What are Amish women’s roles?

On the traditional roles of Amish females

Wife, homemaker, mother…what roles are Amish women expected to fulfill? And how might they be changing?


In Amish America, the primary role of the woman as homemaker has held steady for generations.  But there have been signs in recent years and decades that that may be changing, if ever so slightly.

Typically, young Amish girls and women work until marriage.  They are schoolteachers, waitresses, or hired hands in English and Amish homes.  In recent years, however, they have increasingly been stepping into ‘male’ roles.

A significant portion of single women hold factory jobs in the large settlements of northern Indiana, laboring on RV assembly lines next to male counterparts.  Furniture shops employ young women, and not just in secretarial or bookkeeping roles–a number of finishing shop owners recently shared with me that they prefer young girls for the job of applying the final coating to finished pieces, citing an eye for detail and methodical nature as two benefits of female help.


But female employment can be tricky when it comes to turnover.  An Ohio wholesale business owner friend joked: ‘one thing I’ve learned, you can’t get ’em to sign a contract not to marry, not to have children, okay?’  Funny, but that is the reality.  Marriage and home duties usually end employment for most girls.

But it is not unheard of for Amish women to hold jobs even after marriage and kids.  One of my waitresses at the local diner in Goshen, Indiana was mother to two toddlers, picking up part time shifts once or twice a week.  Others, especially those with smaller families, will take on part-time or even full-time jobs.


Lancaster County, especially, has seen a number of women in the business-owner’s role, either partnering with husbands or running their own–even employing a husband as help, as Kraybill and Nolt reveal in Amish Enterprise.  Pretzel shops, produce stands, and quilt stores are all businesses that Amish women run successfully today.

In The Truth in Word and Work, subtitled A Statement of Faith By Ministers and Brethren of Amish Churches of Holmes Co., Ohio, and Related Areas, the male/female issue is addressed.  ‘The husband has the major responsibility of directing the home for the glory of Christ.  He needs to have the proper relationship with Christ in submission and self-denial to glorify his Head.  He is the God-delegated authority over the woman and is responsible for her actions in the home and in society.’


Modern readers may scream ‘sexist’ at this sort of stuff, but after all, the Amish are Biblical fundamentalists in the purest sense of the term, and keeping that in mind, this shouldn’t surprise.

In practice, however, the woman takes a very active role in the Amish home, and men will often consult with and even defer to their wives’ wishes in many decisions concerning purchases and the home.  A good wife who runs a home well is highly respected.  Though the Amish woman cannot hold church office, she has equal voting rights in selecting new ministry and is able to voice her concerns before the church just as any man can.

The man as the head of the home–that idea makes feminists’ skin crawl.  But let’s be real about it.  In a number of Middle Eastern nations, the law sees the woman’s worth as half that of a man’s, after all.  Now that is something to be up in arms over.

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  1. Dave Carrig

    From what I have seen, the Amish marriage is as much a partnership as it is a relationship.

    I have on many occasions seen women out in the fields working teams of horses as the men do. I’ve also seen entire families out working the fields with the women doing as much of the grunt work as the men do.

    The issue that ticks feminists off is the issue of spiritual headship as laid out in scripture – but this is not strictly an Amish practice. Many conservative protestant churches (including mine) adhere to this as laid out in scripture.

    The Amish take it a level higher with their practice of head covering which is supposed to be a sign of submission. I suppose femenists don’t like that either.

  2. Spiritual headship is a big sticking point with feminists. I am all for spiritual headship and believe the man is the head of the home. Doesn’t mean my husband and I don’t share the household duties, it just means he is the head of the home! I think it makes for a much more peaceful and pleasant marriage then two people wanting to be boss of the home and bickering over it!

  3. Bill

    A small handwritten sign above the door inside a furniture makers shop near Smicksburg reads, “If more men were self starters less women would be cranks”. 🙂

  4. Do Amish men dominate their wives?

    It seems to work pretty well in practice in these Amish homes… partnership is probably a good description of it Dave…and Michelle you make a good point…of course as a male I can be accused of being in a convenient position to say that!

    On the other hand, I can see how the idea may be abused by some, and in practice I imagine that it is.

    One of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever heard was when an Amish mother told me something to the effect of ‘my husband says I’m not smart enough to make my own decisions…’ and by her tone you could tell she sort of accepted that as the reality.

  5. Chuck

    I’ve really enjoyed reading through Amish America.

    While never a member myself, my family background is Mennonite Brethren and the stories you’ve related here shed some light on the culture in which my parents were raised.

    As to the head of the household issue, my father was clearly the head of our home as scripture directed, but we never doubted that in all matters of any consequence Mom was his equal. I don’t believe he ever made a significant decision without consulting her and often deferred to her wishes and against his own.

    Thanks for your work on the blog. It’s become my favorite on-line reading.


  6. Thank you and welcome Doug! (though your tagline says Chuck?) I appreciate that alot! Doing this blog is a great pleasure and I try to stick to my mission statement of presenting the Amish accurately and respectfully, and trying to be entertaining at the same time, though I imagine I succeed more at the first part of that endeavor than the second…

    I’d bet your example from growing up holds true for many households, Amish, Mennonite, non-Amish alike.

  7. Adam

    Are they, (the Amish men) acting as “Biblical Fundamentalists” when they are molesting and raping their daughters? What God is it that they worship that allows these ‘gentle’, simple folk to go on acting in such an unethical and disgusting manner without due and just recourse under the Law of the United States of America? The insular-isolationist nature of their community has proven time and again, that it has done nothing more than spawn a thin disguise for the breeding grounds of pedophilia, and all other types of wife abuse. This is and was NOT the fundamental beliefs under which Joesph Amman founded the very first Amish community.

  8. Adam

    Are they, (the Amish men) acting as “Biblical Fundamentalists” when they are molesting and raping their daughters? What God is it that they worship that allows these ‘gentle’, simple folk to go on acting in such an unethical and disgusting manner without due and just recourse under the Law of the United States of America? The insular-isolationist nature of their community has proven time and again, that it has done nothing more than spawn a thin disguise for the breeding grounds of pedophilia, and all other types of wife abuse. This is and was NOT the fundamental beliefs under which Joesph Amman founded the very first Amish community.

  9. Mary

    To say that an Amish couple is equal is not really the truth. Yes, indeed the women work in the fields, but rarely does one see a man work in the kitchen, though there are exceptions. Rarely have I seen an Amish man help his wife when he comes in from the field. He puts up his feet and reads. I lived the Amish life style for almost 50 years and I never considered my dad as abusive, but neither do I remember him carrying his own plate from the table to the sink. In all my days he washed dishes twice, he never made a meal to my knowledge. However, I remember Mom working in the fields and working in the barn, not to mention that I did lots of work in the fields. But when women get to the house they will prepare the meal while he puts up his feet. The women can vote in the church — that’s true, but they had better say yes even if it means lying about it. How do I know — been there done that.

    Sspiritual leadership is great — that’s the way it should be, but I think we need describe “leadership.” For a lot of the men it means that his wife has to be obedient to him and live by his convictions, not her own. That doesn’t mean he never confers with her, he does, but he will force her to fit in his “mold.”

  10. Amish female subservience to husbands

    Mary thanks for pointing this out about the division of labor. I’m thinking back to my recent stay with a couple of families in Lancaster County. It’s true that mom did most of the kitchen work in both cases…and that would probably be the norm in the vast majority of Amish homes. It’s probably not easy when you’re eight months pregnant, either.

    I hate to be nosy but I find myself wondering what community you grew up in..?

    I don’t doubt the assertion you make in the last paragraph about women being subservient to men…but as members of an Amish church, shouldn’t their convictions be closely aligned anyway? I am not exactly certain what you are referring to–church issues perhaps?

    As I tend to mention a lot, I think there is variety within Amish society, and it’s true there is probably a large amount of women that are ‘fully subservient’ to their husbands or somewhere close to it…but I’ve also seen a number of cases where the man does take the woman’s wishes into careful consideration, or where she even wins out–and granted, this may be in more minor matters, but I think it shows that not all Amish men are rigid about imposing their will on all aspects of life. Perhaps it’s more common among younger generations, or those families that have more interaction with outsiders (such as business owners, for example).

  11. Jennette

    My husband and I attended part of an Amish wedding today. After the ceremony, taking 4 to 5 hours, the newly married couple and 2 other couples, walked up the road to the bride’s mother’s home. All the women walked several paces behind the men. Another perfect example of second-place citizenship.

  12. Helen Parnell-Berry

    In reference to the comment about head covering by women in Amish communities. It’s probably similar to Islamic cultures. Nothing to do with subservience and more to do with modesty. Only the woman’s husband should see her without her head covering.
    British Moslem friends tell me that when they wear the Hijab it sends a message out that they are NOT AVAILABLE, and they are left alone; certainly by non Moslem British men. I wonder if it is the same for Amish women?

  13. Interesting comment Helen, actually Amish females wear head coverings from a very young age and when in public always wear them…sometimes in the home ‘after hours’ you may catch an Amish woman with the head covering off. Another interesting fact is that Amish females do not cut their hair except for maybe a few trims when very young. It gets quite long.

  14. Theresa

    To Mary:
    I am hoping that I may get the chance to correspond with you. I have always found the Amish Culture very interesting and would love to be able to talk with you and possibly ask a few questions. If you decide you would like a penpal you can email me @:

  15. Ymina

    Amish women should meet Chassidic Jewish women. How much we have in common! I had the chance of talking to an Amish woman in Wisconsin last year, (my husband’s family lives close to an Amish community in Blair Wis.) and we ended up noticing how much we really had in common. I wear modest clothing and cover my head with a hat, our roles in the household are very similar to. (Take care of the family, cook, pray seperately from the men. ect.) Now as a married Jewish woman I really can’t have long hair, however if I can hide it in a scarf, hat or wig then its allowed. I can also work as long as the family is taken care of. Really our only differences are the way we observe Shabbos (Sabbath) and that we embrace technology. (However on our Sabbath, we DO NOT use anything electrical or drive our cars. We walk to our Synagogues.) We also don’t follow Jesus but we are both devoted deeply to G-d. I wish more Amish could meet Chassidic Jews. I know from my experience I don’t feel so alone in this world.

  16. I have visited the Amish communities in Lancaster County, PA several times in the past few years. I find their customs and communities fascinating. From what I have seen they are happy people with respect for themselves. Maybe the world today could take some lessons from these people. We are caught up in the world of electronics and people being possessive of everything they see. Sometimes it would be nice to live with their ideals for a while.

  17. mary jane

    I saw amish families at six flags! I couldn’t believe it!

  18. Mark

    It is interesting that many people connect the Bible with the submission of women. The reality is that in pre-Christian Rome for example women had a very low place in terms of power and respect. In contract, the high Middle Ages saw the place of women at the highest level of respect with the rise of the ideal of chivalry.
    I think the Amish are closer to the ideal than modern liberated women, because they do not confuse women’s liberation with the genuine liberation of women. That is liberation of women not only looking at the economic aspect like getting a job, but rather liberation in the sense they are still treated with the respect of the old ideals; however, can participate in a modern economy if needed.

  19. christinad'arcy

    my mom was amish so it is nice to know how she lived.:)

  20. Courtney

    Mark, I think your comment is very true. I have never understood why modern-day feminists think that they must have the man’s job in order to be equal. As a stay at home mom, I would be utterly devastated to have to work as my husband does, when I get to enjoy on a daily basis the beauty and sweetness of my own children, smelling the wonderful meals I am blessed enough to be able to make, having the delicate job of kissing wounds and getting credit for having them healed, being the one my children and husband run to when they need advice or a listening ear… how could that in any way be a bad thing? Christianity brought the liberation of women, as you point out, and taught husbands to love their wives as Christ loved his church, as Christ was obedient until death. (Philippians 2)

  21. Jim

    I do not believe most americans know what the Bible means when it says women obey your husbands but it also says husbands treat your wives with respect. I grew up in a christian home that was about as strick as the amish and I am very thankful for it. I watched my father respect my mother and visaversa we were very biblical in all ways but it was not a lordship either way. I do remember that my father always was last to comment and it usually resembled what my mother said. I remember asking him about wives obeying your husbands verse and he quoted back that men were to love your wives as much as he did the church and that he holds no lordship but unconditional nomatter what love. If husbands do what they are supposed to do and do whats right our wives will follow us in doing what is right I believe that is what christ meant. The other passage I believe that goes hand in hand is Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. then we can all live the way God intended us too. Its not about lords or rulers as some want you to think its about love one to another unconditional, unadulterated, undieing love. Those that say amish do evil to there daughters I WILL NOT CONDONE IT but dont be to quick to point an blame cause I know plenty of evil people that are not amish some are even preachers but let the laws of the land chastise them but untimatly God will punish them. God says that to point out someone elses faults is like saying look at him/her they have a splinter in there eye but not seeing the 2×4 sticking out of there own eye. Most people that point and blame have faults of there own greater or as great as the person being blamed. Stop and think before you look silly. God loves ya.

  22. Tonya

    To Mary: I would love the chance to hear more about the Amish culture and lifestyle.I have always been intrigued by the Amish lifestyle, and have spent many years researching the culture.I have even taken “The Budget” for several years.If you are interested,I would love to talk with you more. My email address is: timlandreth@live.com Thanks,Tonya

  23. Damian

    Mary Jane,
    I have seen a few while back; My daugter and I saw a family of German Baptist (similar to Amish) at the Memphis Zoo in Memphis ,Tn, I noticed the color is like light mint green clothing.

    Last summer, I took my daughter to Brookfield Zoo (Near Chicago,Il)There is a huge family of Menonite, some of these family member are taller like me. They all keeps to themselves. I always been fancasted by these people.

  24. Alice Aber

    Just as there are many parts to the human body, there are many parts to the church and to the family. We all can’t be the head,,, we all can’t be the hand or the foot. We need each part to do its job. When each part functions in the manner it was created to you have a healthy body, church or family.

    The parts have to work together,, if the eye does not tell the foot it is about to step on a nail, the foot will get hurt, etc.

    Very basic biblical principle, but when it works, it works well.

  25. Damian


    The last paragraph you mentioned, yes, they live on a daily basic, they do the simple things.

  26. Alice Aber


    I believe if all people lived by these vary basic principles the world would be a much better place. 🙂

  27. Damian

    Alice Amber, I totally agree with you, this is exactly what I wanted in the first place.

  28. Alice Aber

    Its something I have not found yet but totally believe in. Hope you have a great New Year Damian!

  29. Nelson

    Hello everyone,,
    I really liked all the comments everyone placed on here,,,and would advise all women to read the book ME OBEY HIM? sold by CHRISTIAN LIGHT PUBLISHERS….
    Also if you are interested in visiting one of the most unique , but S R Amish communities in the world,,,go visit Unity and Smyrna Mills Maine…
    Now I am not at all encouraging you to join them in any way , shape, or form,,,
    But feel free to visit them , and be sure to see both sides

  30. Nelson

    by the way , I forgot to add, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE,,,,

  31. Alice Aber

    Greetings Nelson,

    Please tell me a little more about this book you referred to. I will try to get out to the library next week to see if they can get me a copy, but I am curious why you refer to it as well as the Amish Communities in Maine? What does S R mean?

    Blessings, Alice