The Amana Colonies (1859 – 1932): Utopian Communities Founded in the U.S.
The Amana Colonies are some of America’s longest-lived communal societies and are one of many utopian colonies established in the US during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their history dates back to 1714 in the villages of Germany, and the Amana Colonies live on today on the Iowa prairie.
In 1714, Eberhard Ludwig Gruber and Johann Friedrich Rock began a religious movement stemming from Pietism in Himbach, Germany, which advocated for a renewal of faith through reflection, prayer, and Bible study. While many Pietists believed that God could inspire individuals to speak through the Holy Spirit, Gruber and Rock created their own group founded on this idea and the desire to reestablish focus on the spiritual needs of the congregation, rather than intellectual debate and formalized worship. Rock and Gruber called their new faith “The Community of True Inspiration.”
Because the Inspirationists refused to perform military duties, take state-required oaths, and sent their children to church-run schools, they were persecuted for their beliefs and often faced fines, imprisonment, and public beatings. As a result, they sought refuge in central Germany. However, ongoing persecution and economic depression drove the community from Germany to Buffalo, New York, where they hoped to find religious freedom. The Inspirationists pooled their resources, worked cooperatively, shared property, and lived fairly comfortably. They named their new American community the “Ebenezer Society” and adopted a constitution to formalize their lifestyle.
In 1855, the Inspirationists, in need of more farmland, moved to Iowa and named their village “Amana,” or “remain true,” as described in the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana villages were established, and then a seventh, Homestead, was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad.
In these seven Amana villages, residents received a house, health care, food, household necessities, and schooling for their children. All property and resources were shared, and adults were assigned jobs by the village council.
While no one earned nor needed wages, the community was able to support itself through farming and the production of wool and calico. Moreover, as time passed, the Amana Colonies became well known for their high-quality craftsmanship of everything from clocks to beer. Before dawn, a bell rang in the village tower called residents to work, and a simple church located in the center of town was available for daily worship. Children attended school six days a week, year round, until the age of 14. Then, boys worked on the farm or in craft shops, and girls worked in the garden or in one of the over 50 communal kitchens. Select boys were sent to college for training to be teachers, doctors, and dentists.
In 1932, the Amana Colonies set aside their communal way of life due to the Great Depression and the desire to both live in community, but also achieve individual goals. The Amana Society, Inc. was established as a profit-sharing corporation to manage the farmland, mills, and other enterprises. Meanwhile, private enterprise, too, was encouraged.
Today, the Amana Colonies is a National Historical Landmark and represents a thriving community founded on faith and community. Hundreds of thousands of visitors continue to visit every year.
This episode of Small Town Big Deal, titled “Amana Colonies,” may also be viewed through YouTube.
This work may also be viewed through YouTube.
For Further Reading:
Amana Colonies collection, Library of Congress
Amana Colonies. (2017). History of Amana. The 7 Villages of the Amana Colonies: The Handcrafted Escape. Retrieved from http://www.amanacolonies.com/history-of-amana/
National Park Service. (n.d). Origins of the colonies. U.S Department of the Interior. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/amana/origins.htm
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2017). The Amana colonies (1859-1932): Utopian communities founded in the U.S. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/religious/the-amana-colonies-a-utopian-community/