New York Times
New York, New York
Monday, February 6, 1893, pg. 2
Contributed & transcribed by Stephen D. Williams
Some of the older residents of Western New York will remember the peculiar
religious colony at Ebenezer, about eight miles from Buffalo, and such will be interested
in the history of the after life of this people, while others, especially students
of sociology, will enjoy the story of the "True Inspirationists."
Scattered here and there in Germany and Switzerland, toward the close of
the last century, were small bands of people having unusual religious notions. Their
clergymen, or prophets as they were called, traveled from place to place teaching
their beliefs and exhorting. Early in the present century they resolved to emigrate
in a body to the United States, in order that they might enjoy greater religious
liberty. Agents of the society selected and purchased the land near Buffalo and
established the colony.
At first community of interests was not a part of the scheme, but it soon
became apparent that if the little band intended to stay together, where they could
be always under the influence of the teachings of their prophets and elders, some
way should be provided to secure work in the immediate neighborhood for men representing
different avocations. From this necessity grew the plan for a community in which
all should work together harmoniously for the good of all. The towns were accordingly
built at Ebenezer on this plan, and with farming, gardening, and manufacturing they
lived happily until about 1854, when the heads of the community, after due consideration,
concluded that they would sell the property at Ebenezer and seek a home further
west. It was then that they found the ideal spot in Iowa County, Iowa, and it is
this community that the writer proposed to describe.
The name Amana was taken to designate the society, and the articles of incorporation
state that the principal object of the association is "to promote the temporal
and spiritual welfare of its members." The signification of the word "Amana"
is "remain true," and a visit to the community demonstrated the fact that
the name is not a misnomer. the central bond of union of the society is, of course,
religious doctrines, and about their beliefs are woven the communistic notions.
The society believes in the Bible, but it claims to have had prophets inspired of
God, whose teachings have been collected in volumes and are valued as highly as
the Holy Book.
The first prophet of the society in the United States was Christian Metz.
While at Ebenezer he predicted the prevalence of a pestilence in Buffalo, according
to the records of the society, and there followed the cholera scourge. He also announced
that a woman would be his successor as the inspired agent of the Deity in the society,
and it is a matter of history that Barbara Landmann prophesied and taught in the
community from the time Metz died, in 1860, to the time of her death, in 1884. The
teachings of these and other prophets are collected and printed in books called
"Die Sammlung," which are used with the Bible at all religious services
of the community. Prophetess Landmann predicted that her successor would be a man
who would come into the community from the profane world, and the people are now
waiting in absolute confidence that the day is not far distant when they will receive
this messenger from the Most High.
One of their beliefs is that they have been absolved my special act of God
from the necessity for baptism, and so this ordinance is dispensed with in the list
of religious ceremonies. Communion is celebrated only at such time as the numerous
Elders of the Church appoint, about once in two years, and the people then make
up for lost time. The wine is served by the mugful and the bread by the loaf. Religious
services are held Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings and every evening, conducted
by the Elders in rotation. the service is simply, consisting of reading from "Die
Sammlung" and the Bible, singing, prayer by the males or the females present--the
women never offering up invocations on the same day that the men do, but alternation
in these religious duties with their sterner devotees--and exhortation to a better
life by the Elder. At these meetings the men take on side of the room and the women
the other, and the men are obliged by the rules of the society to wait in the meeting
house until the women have retired from the room and are well on their way home.
On questions of propriety these people are more strict than were the Puritans,
and the children are taught to look with disfavor upon anything of a worldly character.
Musical instruments and toys are prohibited, but instead the little ones are put
in school at the age of five years, and besides studying from that time on until
they are fourteen years of age, are taught to sew and knit. The same number of hours
that the men spend in the shops and fields are spent by the children in school.
They are taught their catechism, to read and write in the German language, a smattering
of English sufficient to enable the Elders to swear that they are teaching it in
the schools and thus draw public money, and arithmetic. Any attempt to broaden the
curriculum laid down by the elders is frowned upon, and the teacher who thinks a
child is entitled to more education than prescribed, if he wants to put the extra
effort in his work, is prevented from further teaching and assigned to a menial
occupation as a punishment for his presumption. By this means the ambitions of the
young folks are sought to be curbed, and they are kept down to such an extent that
if they wanted to go out in the world they would be ill equipped to fight their
Seven villages contain the population of the community, which is 1,700. No
matter where the man or woman works, whether in the fields and gardens or in the
shops, he or she resided in one of the villages. Sixty thousand acres of land are
owned by the society, and the seven villages are situated at various points on this
plat. If a member works on the farm he is taken there by a team in the morning,
brought back at noon for dinner, and again at night. Their morning and afternoon
luncheons are carried to them. The women used to work in the fields with the men,
but now they are assigned to the gardens, the introduction of labor saving farm
machinery having relieved them from these duties. But they work fully as hard in
the immense gardens.
Each person has his particular work to do. One man is assigned to the farm,
another to the woolen mills, a third to the flouring mills, a fourth to the care
of stock, a fifth to the printing office, a sixth to the store, and so on. No drones
are tolerated. If a man becomes lazy and does not do his share of the work--which
is at no time heavy--the Elders take his case in hand, they rebuke him privately,
then publicly, then give him more distasteful labor, and finally, if he persists
in shirking, expel him. the women have a variety of duties. Some are assigned to
the common kitchen and dining rooms, others to the gardens, as stated, and a few
to the woolen mills.
In each village are a number of dining rooms and kitchens, about fifty of
the communists being accommodated at each. the tables occupy each side of the room,
and at one of these the men are privileged to sit, and at the other the women. There
is no more conversation than is absolutely necessary. the table is spread with the
commonest ware and is without a cloth. The food is plain, but well cooked and served.
All members who are able are required to go to the dining halls for their meals.
Any one disabled by sickness or age may have his meals sent to him. The first meal
is eaten at 6 o'clock in the morning; a luncheon is served at 9 o'clock, and the
dinner bell rings at 11:30; the afternoon lunch comes at 3 o'clock, and the supper
is on the tables at 7. Work begins for all, from the little shaver five years old
just starting to school to the man working in the field, at 7 o'clock in the morning;
a half hour is allowed for luncheon both morning and afternoon; an hour and a half
nooning is indulged in, and by these means, when the people cease their work, at
6 in the evening, the day has not been too long. Besides the rests mentioned, two
hours' religious service are held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. No one is
expected to work too hard, but industry is a merit which is characteristic of the
people of the entire community.
The communists receive their board and rent free. They must buy their own
furniture, clothing, and such other personal effects as they may desire. this is
furnished at the actual cost of the raw material if made in the community and at
the lowest wholesale rates if brought from without. the community has its own tailors,
carders, spinners, and weavers. It has its own cabinetmaker and sawmills, so that
its furniture, with the exception of chairs, is made from logs taken from a piece
of timber land on the property of the society. If the clothing of the members is
made from any of the flannels or blue prints made by the society the cost is only
that of the wool, dyes, &c. Hence the clothing does not cost much, for the men
who do the work are paid from the common fund. The furniture, with the exception
of chairs, costs just what the log was worth an no more. To pay the expenses for
these personal effects each person receives a stipulated amount per year.
Just as soon as a child is born to the community it is placed on the list of the
society and draws $5 per year. At seven years of age the amount is doubled; at
fourteen it is raised to $15, for the lad goes to learn a trade and the lass to
work in the fields or kitchen; at maturity, eighteen years, the woman gets $20
and the men $30. In exceptional cases, as for instance where a man is foreman,
he gets $35 per year; and a forewoman in the gardens or kitchen gets
||$22. This seems like very small pay, and yet with the cost of furniture,
clothing, &c., brought down to the cost of the raw material or the cost of the
article at wholesale, and the food and rent and doctor's services paid for by the
community, it is the actual experience of the members that they have no necessity
oftentimes for all their salary.
Men dress largely in blue jeans in the Summer and in cheap woolen goods in
the Winter. There hats are cheap straw in the Summer and a community-made cap in
the Winter. the colony cobbler makes the shoes, and the stockings are of the coarsest
material. the women wear the blue print dresses made by their own hands, and cut
always by one pattern--the same as has been used by the Inspirationists for a hundred
years. In Winter the Amana flannels, which have a reputation in all the wholesale
dry goods houses in the country, form the fabric, and it comes to them much cheaper
than their worldly sisters can buy it, for the cost to them is simply the cost of
the raw wool. A shaker or common sun bonnet in Summer, or a hood in Winter, and
thick, heavy shoes, with coarse white hosiery, assist in making up their outfit,
and, whether they are to be wedded or remain single, are five years old or fifty,
their costume never changes in style. The smallest girl in the community that is
out of short clothes looks like a little old woman.
Marriage is not looked on with favor by the Elders. They say that it leads the thoughts
of the people away from the high and holy in life. But it is not strictly forbidden,
and many happy homes--if such they can be called--are noted in the community. The
young man who is intent on having one of the young maidens in the community for
a wife must go to the Elders and lay his case before them. If he has given to these
Elders all the respect which their station demands and has also lived up to the
rules of the community he may marry, if it be not possible, after days of labor
on their part with him, to dissuade him. But he must wait at least a year and a
half and be separated by removal to another village for the time from the object
of his affection. He may visit her once a month, and then only in the presence of
some third person of suitable standing in the community.
At the expiration of the period of probation the young man goes to the residence
of the parents, where, in the presence of a few of the immediate relatives, one
of the Elders joins them in wedlock, and they go to the place where they are to
live, or, as is more usual, make their home with the bride's parents for the first
year or so. There are no cards and no wedding cake. The boys and the girls, the
young men and young women, are kept separate as much as possible, so that it is
a wonder that hey get any time to court; but in spite of the vigilance of the Elders
and high men in the community, they do find time and opportunity to make love. If
the Elders are not favorably inclined to the young man who has made application
for a helpmate, he is compelled to wait the pleasure of the Elders, and his period
of probation is measured by the extent of disfavor, sometimes amounting to a prohibition
of the bans. In such a case the young man must give up the girl or leave the community.
He usually chooses the latter course and takes the girl with him.
The seven villages are East Amana, Amana, Middle Amana, Höhe (High)
Amana, West Amana, South Amana, and Homestead. A canal nine miles long connects
an artificial lake covering 200 acres, used as a headwater, with the woolen mills,
blue print works, and flouring mills at the several villages, and furnishes water
for the large number of stock owned by the society. The total value of the property
of the association is not less than a million dollars. In the commercial reports
the society is rated A1. It has money in bank in New-York and Chicago, and the goods
manufactured in its mills are in demand by every wholesale house.
The Council of Elders has arbitrary control over the affairs of the colony
and the actions of the colonists, and if the stringent rules of the community are
not lived up to they can impose any punishment which they deem advisable. They dictate
their own successors, and the laymen have not the slightest word to say about the
way in which the spiritual or temporal welfare of the society is cared for. If one
does not like the way he is treated he is privileged to leave, although the Elders,
as Trustees of the society, are sometimes known to overlook in a business sense
what to them, as Elders, are grave offenses. The great profits which the community
has on the work of its members are a temptation to be lenient in many particulars,
and a more lax policy is noticeable with the young people now than formerly. The
people are happy, honest to a fault, if such a thing be possible; are plain, simple,
common people, desiring peace above all things, and a quarrel of any magnitude or
a crime is unknown in the entire history of the community.