By Dr. Charles T. Noe

The early history of Iowa County is intimately connected with that of the Amana Society, the founders of which came to this county when the first settlements were being made and when the line of civilization was slowly advancing westward from the eastern border of the state.

The history of the Amana Society dates back fully two centuries when, in 1714, it had its beginning in Germany through the organization of a small group of religious men who had found the teachings of the then existing churches to be entirely too formal and superficial. Their ideal was the church as established by Christ himself, and they endeavored to return to the simple faith of the Apostles and Disciples of Christ. They held their own religious services, and their number slowly increased as their faith and belief became more widely known.

Among them were highly gifted men, sometimes members of the clergy, whose teachings were of such power and conviction that they were accepted as being inspired by God. Therefore the little band of separatists became known as Inspirationists and their organization as “The Community of True Inspiration.”

Their disavowal of many of the formal and superficial doctrines of the church soon brought upon them the hatred and persecution which in those times was the lot of all whose faith was at variance with the ruling church.

After existing under varying conditions for over a century, the community found the conditions intolerable and a new home was sought in a country where religious freedom was one of the keynotes of government. They came to the United States in 1843, about eight hundred in number, settling near Buffalo, N.Y., on a former Indian reservation of about ten thousand acres, and founded the several Ebenezer villages.

However, very soon the proximity of a large and growing city was found to be detrimental to the progress of the community, and a new location was sought in 1854 and found in Iowa, the state to which the general trend of emigration swept thousands of new settlers in that time. When the first members of the community arrived in Iowa the railroad ended at Rock Island, whence they traveled by steamboat to Muscatine, and from there the journey was made overland to Iowa County, their new home. Much of the land had already been entered by others, but a few thousand acres of Government land was still obtainable, and


in the course of a few years nearly all of the land now owned by the society, comprising about twenty-six thousand acres, had been bought.

Several villages were laid out, first in 1855 Amana, named so from the Bible and meaning “Remain true,” then West Amana and South Amana in 1856, High Amana in 1857 and East Amana in 1860.

Until this time Iowa City had been the nearest railroad station, but in 1860 the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad (now the Rock Island) was extended westward and was located through Homestead, a little village just at the southern edge of the lands of the society. This village was later bought, owing to the necessity of having a railroad station, and it became one of the villages of the society.

In 1859 the society incorporated under the name of “Amana Society,” and has remained under this corporate name to the present time. In 1862 an additional village, Middle Amana, was laid out. During all this time the gradual sale of the New York property was carried on so that the lands in Iowa could be paid, until in 1864, everything had been sold and the last of the members transferred from New York to Iowa.

To convey a thorough understanding of the purpose of the society it is perhaps best to quote from its constitution the most important provisions, articles 1 and 2 being given in full:

Article I. The foundation of our civil organization is and shall remain forever God, the Lord and the faith, which He worked in us according to His free grace and mercy, and which is founded upon (I) the word of God as revealed in the Old and New Testament; (2) the testimony of Jesus through the spirit of prophecy; (3) the hidden spirit of grace and chastisement.

The purpose of our association as a religious society is therefore no worldly or selfish one, but the purpose of the love of God in His vocation of grace received by us, to serve Him in the inward and outward bond on union, according to His laws and His requirements in our own consciences, and thus to work out the salvation of our souls, through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, in self-denial, in the obedience of our faith, and in the demonstration of our faithfulness in the inward and outward service of the community, by the power of grace, which God presents us with.

And to fulfill this duty we hereby covenant and promise collectively and each to the other by the acceptance and signing of this present constitution.

Article 2. In this bond of union tied by God among ourselves, it is our unanimous will and resolution that the land purchased here and that may hereafter be purchased shall be and remain a common estate and property, and with all improvements thereupon and all appurtenances thereto, as also with all the labor, cares, troubles and burdens, of which each member shall bear his allotted share with a willing heart.

And having obtained in pursuance of the act of the Legislature of this state, chapter 131, passed March 28, 1858, an incorporation as a religious society, it is hereby agreed on that the present and future titles to our common land shall be conveyed to and vested in “The Amana society,” in the Township of Amana, as our corporate name, by which we are known in law.

Article 3. Agriculture, manufactures and trades shall form the means of sustenance, and out of the income of these the expenses of the society shall be






defrayed. If any surplus remains it shall be applied to improvements, to the erection of school and meeting houses, care of the old and sick, the founding of a business and safety fund, and to benevolent purposes in general.

Article 4. The control and management of the society shall be vested in a board of thirteen trustees, to be elected annually out of the numbers of elders. The trustees shall annually elect out of their number a president, vice president and secretary, who shall have full power to sign all public and legal documents in the name of the society.

Article 5. Every member is in duty bound to give his or her personal and real property to the trustees for the common fund, at the time of joining the society. For such payments each member is entitled to a credit thereof on the books of the society and to a receipt signed by the president and secretary, and is secured by the pledge of the common property of the society.

Article 6. Each member is entitled to free board and dwelling, to support and care in old age, sickness and infirmity and to an annual sum of maintenance, the amount of which is to be fixed by the trustees. The members release all claims for wages, interest and any share in the income and of the estate of the society separate from the common stock.

Article 7. All children and minors after the death of their parents and relatives shall be orphans under the special guardianship of the trustees during their minority. Any credits, if not disposed of by will, or any debts left by the parents are to be assumed by the children. Credits of members dying intestate without leaving lawful heirs shall revert to the society.

Article 8. Members leaving the society either by their own choice of expulsion shall receive back the amount paid into the common fund without any interest or allowances for services during the time of their membership.

From the foregoing it will be seen the communism is not practiced for temporal or pecuniary purposes or as an experiment to solve social problems, but is one of the means to lead a better and truer Christian life. The religious faith of the community is founded on the revealed work of God in the Old and New Testament on the divine doctrines and teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and on the writings and teachings of the founders of the society, held and revered as inspired from God. Divine worship is offered in prayer meetings where word of God is read and comments for instruction and useful application are rendered thereon by the elders. Baptism is not practiced, as it is held to be only an outward form of true spiritual baptism. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated biennially in the manner introduced by Christ. War is believed to be against the will of God, and oaths are forbidden.

The spiritual management rests entirely in the hands of the elders, who are chosen by the board of trustees from those best fitted. Everyone is in duty bound and expected to contribute all of his or her ability towards the maintenance of the society, those of little ability contributing little and those of much ability contributing much, and all receiving equal benefits of the amount and manner of contribution. All of the income derived from the various enterprises which are conducted for the support of the society goes into the common fund, from which the individual members are supported alike and equal and in accordance with necessity.


Each village has a number of kitchens and eating houses to which members are assigned for their meals. No cooking is done in the individual homes, and where there are small children the food is supplied from the kitchens. The food is plain but abundant and of the best quality, meat being provided twice each day, with plenty of home-grown vegetables. The cooking is done entirely by the women and girls, who take turns at the work incidental to it.

All of the vegetables needed are raised in the gardens of the community, where the women not occupied in the kitchens take care of the lighter work and men attend to the heavier duties. Everything is raised in plentiful supply, but no special effort is made to raise any garden products for the markets except onions. In good crop years there is usually a surplus of other vegetables which is sold. In farming it is the object of the society to raise what is needed for its own supply, about six thousand acres being under cultivation and farmed to crops of corn, oats, wheat, barley and potatoes; about eight thousand acres are in pastures and meadows, and the balance is timber and uncultivated land.

Each village has a general store where the members are credited with their annual allowance against which purchased may be made. Aside from the members the stores are largely patronized by the farmers of the vicinity. At Amana and Middle Amana are located the woolen mills, where flannels and blankets are manufactured, and a calico print mill is located at Amana. The society keeps a herd of dairy cows at each village, of sufficient size to supply the required amount of milk and butter. An orchard and vineyard is maintained at each village, the products of which are distributed among the members.

The domestic and family life differs in no way from the elsewhere. Most families occupy a house by themselves, unless the family is quite small, or sometimes single members live with families who help to take care of them and their homes. The houses are built extremely plain, but very substantial and warm, and no paint is used on the outside. Marriage is not permitted under the age of twenty-four for men and nineteen for women. The house furnishings are the personal property of the members, although a certain supervision is exercised over them to maintain equality and simplicity. Each family is given sufficient ground around the house for a fruit or flower garden, and many find much pleasure and pastime in caring for these in a model manner.

Sick, infirm or aged members are cared for to their end regardless of their ability to work. They receive appropriate food and care, and free attendance by the society’s physicians. The latter are members of the society, educated at its expense, and they practice under the state law.

The schools are conducted under the supervision of the county superintendent and are graded according to the customary course of eight grades. Besides the studies embraced in these, various branches are taught in German, the language used almost exclusively in home and church. The schoolhouses are substantially built of brick and are roomy, clean and warm. Some attention is given to the teaching of knitting, sewing and needle work to the girls and of practical agriculture to the boys.

The amusements of plays of the children do not differ materially from those of other places, but as to entertainments for older people there is considerable restriction. No dancing, theaters or band concerts are allowed, although the more refined forms of music are permitted in the homes.


The woolen mills provide a means of employment for many who are not able to take part in the heavier work of farming, and at the same time the mills contribute a large share of the support and maintenance of the society. It is the endeavor of the management to provide occupation and employment for each member in accordance with natural inclinations, talents and abilities, at least as much so as is practicable and compatible with the general welfare of the society.

Each one is morally bound to assist and share in the work and labor of providing for the community, to help in the care of those who are not able to care for themselves, and thus to lighten and distribute the burden which in the great world is often too heavy for one alone.