to The Defenseless Mennonite Church in 1898, and to their present name in 1948. They stress "regeneration, separation and nonconformity to the world." In 1997, they were reported to have 4,348 adult members in 30 churches.

bullet Old Order Amish Mennonite Church congregations are very conservative. Transportation is by horse and buggy. Men are required to grow beards; mustaches are not allowed. Marriage outside the faith is forbidden. They meet in each other's homes for worship every other Sunday. About 8% of their membership is made up of converts from outside the community and their descendents. There were about 30,000 adult members in the U.S. and 900 in Canada in 1995. Including children, the total population was about 139,000.

There are also additional Amish groups:

bullet The Kauffman Amish Mennonites (a.k.a. Sleeping Preacher Amish) had 9 congregations, and perhaps on the order of 1,200 adult members.

bullet A few independent congregations exist. However, they are relatively small in numbers.

Probably the current total adult membership of all Amish groups would be on the order of 180,000 spread across 22 states. The largest concentration, with about 45,000 members is in Ohio. There are smaller numbers in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. About 1,500 live in south-eastern Ontario, Canada. 4,5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Steven Nolt, "A history of the Amish," Good Books, (1992), Pages 228 to 233. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Ibid, Page 269.
  3. Abstract of C.E. Adams & M.B. Leverland, "The effects of religious beliefs on the health care practices of the Amish." PubMed, at:
  4. J.G. Melton, "Encyclopedia of American Religions, 6th edition," Gale, (1999), Page 787 & 787
  5. "Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship," Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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