Emma Gingerich On Leaving The Swartzentruber Amish

“I don’t remember ever having joy growing up.”

Emma Gingerich, who grew up in a Swartzentruber Amish community, some years ago appeared on the Megyn Kelly Today show to discuss her background and departure from Amish life. Periodically you see former Amish doing media interviews sharing about their past lives. Typically the stories are negative, and Emma’s fits that bill, but you can understand why.

In this interview Emma describes her dissatisfaction with everyday routine and the rules of life as a girl and young woman living in a Swartzentruber home.

Emma discusses the deficiencies of education in a Swartzentruber school (not knowing the number of states, not using English in school), dating (bed courtship), and a few other topics. Emma did have a love for school, but as is customary, that experience concluded at age 14.

She describes how she woke up one day, wrote a note, and left her home for good. She wrote a book about her experience called Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape. 

Unsurprisingly, this interview is pretty surface level, and focuses on the more sensational or shocking aspects of Swartzentruber Amish culture.

It’s mentioned that this is “one of the most strict Amish communities” but doesn’t get into a lot more nuance about how the Swartzentruber Amish are not exactly representative of all Amish in their cultural practices, schooling, etc.

Emma Gingerich as a young girl in Ohio

Emma seems content with her decision and has found her place in English life, so good for her. She has not only gotten her GED and college degree, but also an MBA.

Being Amish is not for everyone and just looking at it as an outsider, leaving the Swartzentruber Amish must be more difficult than deciding you don’t want to be a member of a more mainstream Old Order church.

Emma says her family has no contact with her. No doubt it took a lot of courage to make this move.

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    22 Comments

    1. Kim Grundon

      Leaving the Amish

      Emma
      I am good friends with both Amish and those who have left the community. I knew how difficult it was for you to leave. I also know the struggles you went through especially with education. I wish you the best I your new lifestyle. The best advice I have is pray for understanding and guidance. God will answer you

      1. Jim Gas

        Emma Gingerich

        All wrong. Save your tears. Fake news!

        1. John J. Keim

          Emma Gingerich

          Hey Jim, I can attest to everything she’s saying. I left the Amish in a similar fashion back in 1969. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

        2. Seth Roberts

          Fake News?

          John J. Kein: Care to back up your rude allegation?

          Emma’s accent which is noticible with certain words is strong indication that the story she tells I her life as Amish is true.

          1. John J. Keim

            Fake News

            That wasn’t my allegation. That was Jim Gas’s allegation. I was confirming her story, because I went through similar things like that when I was Amish. Just so you know.

        3. Jamie

          In agreement with Jim

          Jim, I have to agree with your assessment of this article.

          I have been friends with the Amish for a year now and can state that they seriously frown upon the Main Stream Medias depiction of them.
          I find it odd that this Emma girl lived in a “Strict” community but somehow managed to have her photo snapped as a child. Who would have done such a thing without asking permission from these “Strict” parents? And what kind of nonsense for her to say, “This life isn’t for me” when it is the only life they are aware of? Speaking with my Amish friend on this matter we both agree that when one is born into a certain culture they know none other than that society so there is no wishing or hoping to be somewhere else they know nothing of. How ridiculous this propaganda is! Transitioning from the Amish Culture to the English one must be extremely difficult as almost everything would be akin to learning to ‘walk’ as a baby. One must be slowly acclimated to a certain environment before making a success of it, yet this woman succeeds with no prior knowledge of it. Incredulous!
          Could it be that the MSM is deliberately manufacturing these scenarios to encourage a negative view of Amish Life in America? Probably so.
          Megan Kelley is not a woman whom I believe to be a healthy role model for young girls so I find her opinion on this matter inconsequential. As a matter of fact, I find our English culture devoid of any redeeming value for anyone….much less for a young girl.
          The producers made it plain that they wanted to illustrate Emma’s ‘freedom’ from strictness by showing some skin…that was not lost on me at all. In this vulgar and inane culture baring one’s body seems to be likened to ‘independence and ‘freedom’ yet has a deleterious affect on, not only the girl, but society as a whole.

          If this story were true at all I would vehemently disagree with Emma’s choice to leave her culture as a “Courageous” venture, but, rather, a very misguided choice.

          And on the matter of her being “brainwashed”, it works the same in our society. The only difference is that we learn to bond with the television rather than human beings doing the “brainwashing”.

          1. Jamie

            Wrong name

            My apologies John Keim! I did not mean to call you Jim. I am still in agreement with you, though!! 🙂

        4. Jamie

          No "judgement" but rather discernment

          Mr. Miller, I do not doubt for one second that there are plenty of Amish who leave their community. Take, for instance, a young man named Henry who left his community for an English woman. This Amish man became addicted to pornography and caused his wife all manner of undue pain and suffering. Now, I am not sure if this is a serious problem within Amish communities…..seeing as there is no allowance for the use of television/cell phones/videos……but I can tell you that it is a devastating issue and the reason for so many divorces in our putrid ‘culture’. I really hate to use the word ‘culture’ for what we Americans live because we are not a very cultured society.

          This story stinks as a contrivance for the staging of Emma’s photos. They are staged. Can no one see this? The Amish do not allow their image taken. Why would a “Strict”community allow for this child’s image to be taken repeatedly ….and for what purpose?? So, someone decides to go and take pictures of a young girl through the years and the family allows it? Poppycock. This is grooming behavior on the part of the photographer….or staging of a fake event. I am utterly disturbed by the lack of protection this young female endured during her childhood. I would never allow anyone who was not close family to take pictures of my young sons through young adulthood because I would know why they want their images. Just utterly disturbing.
          Yes, people do leave the Amish community but I can tell you that those who are hand picked to appear publicly are controlled opposition.

    2. Ingrid Miller

      Pictures of Emma?

      From what I understand photos are not permitted…who took the photos of Emma?

      1. Alex Knisely

        When I was visiting Amish houses, trying to learn about a kind of liver disease first described among Amish children, now and again I’d be shown photographs of a child who had died with the disease. Those photographs weren’t on the wall and they didn’t come out on the first visit. Only later, only years later. No telling who took the pictures, some English acquaintance, I imagine – not a picture of the child laid out in its coffin, just of a baby or a toddler or a boy or girl at play.

        I imagine also that those families have pictures of all the members. Pictures that are kept a secret.

        The lines are there, they are crossed knowingly. The crossings are not flaunted.

        Now, for Emma Gingerich — she might have played dress-up for the pictures of her as a young woman, having them taken for the book cover. The picture of her on the way to school, who knows?

      2. First thing I thought as well, who took all those photos of her as a child. Something smells fishy.

        1. Yes I assumed the older ones were possibly or likely done after she left. As far as being fishy regarding younger photos, I’m not skeptical about her story or her being Amish at all, sometimes children are photographed, perhaps a non-Amish neighbor or other acquaintance, and maybe she got ahold of those photos somehow.

        2. Jamie

          Agreed!

          So agree with you, Debbie, Halcomb. This story stinks to high heaven.
          Lots of manufacturing going on in the MSM.

      3. Jamie

        4 years later

        Four years later, Ingrid, and no one has answered your question. I think that says it all. God Bless you for being so wise.

    3. Keep the faith Emy!;)

      Having been around the Culture now for 7 years I find it still fascinating the evolution of understanding the difference in the groups. I will support any decisions made by an Amish individual to follow their own path in Faith. 😉

    4. Bruno C

      It’s important to have a choice

      I’m glad she made a decision for herself. I have much admiration for the Amish, being Mennonite, (and having Amish background myself), but obviously these lifestyles aren’t for everyone. Especially once you get to orders with rules as severe as the Swartzentrubers. It’s for some, but not all. I’m glad they can still make choices, while obviously being aware of the consequences that they impose.

    5. Excerpt from Emma Gingerich's book

      There’s an excerpt from Emma’s book here: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/article/2018/07/24/i-was-brainwashed-amish-community

      You get a better sense of the dissatisfactions she had while living Amish. She describes herself as being “brainwashed” but that she did not blame her parents for it. Here’s the first paragraph:

      If only people could see where I came from, they would understand how petrified I was to leave the Amish, the only life I ever knew, and transition into “English” life. The culture shock was bigger than I had imagined. There are many different groups of Amish; my family is from the “Swartzentruber Amish,” which is a group of the least modern and uneducated Amish people on the planet. They are sometimes referred to as the knuddle-rollas (dirtrollers). They got the nickname because they take a bath only on Saturday nights, and sometimes not even that often.

    6. Vicki Hall

      Admiration

      Dear Emma, God blessed you with courage! I admire you for your courage and achievements. All God’s blessings to you in l you do.

    7. Hannah

      Ugh...

      Why do the ex-Amish (not all by far) feel they have to write a book. I know Emma’s family and yes, she was Amish. Yes, she didn’t like it. Yes, she became English. Who cares? I’m sorry but being ex-Amish myself, I don’t see my past as insurance when I’m low on money & want to write a book. There are SO many ex-Amish books and there are a few that are extremely exaggerated. This is one that is somewhat exaggerated. Not 100% truthful.

      1. Stephanie Berkey

        One reason some write a book may be because they get so many questions about it. Many people are interested in Amish lifestyles and diversity, as well as how some leave and adjust to mainstream society. I wouldn’t be too concerned about exaggerations; people don’t always believe everything they hear and realize we can have different perspectives. Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your perspective too.

    8. Emma Gingerich leaving the Amish

      Jamie
      Don’t be too quick to judge. I was 18 when I left the Amish back in 1958. I am 80yoa now. I fully understand what Emma went thru.My back ground is not
      Swartzentruber but, I had a lot of the same feelings that she expressed. There was not a whole lot for me to look forward to at that time in my future that I could see either. I have been asked to write a book on my life too. I have just barely started and have questioned myself if I really want to do so. I was not a member of the church when I left and so was never shunned or excommunicated. I and my family have always been very well accepted by my family and the community whenever we have gone back home and visited. I have also served in the U.S. Navy active in the mid sixties during Vietnam. Again all I can say don’t be too quick to judge. When I left I knew that I was on my own from then on. I had made up my mind that I would never ask for any assistance from my parents. Because I knew it was against there will that I left. I and my family have done well. Not rich but comfortable in our retirement. Blessings

    9. FRANK V VATTELANA

      MUCH RESPECT AND LOVE TO YOU!

      I drive the Amish and have always respected them. They are very friendly, hard-working and honest people. That being said I can’t even imagine the amount of courage it took to leave the community. May God bless you and keep you safe all the days of your life.