Tuesday 2 October 2012

The Amana - Hutterite Connection

Amana women at work
 (photo courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society.)
The Amana Colonies in America were founded in 1843-44, when a group of about 1,200 Inspirationists, led by Christian Metz fled Germany because of persecution and an economic depression. They first settled in Buffalo, New York. However, when more farmland was needed in 1855,  they moved to Iowa, farming and living in community of goods along the Iowa River. At that point they were known as Ebenezer Society. Later, they renamed their village 'Bleib Treu', a name derived from Song of Solomon 4:8 - Amana, which means 'remain true'. On 26,000 acres of land, six villages were established in close proximity to each other; only a mile or two apart: Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana and Homestead. They gave up community of goods during the Great Depression in 1932.

Today, according to their website: 'the seven villages of the Amana Colonies represent an American dream come true; a thriving community founded by religious faith and community spirit. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Amana Colonies attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, all of whom come to see and enjoy a place where the past is cherished and where hospitality is a way of life.
Evocative of another age, the streets of the Amana Colonies with their historic brick, stone and clapboard homes, their flower and vegetable gardens, their lanterns and walkways recall Amana yesterday. But a vibrant community, celebrating both its past and its future, is here today for you to experience.'

I'm not even sure when I first became interested in this group, but recently was inspired to take a closer look at the Amana - Hutterite connection, after reading an historical fiction book, A Hidden Truth by Judith Miller. My interest also stems from the fact that there are quite a few similarities between Amana and the Hutterites, including a German background, having to flee to America because of persecution and the fact that they too lived 'all things common' for many years. While Hutterites still live in Christian community and are largely farmers, Amana now contributes more to the tourism industry in Iowa.

Hutterite women at work
(Photo: The Golden Years of the Hutterites - Leonard Gross)
Besides all that, having been well established in America, by the time the Hutterites arrived from Russia between 1874-79, the Inspirationists of Amana, kindly helped the Hutterites, who had settled in the Bonne Homme County, South Dakota. Along with supporting them financially, Amana gave them supplies from their stores. On one occasion they provided the Hutterites with bolts of black and white polka dot fabric, which was used for Tiechlen (headcoverings) for the women, like that of the one woman in the picture. Thus, a Hutterite tradition was born, which in some colonies is still alive today. Prior to that, plain black was used, which interestingly enough, many Hutterites have gone back to.

It's quite possible that the use of sunbonnets while working in the garden in earlier years was something the Hutterites learned from Amana Colonies as well, since this type of headcovering is what Amana women traditionally wore.

I've never visited the Amana Colonies, but it's on my bucket list. Have you been to this Historic Site? Or maybe you have ancestors who grew up there. Have you written about them? No matter what your connection is, I'd love to hear about it!

(There's a further Amana - Hutterite connection, which I will post at a later date. This one I find even more fascinating.)


  1. Interesting to see the beginnings of the polka dot coverings! Like the Amish broadfall pants (they are actually of English origin I read once).
    Looking forward to what you can find about the Amana Colonies. Mike

  2. Interesting read. Harry was there a few summers ago, so I got a mini history lesson then. Waiting for your further post on the group.

  3. My boss from the library goes up to I think Minnesota (can't remember) to visit family at least once a year and she and her husband always pass through the Amana Colonies in Iowa. She knew that would be something I'd be interested in so she got me a booklet with a map and all kinds of information about them. It's about 5 hours north of me (I'm in St. Louis, Missouri). When my husband gets some time off work, I'd love to go visit, even if it's just for the weekend.

  4. Linda, as you know, I grew up in the Amana's. I thought I knew almost all of the history, but telling me about the exchange of the bolts of polka dot fabric simply delighted me. I am preparing some information for you. Also, I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. Susan

  5. Thanks, Susan! I'm really looking forward to receiving the information.

  6. Does this faith community still exist, the people worshipping together in their form?
    Because of your earlier post I took a look at the community’s website, but couldn’t determine to my satisfaction if they where still active or not.

  7. I'm not entirely sure, Shom, but intend to find out. From the website it seems more like a tourist attraction.

  8. I live about an hour from the Amanas, and have visited. I don't think the faith community is still intact. Is a very popular tourist attraction. I was thinking of visiting again this fall. I have also read and enjoyed Judith Miller's book. Interested in the other link!

  9. Absolutely, the faith and church in Amana is as strong as ever. A German and an English service each Sunday, Wednesday evening prayer meetings and visitors are always welcome at the church services. Susan

  10. Thanks for sharing this with us, Susan! I also found it interesting what you told me in the email: That the men and women sit on separate sides, with oldest in the back and youngest at the front. That is exactly how the Hutterites sit during church services.

  11. This is so interesting! I love how you incorporated this history with your book review. Nope, I have not ever had the pleasure of visiting this site but would love to include it in my travels some day.
    Adding A Hidden Truth to my wish list right now!

  12. The Hutterite historian, Arnold M. Hofer of Freeman, SD was a great friend of mine and we talked Hutter history often. He proved that your women's dotted scarves are an ancient tradition that precedes going to Russia even. He had visiting him in his home a young Habaner. You know that the old Hutterites were at times known as Habaner and made the lovely Slovakian Habaner pottery. The Habanische live in the old Hutterite colonies even today as they are the descendants of the Hutterites who defected back to Catholicism. Arnold took the young man to visit Wolf Creek west of town. Here the young man became quite emotional Arnold said for he was excited to see the women wearing polka dotted scarves. The young man was impressed at this tradition and that it had survived from their culture on both sides of the pond for he told Arnold that the older Habanische women in his village would wear polka dot scarves to church especially if it was a funeral. So, you can see that tradition has been lost by some of the Hutterites but is a tradition you had kept for hundreds of years even. I assume that the Amana society since they printed material, were found to be a source of polka dotted material which of course the Hutterites would have been looking for since it was tradition for women to wear the dots.

    1. Thanks for those interesting comments. I did not know that the polka dot head covering dates back to... has to be even before Russia, if it's a Habaner tradition. Must be Slovakia. I'm interested to know who you are, or where you're from.

  13. I would also like to know more about that, especially in light of the fact that the Hutterite Chronicle indicates that the Hutterite women, at least at the time the Chronicle was written, wore a white kerchief.

    The fact that the young man in your account saw Hutterites wearing polka dot headcoverings and than assumed that this was the "old" Hutterite tradition does not substantiate it. The fact is the head covering colour may well have fluctuated with the availability of materials. The earliest images we have, all from the early 1900, show Hutterite women with very small dots. Some also appear to be without dots, but that could be due to lighting.

    I believe the 1900s were a time when many plains groups in North America started to codify their dress traditions. So, today's "traditional" dress is likely more a reflection of that era than of earlier eras.

  14. I grew up in homestead, in the 90's the Oma's and Opa's still taught the traditions. I really miss the stories and conversations and the simple things I was I was taught.


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