30 Interesting Facts About the Amish People

By Gina-Marie Cheeseman
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Can you imagine forgoing modern conveniences like electricity, cars, and telephones? People have long been interested in the Amish people because of their plain, old-fashioned style of dress and their disdain for modern conveniences. TV shows like TLC's Breaking Amish have also given us a fascinating glimpse into how Amish societies work in the last few years. Check out these 30 interesting facts about the Amish.

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The Amish Shun All Violence

The Amish have a strong belief in nonviolence, which stems from their religious beliefs. They take seriously the instructions in the Bible to “turn the other cheek” and resist violence. They are pacifists, which Merriam-Webster defines as “someone who opposes war or violence as a means of settling disputes.”

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They never serve in the military. During certain times of military draft in American history, they have received exemptions from military service by the government. This has happened as recently as the Vietnam War. In previous wars, Amish folks have either paid someone to stand in for them or paid commutation fees to avoid serving in the military.

The Amish Sprang From a Disagreement With Mennonites

The Old Order Amish Mennonite Church was started by followers of Swiss native Jakob Amman in the late 17th century. Amman lived from 1644 to 1730 and was a leader among the Mennonites, another branch of Anabaptists. He taught that all church members should dress the same way, men should not trim their beards and those who did not adhere to church teachings should be shunned. 

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Amman excommunicated all the leaders and ministers of the Swiss Mennonite congregations who would not agree to the practice of shunning excommunicated members. After the split, Amish communities popped up in Switzerland, Germany, Russia and the Netherlands. The Amish started to come to North America in the early 18th century. They settled first in eastern Pennsylvania, where there is still a large community. Amish communities in Europe eventually ceased due to continuous emigration to North America and assimilation with Mennonites. 

They Shun Modern Conveniences

The Amish are famously known for their disdain of modern conveniences. Old Order Amish shun the use of electricity. However, there have been exceptions, including using electric flashers on their buggies so they can legally drive them in their communities and the use of farm equipment that could not be operated without electricity, such as equipment to milk a cow. Old Order Amish also do not have telephones in their homes.

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The reason that they shun the conveniences that the rest of us take for granted is that they take seriously a verse in the Bible that says to “not be conformed to this world.” They seek to avoid what they deem are worldly influences, including the use of electricity and telephones. 

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The Amish Are Called the “Plain People”

The simple way that the Amish dress is the reason why they are known as the “plain people.” Most Amish women make their own clothing in addition to the clothes their family wears. They dress simply to encourage humility and to not be entangled with what they deem the “world.” Their clothes reflect their faith and values.

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They dress in clothing that lacks patterns. Only solid colors are allowed. Typically those colors are black, blue, burgundy, brown, purple or green. Men wear black suits fastened with a hook and an eye. For church, mean wear a white shirt with a vest and black coat over the top. They wear straw hats when it is summertime and black felt hats in wintertime. Women typically only own four dresses. They wear either a bonnet when outside or a white cap called a kapp. 

They Adhere to a Strict Interpretation of the Bible

The Amish practice a very strict interpretation of the Bible. There are numerous examples of biblical teachings that they take literally. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 it says women should cover their heads. For that reason, Amish women always keep their heads covered. Another example comes from Leviticus 19:27 which tells men to “not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.” That verse is the reason why some Amish men do not trim their beards.

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The one area of biblical teaching that they do not take literally or even practice is proselytizing or sharing their faith. Jesus told his followers to “go into all the world and make disciples of all men.” The Amish do not share their faith with outsiders but prefer to keep to themselves.

Most Amish Are Farmers

Farming has a particular significance to the Amish, who like to make all of their own food. Being a people who want to be set apart from anyone who is not Amish, whom they call “the English,” it is only natural that they would be master farmers. The Amish farmlands in Pennsylvania are some of the most productive in the U.S.

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Despite the lack of use of telephones, the internet and modern farm equipment, including tractors, the Amish tend to be more productive farmers and use far less energy. Produce and other agricultural products of the Amish are sold in small stores and farmers markets in areas where they have communities.

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They Shun the Use of Automobiles

The Amish are famous for driving horse-drawn buggies. Although in popular culture a black buggy comes to mind when people think of the mode of transportation of the Amish, they can also be white, gray or yellow. They are generally shaped like a box and may contain heaters, windshield wipers and even upholstered seats.

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They choose to drive buggies based on their religious beliefs. They view modern technology as harmful to their society. Romans 12:2 in the New Testament says to “not be conformed to this world.” The Amish believe that to adopt modern technology means to embrace what they consider to be the world. By staying with older technology, they separate themselves from the world.

Where the Amish Live in the US

The Amish live in the U.S. and Canada. There are no Old Order Amish populations outside North America. The biggest population are in Pennsylvania and Ohio, with two counties having the highest concentration: Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Indiana has the third largest population. Those three states have about two-thirds of the entire Amish population. They live in other states as well and in the Canadian province of Ontario.

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The Amish reside in a total of 28 states in the U.S. Outside of Pennsylvania, they typically live in the Midwest. However, there are also Amish populations in the South, including in Tennessee, where the largest southern community lives in a town south of Nashville called Etheridge. There are also Amish communities in several western states, namely Montana and Colorado.

Famous for Handmade Quilts and Furniture

Both quilting and furniture making are important activities for the Amish people. Amish women gather regularly in quilting circles, which often function as social gatherings. Young women learn to sew starting in childhood, and take over quilt making for their families when they get married. Quilts are often sewn by hand, but women sometimes use non-electric sewing machines.

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Amish furniture has been popular in the U.S. since the early 1920s, when public interest in folk art started to rise. Today, the Amish make wooden furniture in a number of different styles with the aid of hydraulic and pneumatic power. Furniture construction techniques are often passed down from generation to generation.

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They Possess a Strong Belief in Forgiveness

The Amish believe in forgiveness, which they view as a Christian duty. In Christianity, God forgives sinners and even comes down in the form of a man and dies for the sins of humanity. Christians are expected, according to the Bible, to pass on that forgiveness. The Amish adhere to that belief to an extent that many other Christian sects do not.

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A tragedy that occurred on Oct. 2, 2006, serves as a strong example of how the Amish forgive. On that day, a man broke into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 girls ages six to 13. The shooter then committed suicide. The Amish community’s response to the shootings shocked and inspired the nation. They responded by forgiving the shooter and even embraced the shooter’s family.

You Can Learn About the Amish Through Tours in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania

If you are fascinated by the Amish, and there is much about them that is fascinating, you can learn more about them through the Simple Life Amish Tours in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Started by Susan Hougelman, Simple Life Amish Tours offers visitors tours of the Old Order Amish Community. The tours include farms and businesses in Western Pennsylvania.

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Driving around in a van, Hougelman explains the Amish culture to tourists. During the tour, visitors stop at a farm where they can pick their own vegetables or flowers, depending upon the growing season. There are two rules that visitors must adhere to: don’t ask personal questions of the Amish and don’t take pictures of their faces. In other words, tourists are expected to respect the privacy of the Amish.

They Speak an Old German Dialect

Although the Amish are fluent in English, they also speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania German or Dutch (a misnomer of the German word “Deutch”). The German dialect they speak shares some similarities with German dialects currently spoken in Europe, but the dialect of the Amish includes English words.

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Their dialect is not a written language, although some dictionaries have been created around it. The Amish write mostly in English, which is used in their schools. Most Amish children do not learn English until they start school. High German is used in their church services.

The Swiss Amish, found mostly in Indiana, speak a dialect of Swiss German that is different from the German dialect most Amish speak. The Swiss Amish are descended from a group who came to the U.S. from the early to mid-1800s. Although the dialect they speak is not identical to German dialects spoken today in Switzerland, it is more similar to them than the dialect spoken by other Amish communities. 

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They Are One of the Fastest Growing Populations in the US

While the population growth rate of the U.S., in general, is less than one percent a year, the Amish growth rate is about 3.73 percent a year. In 1989, their estimated population was only 100,000. A 2012 study of the Amish found that there were roughly 251,000 Amish people in the U.S. And by June 2018 there were 330,270.

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The researchers who compiled the 2012 study about the population of the Amish attribute the growth to Amish children not leaving the faith and starting their own large families. “Some people would claim 90 percent of daughters and sons get baptized Amish and start families,” said lead researcher Joseph Donnermeyer, a professor of rural sociology at Ohio State University.

They Do Not Pay Into or Collect Social Security

The Amish pay federal income tax and other taxes, including state and property taxes. Some Amish communities end up paying taxes for both public and private Amish schools. The reason is that most Amish send their children to their own schools, but are still taxed to pay for public schools in the areas in which they live. What they do not pay into is Social Security, which they also do not collect. They were exempted from paying into it in 1965.

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The reason is that they view Social Security as a form of commercial insurance. They believe that members of their churches should provide for each other’s needs. Reliance on government programs is frowned upon. Amish families take care of their elderly and, if needed, they accept community help. They also do not accept unemployment or welfare benefits for the same reasons they do not accept Social Security.

Most Amish Only Go to School Through the Eighth Grade

Amish children only go to school through the eighth grade. Due to their religious principles, they are exempt from compulsory school attendance beyond the eighth grade. Their schooling is centered around the basic skills of reading, writing and math. They also receive vocational training and learn about Amish history and values.

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Amish schools are typically one room, with young women barely out of school serving as the teachers. They teach for a few years before they get married. There are usually two sections to the school: one for students in grades one to four and one for older students, grades five to eight. Teaching children to have a strong work ethic is important among the Amish.

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The Custom of Rumspringa

Rumspringa is a custom among the Amish that means “running around.” It refers to a period during adolescence starting at about 16 years old where parents relinquish control over Amish children on weekends. The thinking is that because the children are not yet baptized, church authority does not yet apply to them.

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Some Amish teenagers choose to stick to traditional Amish customs, but others experiment with “English” activities such as wearing non-Amish clothes or buying a car. The teenagers generally live with their parents during rumspringa. The typical activities of most teenagers are social gatherings they call “singings” when they meet in a house and sing German and English hymns together. Rumspringa ends when a young person joins the church and is baptized.

New Order Amish Generally Welcome Visitors

There is a small percentage of the Amish who belong to New Order Amish communities, making up only three percent of the entire population. The largest population of New Order Amish live in Holmes County, Ohio. They dress in a similar manner to Old Order Amish, drive horse-drawn buggies, speak a German dialect and send their children to Amish-run schools.

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One of the big differences is that New Order Amish generally welcome visitors into their services. New Order ministers try to preach part of their sermon in English and the German hymn books used may include English translations. New Order Amish may even take part in mission work. In general, they are more accessible to outsiders. 

They Forbid Photos of Themselves

While attitudes to having their picture taken may differ, it is common to see “no photos please” signs in Amish communities. Many Amish tend to avoid having their picture taken. There are some who will totally refuse to be photographed in any form, but there are some who view a natural setting as acceptable as opposed to a posed photo. The reason is that a posed photo may be regarded as exhibiting pride.

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The Amish are a simple people who strive to serve God as they understand the teachings of the New Testament. They wear simple, unadorned clothes and try to not show pride. Having their picture taken can, therefore, be seen as the ultimate example of showing pride. Outsiders who want to take pictures should show courtesy and ask if it is acceptable.

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Volleyball and Softball Are Popular With Amish Families

It may come as a surprise to you, but the Amish enjoy sports. Volleyball and softball are common sports played by children during school recess. They are also enjoyed by Amish teenagers and even some adults. Although there is some controversy among them concerning adults playing sports, there is widespread acceptance for children playing a sports game.

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Beyond playing sports games during recess, some Amish children play in organized leagues. Adult participation in leagues is typically discouraged, but some adults will play sports with their children. The biggest difference between the way the Amish children and families play sports games is that competition is not emphasized, but rather group participation is key. 

They Do Not Play Musical Instruments

Amish communities do enjoy music, namely in their churches where they sing songs in German and sometimes English. They also enjoy singing at home or while working. Although they enjoy music, they generally frown upon musical instruments. However, occasionally harmonicas are allowed. Their church music is unaccompanied and they do not dance to music.

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The reason that they shun musical instruments, just as they shun modern conveniences, is due to their religious beliefs. They prize the group rather than the individual. They view a musical instrument, such as a guitar or piano, as calling too much attention to the individual.  

Amish Little Girls Play with Faceless Dolls

There is something very curious about many of the dolls Amish little girls play with. They are faceless. Their lack of eyes, mouth and a nose makes them very different. However, not all Amish dolls are faceless. All the dolls that Amish little girls play with are handmade and that lends an old-fashioned and timeless look to them.

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It is generally believed by historians that there is not one reason for the origin of faceless dolls. But the origin likely stems from their religious beliefs, like so many of their customs. The Amish have a strong belief in the equality of all people, that everyone is the same in the eyes of God. Some think that the tenet of equality is where the faceless dolls originated from.

Still, others think that it comes from the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible that states that people are not to create idols or “graven images.” Some Amish interpret that biblical passage to mean that there should not be accurate representations of people. 

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They Shun People Who Stray From the Amish Lifestyle

The use of socially excluding those who have strayed from church teachings has long been a practice among Anabaptist sects, including the Amish. However, shunning among them does not mean there is no social interaction. What it does mean is that Amish members cannot eat at the same table as someone being shunned. It also means that Amish people cannot do business with the shunned person.

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The practice of shunning comes from a passage in 1 Corinthians in which the apostle Paul tells Christians “not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

Family Is Their Most Important Social Unit

Family is the Amish community’s most important social unit. It is not uncommon for an Amish couple to have seven to 10 children. Their high birth rate keeps their community going and ensures there will be future church members. It also not uncommon for several generations of family members to live in the same house.

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The Amish take literally what the Bible says about marriage. The apostle Paul says in the book of Ephesians in the New Testament that “the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church” and for that reason, wives are to submit to their husbands. Therefore, the husband is the head of the family and makes all the major decisions. He is the family’s main breadwinner while the wife runs the household.

They Vaccinate Their Kids

While some people think that the Amish do not believe in vaccinating their children, that is not true. Dr. Kevin Strauss, M.D., who is a pediatrician at the Clinic for Special Children in Pennsylvania, said, “We run a weekly vaccination clinic and it's very busy.” However, the rate of vaccination among the Amish does tend to be lower than the rest of the population.

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The vaccination rates among Amish communities tend to be lower among more conservative groups. What helps increase the vaccination rate among them is when medical professionals explain that vaccinating their children may help a serious disease from spreading. When a polio outbreak occurred in 1979 in an Amish community, they resisted immunization at first. They chose to be vaccinated after one of their church members advocated for vaccination among them.

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They Use Public Transportation

While horse-drawn buggies are the main mode of transportation for the Amish, they are not good for longer trips. When they need to travel longer distances, many Amish use bicycles and even public transportation including taxicabs, buses and trains. Some may accept rides from non-Amish friends or hire a van and driver.

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There are bus lines that transport Amish people. One of those bus lines is Pioneer Trails which transports the Amish from Ohio and Indiana to Pinecraft, Florida, for vacations in the winter. Old Order Amish, however, do not allow their members to travel on airplanes, but the New Order Amish do permit air travel. 

Women Can’t Become Teachers, Pastors or Bishops

While Amish women have a big role to play in their household by running it, they cannot become leaders in their communities. Leadership is for men only. They cannot serve as bishops or pastors in their churches and married women cannot be teachers. Teaching is for single girls only. However, married women do help bring in money for their families and they are voting church members.

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While it may seem that Amish women are oppressed, the reality is quite different. Women are not thought of as less than men in Amish society. They are looked up to as mothers and wives who keep the household running. Given the big role the family unit has among the Amish, mothers have a big impact. There are Amish women who run their own businesses, including market stands and small shops. 

Outsiders Occasionally Join the Amish

While the numbers are low, there are outsiders who join the Amish and even stay Amish. However, many who join end up leaving. People seek to join the Amish to live a simpler way of life that is family and church based. The ones who are successful in remaining Amish keep a few things in mind before joining.

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First, an outsider who wants to join the Amish needs to understand that their Christian faith is at the center of their lives. It is a part of everything they do. They also need to grasp that they are joining a different culture that has its own language. Lastly, they need to understand that the Amish way of life is difficult for outsiders to live. 

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They Officially Join the Church Between the Ages of 18 and 22

Amish youth officially join the church between the ages of 18 and 22. Remember the Amish tradition of Rumspringa? After that period, Amish youth who choose to stay will become baptized and join the church. To be baptized and join the church, young people have to submit to the authority of the church. It is a life-long commitment.

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What sets Amish church services apart from other Christian denominations is that they are held in homes and other buildings such as barns. They last about three hours with the singing being an important part of the service. Prayer and preaching are two other important aspects of their church services. Amish ministers typically preach a short sermon of about 20 minutes and a longer one that lasts about one hour. The reason they hold the services in homes is that early Anabaptists had to meet in secret due to persecution from authorities. 

They Have a Barn-Raising Tradition

Barn raising is a tradition among the Amish that is a symbol of the value they place on community. When a farmer needs to have a barn built, whether because of disaster or he is a new farmer, the community comes together to build him a barn. Everyone who helps does so as a volunteer and does not get paid.

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The Amish believe, as Christians, they should care for one another. Since they do not receive government aid of any kind or purchase insurance, the help they provide one another when a barn burns down is their social safety net. A barn raising is also a showcase of their mutual cooperation.

Most Amish Communities Have a Dry Goods Store

If you have ever visited or lived in a very small town, you know what a small general store is like and the various types of foods and basic necessities, such as toothbrushes and toilet paper, it offers. The Amish have something similar. Dry goods stores are common in their communities.

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An Amish dry goods store will contain just about everything the Amish woman will need to run her household properly. There will be tools a woman needs to feed her family, ranging from canning supplies to big pails used to mix foods while making large amounts. There are books and things for children like games, dolls and school supplies. 

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