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Snowden Lecturer discusses research of Amish women Sept. 22

Sep 18th, 2015 | By | Category: Front Page, News

From E-town NOW

While researching Deitsch, the language spoken by the Amish, Karen Johnson-Weiner discovered a new research interest – the lives of Amish women. She isn’t exploring how they are different from mainstream women nor how they are the same but simply how they are and who they are.

“I began my work with interest in their language,” said Johnson-Weiner, the 2015 Snowden Fellow at Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. “I interviewed teachers; most of their teachers are women. I went out to talk to the women in their homes.”

By watching the women’s interactions with their families and children, on the farms and in the communities, Johnson-Weiner became intrigued about “when a baby girl comes into the world in an Amish family and grows up, how does she become the woman she is?”

We tend to think of Amish women a just ‘Amish,’ but what IS an Amish woman?”

Johnson-Weiner, will speak about her recent research, “Writing About Amish Woman,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the College’s Snowden Lecture.

“I was originally learning ‘how do you maintain your language and your culture’,” she said about her initial research but, she said, she ended up intrigued by the women.

“We tend to think of Amish women as just ‘Amish,’ but what IS an Amish woman?” But, just as the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect is not a standardized language, with multitudes of variations depending on locale and family make-up, so are the Amish women unique depending on where they live and what they do.

Johnson-Weiner said she wanted to be careful not to allow stereotypes of the Anabaptist group or her own preconceived ideas of the Amish community or Amish women to cloud her research. She wanted to know who the women felt they were. What did they look like in their own eyes?

What she found is that, just as speaking Pennsylvania Dutch is simply part of their culture and their religion, so is being an Amish woman. “You can’t divide them” she said of the language, the people, the beliefs and how the women live their lives.

It was surprising to the professor how little the Amish discuss their religion. “They don’t go on and on about the Bible,” she said. “Simply, they say, ‘It is our way’.” That’s a phrase Johnson-Weiner, Distinguished Service Professor, Linguistic Anthropology, with State University of New York at Potsdam, heard over and over as she interviewed women and families.

A definite similarity of Amish women is that they “live their faith.” Everything they do is faith-based, she said, though they don’t discuss it or really think about it. But, said Johnson-Weiner, Amish women do question why things are the way they are from time to time, and their relationships are more partnerships than she had originally imagined.

She also found quite a bit of diversity in the Amish community based on the women’s locale and family make-up.

“They might be a very conservative group, agrarian-based, with large families, lots of children,” Johnson-Weiner said. “Or, when husband the leaves the home to work in a factory, there are not as many children. The woman might purchase clothing rather than sew.”

This different family dynamic and structure helps mold who the Amish women are from the start. On farms, babies are brought along from the very beginning for chores; there is a sharing of labor. If the parents both work outside the home, however, it effects the children and their views of mainstream society.” As they grow up, the women might interact more with mainstream society, she said, changing their perspectives.

Johnson-Weiner is the author of “New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State” and “Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools.” She also is coauthor (with Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt) of “The Amish”.

The Snowden Lecture is free and takes place at the Young Center’s Bucher Meetinghouse. For more information, contact the Young Center at 717-361-1470 or

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