Continuity and change, tradition and dynamism shape the lives of Amish women and make their experiences both distinctive and diverse. On the one hand, a principled commitment to living Old Order lives, purposely out of step with the cultural mainstream, has provided Amish women with a good deal of constancy. Even in relatively more progressive Amish communities, women still engage in activities common to their counterparts in earlier times: gardening, homemaking, and childrearing. On the other hand, these persistent themes of domestic labor and the responsibilities of motherhood have been affected by profound social, economic, and technological changes up through the twenty-first century, shaping Amish women's lives in different ways and resulting in increasingly varied experiences.
In The Lives of Amish Women, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner draws on her thirty-five years of fieldwork in Amish communities and her correspondence with Amish women to consider how the religiously defined roles of Amish women have changed as Amish churches have evolved. Looking in particular at women's lives and activities at different ages and in different communities, Johnson-Weiner explores the relationship between changing patterns of social and economic interaction with mainstream society and women's family, community, and church roles. What does it mean, Johnson-Weiner asks, for an Amish woman to be humble when she is the owner of a business that serves people internationally? Is a childless Amish woman or a single Amish woman still a "Keeper at Home" in the same way as a woman raising a family? What does Gelassenheit--giving oneself up to God's will--mean in a subsistence-level agrarian Amish community, and is it at all comparable to what it means in a wealthy settlement where some members may be millionaires?
Illuminating the key role Amish women play in maintaining the spiritual and economic health of their church communities, this wide-ranging book touches on a number of topics, including early Anabaptist women and Amish pioneers to North America; stages of life; marriage and family; events that bring women together; women as breadwinners; women who do not meet the Amish norm (single women, childless women, widows); and even what books Amish women are reading. Aimed at anyone who is interested in the Amish experience, The Lives of Amish Women will help readers understand better the costs and benefits of being an Amish woman in a modern world and will challenge the stereotypes, myths, and imaginative fictions about Amish women that have shaped how they are viewed by mainstream society.