Rules Of A Pennsylvania Amish Church (1897)

I came across the following list of Amish church rules in a book called Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore, edited by John A. Hostetler.

These were the rules of a church in Mifflin County, PA in 1897, as recorded by a woman named Sadie Newman.

Sadie was a convert to the Amish, having worked for an Amish family and joining the church at age seventeen.

For The Men

Do not cut the hair too short, trim the beard, or shave too low.
Only one suspender, plain black, is allowed.
No zipper clothing.
Blouses or shirts bought in the store may not be worn unless the pockets and collars are first removed.
No [decorative] rings on the harnesses of the horses.
No bicycles, telephones, or electricity.
Buggy seats with a fully closed lazy back may not be used.
Do not use so much English talk, but it may be used when English folks are still around. No English singing is to be used at the youth singings.
No lightning rods on the farm dwellings.
Do not have your picture taken.
Do not use sleeve holders, and do not comb your hair parted.

Mifflin County, Pennsylvania Amish farm. Photo: Don Burke

For The Women

Do not make the caps so small, but keep them large enough to cover the ears. And do not make bonnets so small.
Do not make such broad pleats in the dresses or such broad hems.
Do not comb your hair high on the head.
Do not wear jewelry for pride. Do not use lace around the skirts.
Do not hang framed pictures.
Do not have your picture taken.
Keep plain carpets on the floor, no stripes through them.
There shall be no flowered oil cloths. Do not wear short dresses and light stockings [which] show bare legs.
Source: Newman, Sadie C. “Church Rules in 1897.” Belleville, Pa.

Buggy of Mifflin County’s most traditional group, the Nebraska Amish. Photo: Don Burke

Note there are no exact measurements given here – just phrases like “too low” and “so small” and “high on the head”. People understood what “too low” and “too high” meant…without having to have it spelled out precisely. What did you notice?

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    10 Comments

    1. What I noticed

      While there is reference to what the men’s blouses/shirts are to be like, I am surprised to see none for the women! No restrictions? Cleavage permitted??

      1. Terry see my reply to Geo below. It would be so obviously beyond the pale to all concerned for Amish women to display cleavage that it’s not even necessary to mention.

    2. Geo

      Vague

      This is why laws get invalidated for vagueness. Vague limitations tend to inhibit more than inform specifically what can and can’t be. Perhaps inhibition is the underlying purpose in the way these rules are stated. One suspender? Well that seems clear enough. But may I still wear my belt too?

      1. Some things are simply understood. To take an extreme example, they don’t need to include “Do not murder.” That’s probably why in this instance they did not include a prohibition on belts. They also didn’t have anything on extravagant top hats or silk patterned shirts or whatever was in style at the time among society’s fancy folk. It was beyond consideration and clearly beyond the norm to everyone. These rules mainly deal with the cultural spaces where gray area can materialize.

        1. Geo

          playing safe

          OK Erik but I’m not wearing my belt no more in case that is implied in the ban. I normally wear the belt in case my one single suspender lets loose but I’ll risk my britches falling to be safe

          1. No problem playing it safe, but I guess that single suspender has been working alright for a century-plus 😀 Certain Amish in Mifflin Co. still do this today, admittedly it looks a bit odd: https://amishamerica.com/images/one-suspender-amish-man.jpg

    3. Penelope

      Rules

      It would be safe to assume, that standards of dress and hair issues were to be followed by set examples.
      Modesty for women was in place and only non-amish would be ones that were different in dress. It is also noted people had less in the way of fabric choice and color and clothes were meant to last for a very long time. Then reused in smaller clothing, rugs, or possibly cleaning rags.

    4. Katrina

      Oilcloths

      “No flowered oilcloths.”

      So theoretically, striped or patterns other than flowers were allowed on kitchen tables? Brightly colored oilcloths would also be permitted?

    5. Jim Krämer

      Bescheidenheit: Modesty

      The Ordnung was never a written set of rules. The specifics come when the People vote, then agree to let the Bishop lead. Admonishions for making a mistake are from the people: In the best cases gently. In the worst, through gossip – Rather like the Fortune 500 company I used to work for!! HUMAN NATURE is not always so lovely, so have your mirror and look into it BEFORE you criticize the Amish.
      I am all for the not much English part. Being bilingual has not hurt ME one bit.

      1. Generally they are not written, but this is a case from history where they actually were, which makes it an interesting document to have.