Amish Women Working

No one can call Amish women lazy. An Amish wife is often the first to get up in the morning. She might run a load of laundry at five AM-not a small chore to accomplish without electricity-then move to the kitchen to brew coffee and prepare breakfast for her spouse and children. She bakes, preserves food, sews clothing, darns, tends vegetable and flower gardens, feeds chickens, gathers eggs, looks after her pre-school children, plus a dozen other chores. She’s busy from dawn until dusk.

Some young or married women work outside the home when their children are in school or old enough to look after themselves. Since girls help their mothers with her multitude of tasks, including milking, mucking the stalls, and feeding livestock when needed, they are hardworking and proficient in many skills useful in the workplace.

Laundry hangs on the line all-year round!

Laundry hangs on the line all-year round!

Amish women may work at practically any store that doesn’t require a GED, such as Home Depot. Amish children attend school through eighth-grade and are exempt from mandatory high school attendance. The employer may be Amish or English (anyone who is not Amish). Restaurants, retail stores, house cleaning, and farmers markets are popular choices for employment that do not require a high school diploma. Hand-quilting is also a source of income for Amish women, often done in the home while rearing children or between chores. Young unmarried women may teach school in Amish one-room private schools.

Amish woman driving an open buggy in Lancaster County, PA.

Amish woman driving an open buggy in Lancaster County, PA.

Some single or married Amish women venture out and open their own business, which might be as simple as a roadside stand selling homemade canned fruit and vegetables, and baked goods, or a retail gift store. If the woman is married, her business is considered jointly owned with her husband. Lizzy Zook, a married Amish woman, founded Zook’s Fabrics in the 1960s to pay her family’s medical debts. She first sold fabric from her home, then moved her venture to Ronks over a blacksmith shop. The district’s strict bishop disapproved of Lizzy’s business, so the family up and moved to Georgetown, with a more lenient bishop. As her business grew, Lizzy relocated to Intercourse, PA, and opened Zook’s Fabrics. Originally, Lizzy owned and operated three different businesses at this location. The current owner of Zook’s, Herb Scrivener, described Lizzie Zook as “a maverick … An entrepreneur.”

Since Herb is English he may sell fabric on the Internet and has a Facebook account, practices prohibited for Amish business owners. Last year, he and his wife also hopped on a jet and visited me for tea!

An English employee cutting fabric at Zook's Fabrics.

An English employee cutting fabric at Zook’s Fabrics.

In the same building as Zook’s stands Nancy’s Notions, a plethora of sewing related items, clothing appropriate as Amish attire, household goods, Amish fiction books, and more. Old Order Amish Nancy shares ownership with her husband as do all married Amish women, even if her spouse never sets foot in the store. Employees at Nancy’s are Amish, so no cameras allowed.

Last year, I chatted with preeminent Old Order Amish quilter and friend Emma Stoltzfus. Emma’s wholesale business, E. S. Quilts, sells to Amish-owned Riehl’s Quilts and Crafts in Leola, PA (1-800-957-7105 ), and English-owned The Old County Store in Intercourse, PA. Since Emma’s wholesale shop is separate from her home, she’s allowed a phone and answering device, but no electricity. One of her sewing machines is powered by compressed air; the other is a treadle. Emma’s workplace holds an abundance of quilts and wall-hangings, neatly folded fabric scraps, and a rainbow of spools of thread. Her business is fulltime, but she also cares for the family’s three hundred laying hens.

I’ve toyed with living an Amish life. After learning how hard Amish women work, do you?

Kate Lloyd admiring Emma Stoltzfus' quilts in Lancaster, PA.

Kate Lloyd admiring Emma Stoltzfus’ quilts in Lancaster, PA.