Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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The Amish "Phenomenon" and Women's Standing in the Community

Karen wrote: When you were in the Amish, were you aware of the fascination the English had with the Amish? When you were around the English in a public setting, did you ever feel like you were a bit of a living museum (for lack of a better description)?

It seems as though amish women, although given few real choices throughout their lives and subject to an extremely male-dominant society, are very highly regarded within the Amish culture. Is that true? I know your family had other issues but I’m speaking of the Amish culture in general.

Karen, good questions. Yes, I was always aware of the fascination for the Amish, even while I was living in the community. And it did feel like we were a phenomenon, in many ways. But the funny thing is, I enjoyed the attention from the “English” because at least I felt unique in that. It is not really okay to feel unique or different within the community. I was so starved for being seen as “someone” that even this was good enough for me. I am embarrassed to say this now, but it was true then.

Your second question is a bit harder for me to answer — first of all, it is impossible to answer almost any question about the Amish in general, for each community is different in so many ways. And even within each community there can be differences from one church district to another. And then there are the individuals in each family, and how they regard one another. So this question is as hard to answer as trying to describe how women in the mainstream society are regarded in our culture.

What I can tell you is that I noticed my mother was very highly regarded by the people in the community in her later years, especially the last year of her life, after my father died. Many of her nieces would state emphatically that Katie was their favorite aunt. She used to get visitors who liked to come and spend the day with her, or an out-of-town niece who liked to stay with her overnight. I don’t really have a sense of her relationship with the men in the community, especially the elders of the church.

It took my mother that many years to come into this “reputation.” Before that she was often criticized for not being a more submissive wife, and for not quelling the rebellion in her daughters (as if she could have). She was such a capable and intelligent person and many people were envious of that, so they tended to cut her down, which they thought boosted their standing. This kind of “bringing someone down a notch” was one of the most punitive aspects of living in my original community and it is one of the things that drove me out — not once but twice.

Sorry I cannot answer your last question more definitively, Karen. Often I have to bring such questions back to my own experience because I cannot speak for the Amish in general.

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