Photo by Inés Berrizbeitia
Saloma Miller Furlong inspired millions with her story when she was featured in the PBS documentary The Amish that aired on American Experience in February 2012, She is also featured in the sequel, The Amish: Shunned premiering on February 4. She is one of seven people whose story this film follows. Her books, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds and Why I Left the Amish, offer an authentic rendition of what it was like to be born and raised in an Amish community. Furlong’s coming-of-age story is simultaneously a rare look inside her Amish community and universal story of overcoming adversity.
In one of the most popular Freakonomics Radio shows, The Upside of Quitting, Furlong was dubbed a “religious quit” by interviewer Steve Dubner. Throughout her childhood and young adulthood she battled her feeling of being an outsider within the only community she knew. She had a questioning nature and could not quiet the fundamental questions that boiled up from within any more than she could fully conform to the ways of the church, even after becoming a baptized member. Eventually she had to forsake either her nature or the culture that could not accommodate it. Driven by her desire for freedom and more formal education, Furlong broke away from her community — not once, but twice.
In the life journey Furlong chose, she has the freedom to reflect on the two lives she has lived — inside and outside the Amish. She had the good fortune of marrying the love of her life. They raised two sons who are now grown and on their own. With nothing but an eighth grade education when she left her community, she was able to acquire a Smith College education, which included an internship with Donald Kraybill, studying abroad at the University of Hamburg in Germany, and visiting sites important to Anabaptist history. She wrote a memoir that has touched people’s lives in ways she could not have imagined. After the publication of her book, Furlong embarked on a book tour that took her to more than 125 locations, often drawing record audiences and inspiring thousands with her courage and irrepressible spirit. She offers hope to people in difficult life situations to call on their inner resources to make necessary changes to alter their lives.
During her thirty-year inner struggle of coming to terms with her Amish past, Furlong has gleaned a better understanding of herself and her heritage. It is this perspective that she brings to her reflections about her life and her heritage.