Amish Questions Answered – Part 2

Well overdue, here is our second batch of Amish questions-and-answers.  I meant to get to more of these, faster, but as they say “circumstances intervened” 🙂  Thanks for your patience.

SharonR: Since the Amish farmers and their neighbors mostly eat farm fresh products, are they generally healthier than the “Englishers”, or have they also fallen to eating “junk” like so many of us Englishers have, when they go into ‘town’?

Well, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth!  But I realize there is a difference between junky sweets, and–let’s call them “wholesome” sweets, the homemade stuff without all the chemicals.  Amish do dip into the junkier stuff–more so as their occupational orbits pull them away from the home pantry.

A lot of Amish people look at the trashier foods as treats to be enjoyed here and there.  Moderation, remember.  So it goes with fast food and sugary drinks, for instance.  My family recently hosted Amish friends.  They allowed themselves to partake of a few Cokes–though they’re usually very big on healthy eating.

Theresa: How does one become pen pals with an Amish person?

Theresa you’ve submitted the number-one most-asked question I get on the blog or in my email inbox.  I wrote a piece on finding Amish pen-pals a while back.  I’m afraid there’s no extraordinary secret to it.  In summary:  make friends with someone who is Amish! Then write them a letter.  If that doesn’t work, repeat. 🙂 Takes some legwork, I realize.  Alas, there is no Amish pen-pal directory I can point you to.

Mona: Are all dogs kept outside or are some indoor pets?

I would agree with what Ohio Ann has to say: “Most Amish that I am aquainted with do not have dogs in their homes. Sometimes in the walk-in basement on very cold nights but mostly the dogs are in barns or shops. Have never seen a cat in a home but many in the barns. One lady I know who raises a small breed dog for sale (and NO she is not a puppy mill) does bring the pups in from the heated kennel to get them used to being in a house before they are advertised for sale but in general I have seen few dogs in homes but many at homes.”

Al in KY:  Is there much intermarrying between New Order and Old Order Amish? Are there still Old Order churches/districts that are changing to New Order as was the case when the New Order began?

Al, you ask a good question.  I’m imagine there has been some intermarriage though I doubt “much”.  Since the main place Amish youth meet each other is in youth groups and “singings”, and with New Order Amish having their own singings, that eliminates one big avenue for meeting a mate from outside your affiliation.

Also, the only place with significant populations of New Order and Old Order Amish living next to one another is really Holmes County, Ohio.  There you’ll find a little under half of all New Order districts (20-some).  The rest of the New Order Amish communities are only a few congregations or less, and typically constitute their own settlements–that is, no other Amish living next-door.

That said there is some melding between New and Old Order in the Holmes settlement.  Some of my Old Order friends and acquaintances “sound” like New Order Amish sometimes (ie, discussing assurance of salvation).  Old Order Amish have become involved in mission/charity organizations in various though sometimes less direct ways.

There is some sympathy among Old Order Amish for “New Order ideas” like the emphasis on clean courtship and the ban on tobacco.  The authors of An Amish Paradox note that Old Order Amish who took a New Order-like stance on controlling courtship and alcohol and drugs became known as Midways, though most Midway families did not join the New Order.  However the Midway philosophy has grown to encompass an estimated half of Old Order families in Holmes County, according to a minister cited by the authors.

I’ve also heard of some ideological shifting from New Order to Old Order currents of thought, though less in that direction.

Various Readers: Do Amish wear (store-bought) underwear, bras, etc?

Many Amish do wear the store-bought undergarments.  This is not so secret, as a drive-by on laundry day will reveal, even if you’re not actively seeking info on the topic 🙂  Some Amish do make their own undergarments which would lack elastic and look quite different from the everyday English version.

Stephen Scott covers the topic in Why Do They Dress That Way?, in one of my favorite-named sections of the book, “That Which Is Unseen”:  “Some plain groups have very definite regulations on appropriate underwear.  Understandably these rules are rather difficult to enforce…The most traditional Old Orders have insisted that underpants have legs (these are necessarily often made at home).  Brassieres, which date back only to about the 1920s, have not found acceptance among the ultraconservatives.  Any kind of lacy, fancy underwear is proscribed by the most rigid Old Orders.  Plain slips are made commercially by several Old Order women.”

Steve wrote the book in 1986 with an update in 1997.  I’m not sure if and how much the sands have shifted in some groups on stricter underwear regulations in the meantime, though I don’t expect the above has changed much in the more conservative groups.

Slightly-handled-Order-Man: The Amish do not have church buildings like Mennonites have “Meeting Houses” and other Christian denominations have churches of various sizes and styles. Is there a reason why the Amish chose to worship in homes?

The early Anabaptist Brethren famously met in secret, in caves and in homes away from the eye of the authorities, which I suppose set the tone for the future.  While in Europe Amish didn’t have much choice when most were tenant farmers and not able to erect their own worship structures.

Owning their own land in North America, Amish could build churches if they wanted to.  However, worshiping in the home emphasizes the people as the definition of “church”, and not the building.

Home worship is also practical and probably cheaper than maintaining a separate church structure.  Amish may need to build homes or buildings with large areas to accomodate their church brethren, but those large areas are going to get used anyway by large families or as work/storage space.

Julie Carte: I would also like an update on the Maine settlement. The information I have is old, an article in the Bangor Daily News in 2005. Are they still thriving there? Have more moved into the area? What about the Unity Maine settlement?

Julie there are actually a total of 4 Maine Amish settlements, with a 4th being founded in the past year (see this 2011 state tally from the Young Center).  Reader Nelson, who lived in Maine and has friends/relatives there, adds:

 “Some families have moved in to Smyrna and Unity Maine, but 5-6 households have left Smyrna since 2009, and 2 more households moving out next spring…4 of those households were members there,but the others were never able to be good enough to feel accepted, and some of the members who left told me the same, and all of them left the Amish except one family. Of course,there are some who move in,but received a call from Smyrna and Unity and does not sound too good.”

Debbie Welsh: My husband wants to know if any of their ” home remedies ” for illnesses really work, or any of the bottled pills and tonics you see in their shops?

Well this is the $64,000 question isn’t it 🙂  As reader Lois Morgan put it: “I am of two minds on this topic, plus a third, just to make things more complicated.”  We touched on vitamins and supplements this week, but for a discussion of home remedies, I’ll refer you to this post and this one about an Amish-penned book of home remedies.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Amish questions-and-answers coming soon.  If you missed it here is the first batch of answers.  Some questions were answered in individual posts:

Do Amish remarry?

How do Amish youth get driver’s licenses?

What are Amish burial practices?

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    1. SharonR

      Amish Questions part 2

      THANKS, Erik on answering those questions! Very helpful and informative, as usual.
      Looking forward to more.

      1. My pleasure Sharon, these are fun to do.

    2. Lee Ann

      Got some good answers there and very interesting post today. Look forward to the rest of the question and answers.

      Thanks Erik!

      Talk on the subject of home remedies, reminds me of all the old things my Mom tried to see if she could get me to hear again! Most of them make me laugh. Will try some of those, but those my Mom tried are just terrible things.

    3. tiffany rangier


      its true englishers dont eat the best (i am polish)

      1. There was a lot of attention recently over studies showing Amish, either due to genetics or work habits, have fewer instances of obesity. However I was just was reading of a 1990 study in which Ohio Amish women were found to have greater obesity rates beginning at age 25. One possible reason given was higher rates of pregnancy among Amish women.

        1. SharonR

          Amish questions part 2

          Hi, Erik,
          Comment on your statement — Obesity in Amish women beginning at age 25 — possible reason given was higher rates of pregnancy among Amish women –(??) — Pregnancy would naturally cause periodic weight gain, yes, but maybe some of their “store” bought foods are adding to their obesity?? Or they are not as active as they once were, in past generations??

          IMHO — I do think there is ‘something’ in store-bought foods, etc. that might not have been there, years ago, that is contributing to this obesity epidemic in Englishers, etc.(plus in-activity!)….I might be wrong, but just a thought…..or there is more CHOICES out there, loaded with salt, carbs, preservatives, growth hormones, etc, and depending on how far your money stretches, one finds that they just “have to try that”, when something new goes on the shelf!! HA….I don’t shop like that, but many do. 🙂

          1. Amish female weight gain

            Hi Sharon, before I tread into a minefield, I’ll just note those were not my interpretations, but of the woman who wrote the article 🙂 I would also think that an active schedule would get rid of pregnancy weight pretty quickly, but maybe 7 pregnancies means it adds up…and that’s as far as I’ll go before I get into trouble as this topic is not in my realm of expertise 🙂 Food-centered culture was given as another possible reason for the weight differential. You are right, quality of food might be a reason too…some Amish have poorer diets than we think, which can be tied to income.

            Amish men in the study apparently did not differ from their non-Amish peers.

            1. SharonR

              Amish Questions, part 2

              No, Erik, I wouldn’t have opened the “mine field”! LOL — and I did realize that was someone else’s interpretations…..your points are well taken, and make sense. I have often thought, if I was Amish or cooked like they do, or ate at too many of their restaurants, too frequently, I would weigh 400 lbs……those good “country style” meals and baked goods, I could not resist! LOL

    4. Home remedies

      Hi Erik,
      Many home remedies have been validated by scientific research. The USDA has done a lot of research in this area. For example, a USDA scientist told me that the practice of rubbing a cut onion on a bee sting has proven to be effective. Onion juice, it turns out, has an enzyme in it that breaks down the protein that causes the pain in the bee sting.
      Some 25 percent of our pharmaceutical medicines have their origins in herbal medicines. Aspirin was originally found in tree bark. Mint, chamomile and licorice have proven applications. On the other hand, some home remedies can be harmful and are not recommended. Sheep dung, though it has a history of use as a home remedy, is not recommended for anything.
      The important thing to remember with home remedies is when to try them. If you have an occasional, short term minor discomfort such as an upset stomach, headache or other situation for which you would normally turn to an over-the-counter medication, then you are probably okay trying a home remedy.
      If you have a serious, chronic or long-term illness, or especially one that can be life-threatening, then it is always best to stick with a medical doctor’s advice.
      If anyone wants to research this subject further there are some authors I would recommend: Stephen Foster, James A. Duke, Ph.D. and Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D.

      1. Hi Margie, I don’t doubt it. It seems like there would be a good book there for home remedy skeptics, those conventionally-minded folks that might benefit from using home remedies but need to have that stamp of science to back it up. “Science-Proven Home Cures” or something like that. It’s probably been written already, I bet.

        1. Erik, Stephen Foster has written “that” book. (He has a couple out now, actually.) The hard-core herbies (like that new word?) 😉 dont like Foster’s books at all. He is painfully honest when it comes to scientific testing. The bottom line is that very, very few herbs have actually been through the rigorous testing to prove that they are effective. And then each plant usually has a different percentage of the needed chemical, so one batch of garlics might be more potent than the next, and so you never know just how many (for example) garlic bulbs you would need to eat daily to get enough of the needed chemical in your body (Ikes! Garlics are made of chemicals!!). With that kind of scientific precision, Foster only listed about 20 herbs in one of his books (he is a botanist, by the way) that had been tested enough to recommend for certain health problems … And even then, it was sort of iffy.

          1. Stephen Foster

            That is precisely why I have always admired Stephen Foster and Drs. Tyler and Duke – they rely on science, not “magical thinking” when it comes to herbal remedies.
            The fact that a relatively small number of herbal remedies have been researched to the point of proving they are safe and effective has more to do with the lack of a profit motive than the likelihood that many home remedies have some benefit.
            All three authors are prolific on the subject. Dr. Tyler wrote “The Honest Herbal”, “The New Honest Herbal” and “Hoosier Home Remedies”. Dr. Duke wrote “The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs”. Dr. Jonathan Hartwell did an enormous amount of research into plant medicines used against cancer and identified more than 100, including many common culinary herbs, which show some kind of anti-cancer activity in laboratory tests. This does not prove that any of these herbs will cure or prevent cancer in humans, but the field deserves more research. It is too bad that profit is the primary driving force behind medical research.

            1. tiffany rangier

              the herbs

              well the dental tinctures do help if you have cavities.

          2. Interesting stuff, is there an “Herbalists’ Retort” to Foster et al? It does seem like too much analysis might knock the shine off of some remedies, but–seriously–belief in a remedy’s validity may be just as important as any scientifically provable effects.

            1. The herbalist retort to the book is the negative ratings that you see on for the book! 🙂
              That is the big question, does it work by science or psychosomatic suggestions? If it is only psychosomatic, then we could all wisen up and save some money from buying the expensive prepared herbal concoctions and go make us a tea out of the grass in our back yard and believe it will help … and it may just help! And you have just save $ by using grass in your back yard instead of “Grandma’s Top Secret Herbal Tea” for $5.99 a box.
              (I told you I am an athiest of sorts when it comes to herbal rememdies.) 🙂

    5. Alice Mary

      Pen pals

      My “English” pen pal lives in Bedford, Ohio, not far from Amish country. I know she visits Amish shops, etc. I’ll inquire if she knows about getting Amish pen pals. (She & I have been writing for 46 years now!)

      Alice Mary

    6. Al in Ky.

      Thanks for your answers to all of these questions, including
      mine about the New Order Amish. You’ve given us a lot of good
      information. I was especially interested in your description
      of the “Midways”. That puts a name on a trend that I had a hunch
      was happening among the Old Order Amish. Maybe because of the
      Midways is why there are not many (if any) Old Order districts
      becoming New Order today. I’m going to get out my copy of An
      Amish Paradox and read more about the Midways.

      I also was interested in your information about Amish and pets.
      It reminded me of the farming community (non-Amish) where I grew
      up. We and all of our neighbors had at least one dog and a few
      cats, but I don’t remember anybody ever letting their pets inside
      the house. We saw our dogs and cats as necessary parts of the
      total farm culture — the cats kept down the mice and rat
      population, the dogs helped chase hogs and herd sheep — as well
      as our pets. I would think many Amish would see them similarly.

      1. Al, interesting…also, on the farm I don’t think cats get names that often while family dogs do. Cats are mouse-catchers and something to trip over, dogs are pets 🙂

    7. Penpals and Beechy Amish

      I have long wanted an Amish penpal, especially since I live so close to the Lancaster, PA community. I so admire their lifestyle but do not know if I could give up the vices of English life – like TV, electricity, computer (!). Whenever I drive by the farms, there is such an atmosphere of peace. Of course, we do not see the undercurrents, but the general image is of peace. Can someone tell me what Beechy Amish is and is it more Mennonite than Amish? Thank you.

      1. SharonR

        Amish Questions part 2

        I agree with you, Nancy Schaub…..I had the privilege of seeing Pennsylvania and the Amish countryside, learning about them, etc. back in Oct. 2010, experiencing the “peacefulness” of that area, and have been amazed at their lifestyle ever since….Like you, we have gotten used to modern conveniences, entertainment, etc….and most likely would find it challenging to change our habits…..but wouldn’t it be fun to ‘try’? LOL

        I find my “escape” these days, with reading Amish “part fiction/part real facts” books, that make me feel like I am “right there” with them…’s the next best thing to being one of them, or being there! (I live in Florida).

        I also wonder if everyone would sit back and take a look at their way of life and their closeness to God, if our world would be a better place? Who’s to say?

      2. tiffany rangier

        to nancey schaab

        you can write to me if you wish i dont beleave in tvs or really internet and avoiding electricity requires solar power and other methods.

    8. third attempt for questions

      Hi Erik,
      I’m not very good with computers–this note is the third attempt to ask questions:

      I am looking for a book that I bought about 16 years ago in the Gordinville Bookstore, just east of Lancaster. It was a paperback book called AMISH COMMUNITIES and described each community as “just farming,” “welcome to tourists,” “size” and so forth. I am sure there must be a more updated version.

      There is, I believe, a community-possibly located in Montour County on the Susquanhanna River-called Jersey Shore. I would like to know if they welcome tourists and sell quilts/handmade gift shops. It would be northwest of Washingtonville, the town that has the most fabulous auctions twice a year for the Beaver Run School. Does Washingtonville itself have quilts/books/amish shops? It is such a long ride from NJ new places to explore would be a treat.

      Thank you so much for all your information, comments, reading options. I would love to experience your travels! Meanwhile I enjoy very much reading about them. Marianne

      1. tiffany rangier

        to marienne penn

        their is also a book of simple ways to sucess by eric wesner from 1978,but i will take note of this too.

      2. Hi Marianne, I think the book you mean is the one by Ottie Garrett. I’ve paged through it before but I haven’t really examined it in much detail. I believe it came out in the mid-90s:

        Thanks for your nice comments. I don’t know this Montour Co. settlement but maybe someone here does.

        1. Yoder

          Marianne, I have not been to Montour County, PA, but I have an Amish friend who lives there. Jersey Shore is about 80 miles from Montour County.

          Washingtonville, Turbotville, and Danville are in Montour County. Beaver Run School will have an auction on April 21, 2012, selling a couple hundred quilts. Washingtonville has an Amish book store and a bulk food store. Eight miles away, Turbotville has bulk food, bent-and-dent, and fabric stores.

    9. Carolyn B

      Shom's Question

      I’m grateful to Shom for his question for it would have been mine as well.
      In those communities that have their own school buildings, wouldn’t it be more economically feasible to open the schoolhouse on Sundays for church & build somewhat smaller homes for the families? Just curious.
      Thanks, Erik & Shom.

      1. Debbie Wang

        Carolyn B.

        This is what my Old Order friend Rebecca told me. Church is not about the building but about the community of believers. To host church in one’s home is something special. In fact she told me she will be having “communion church” on Easter Sunday. They go all out with cleaning, gardening, even painting and don’t forget cooking! Actually their schoolhouses are too small to have church in when there are about 200 people in attendance. When the average Amish family still has about 10 children, they really need to build a big house. So this way seems the most practical for them.

        God bless!

        1. Carolyn B

          Thanks for the insights, Debbie Wang.

      2. I think that is a good answer by Debbie. The schoolhouse would have to be a good bit bigger if that were to be the case, to hold 150+ worshipers vs. 20-30 children (then you’ve got a lot of extra space in the school, maybe fit a gym in there? 🙂 ) Church at home serves other functions as well and it gives you a good reason to freshen up and really clean up the place. I could probably do with having Amish church at my home come to think of it 😉

    10. Loretta


      Marianne, the book that Erik mentioned is probably the one that you seek. At first I thought it might have been a book that I bought in Strasburg at one of the tables that are set up at a festival. It lists all the communities of Lancaster County and tells something about each of them. Frankly, I brought it home and haven’t looked at it since.

    11. Arthur Bhutic

      I’m with the Minority Amish

      That’s due to that they don’t get along with store bought undies which are smaller! They make their own, which are larger and which I want to! I surely want to be in touch with them! What I want is I get to wear high waist leg briefs made from them!