Goshen College has kindly passed along a link to a recent lecture on the northern Indiana Amish given by Professor Steven Nolt (no longer online).
Professor Nolt is one of the preeminent scholars on the Amish. He has written numerous books, including A History of the Amish and Plain Diversity (w/Thomas Meyers) on Amish communities in Indiana.
Nolt explains that northern Indiana is unusual in that it allows much diversity among districts.
He contrasts this with other communities where uniform standards are required or where differences would more likely result in new affiliations being formed.
He also discusses the impact of recent economic decline on the region and the unusual situation of Indiana Amish accepting unemployment assistance.
Interesting bits from the lecture:
- Indiana is the only state where you’ll find license plates on buggies, though not every county requires them. Thus in the community at Nappanee, some have plates while others do not.
- Amish population growth has resulted both from having large families as well as an increased retention rate. Nolt estimates that of children born in the 1930s, less than 80% joined the Amish church. Today that figure stands at around 95%.
- A few northern Indiana Old Order districts hold biweekly Sunday School, but most do not.
- During the Great Depression, church leaders temporarily allowed young unemployed men to acquire drivers’ licenses for delivery jobs, with the stipulation that they be used only on the job and only while working for a non-Amish employer.
- The rates of children joining the Amish church are no lower among factory families than the settlement average.
- The average age of ordained ministers has fallen from 40 a couple of decades ago to 32 today. Professor Nolt has an interesting explanation why.
Read more on Indiana Amish communities. In addition to factory work and farming, Amish in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties (and elsewhere in Indiana) operate woodworking businesses. Read more on Amish furniture in Indiana.