Lesson 8 Table of Contents Lesson 10

L e s s o n 9


1. Key personalities

Jacob Hutter. An important early leader of the Hutterites during the 16th century. He was arrested by the Austrian authorities and burned as a heretic in 1536. Although not the founder of the sect, the Hutterites take their name from him.

2. Main trends

The Hutterites originated in the Tyrol, a mountainous region of western Austria, during the early 16th century. Like other Anabaptist sects, they were committed to non-violence, a circumstance that left them vulnerable to persecution by neighbors who envied or feared them. Caught up in the midst of the Counter-Reformation, they sought refuge in Moravia and later moved further east to Slovakia and Wallachia. During the 18th century they moved to the south of Russia, where they had been promised land for farming and freedom from military conscription. The decision of the Russian government in 1872 to enact a new military conscription law caused the Hutterites and Mennonites to leave for America.

Arriving in South Dakota, the Hutterites found that the homestead law did not favor the type of large communally-held tracts of land that had been a part of their life in Russia. Because of this circumstance, some of the Hutterites took to living on small family farms. In time, however, they have generally succeeded in maintaining their traditional communitarian lifestyle, with land and farm equipment held in common. The 17,000 members of the sect are now mostly located in Canada's western provinces, with a smaller number living in the western U.S., chiefly in Montana.

Members of a Hutterite settlement rise in the morning at the same time and eat together in a communal dining hall. The work day begins with each person being set to do an assigned task for the day. The children of a Hutterite settlement grow up to be trilingual. The everyday language is a German dialect historically derived from the Tyrolean dialect. At school the children learn English and also undertake a careful study of standard German, which is the language of prayers and sermons as well as the Bible. The standard German of their religious books is always printed in the old-fashioned Gothic type and even their handwriting preserves the old-fashioned style that was officially abandoned in Germany in 1941. Hutterite sermons are not spontaneous and do not draw upon modern examples to illustrate a point. They are rigidly conservative and draw upon the printed sermons which are an important part of their religious literature.

Like other Anabaptists, the Hutterites are conscientious objectors opposed to any kind of military service. At the time of World War I some of them received shocking mistreatment from the authorities because of their refusal to be inducted into the army or to wear uniforms. Their culture tends to inculcate a mistrust of the outside world and a willingness to endure martyrdom rather than make compromises on matters of principle. Their social structure is strictly hierarchical and patriarchal, placing much emphasis on absolute obedience to authority, biblically founded in "Romans 13."

Life in a Hutterite community is rigidly organized. The buildings are laid out according to a generally accepted plan, with dwelling units and the communal kitchen placed at the center of the settlement. The layout of the buildings is always squared with the compass. The men and women eat in different parts of the communal dining hall and each person is assigned a place according to his status in the community. During the week there is a strict routine governing when different tasks are performed. There are prescribed times of the week for washing, baking, and other tasks. Similarly, the daily routine has definite segments.

Birth control is not sanctioned by the Hutterites and the birth rate tends to be high. It is felt that the optimum size for a Hutterite community should be between 100 and 150 members. Because of constantly expanding population, a system has been worked out by which Hutterite colonies are split up every fifteen years or so and a daughter colony is established. The families which leave the parent colony are chosen by lot.

In a Hutterite settlement there is no building or room which is specially set aside for religious services. Services are typically held in the dining hall, but may be held in any convenient space which is large enough for the purpose. Unlike the Old Order Amish, the Hutterites have no qualms about mechanization. The Hutterites like to equip their settlements with modern farm equipment and are concerned that each of their settlements should be a profitable enterprise.

Hutterites attend school until the age of fifteen. Further education is discouraged. During the morning children attend the German school, where emphasis is placed on religious instruction and knowledge of standard German for religious purposes. Later in the day the children attend the English school, where the teacher and course of instruction are provided by the public school authorities from the outside world. The Hutterites have an ambivalent attitude toward the English school. On the one hand, they recognize the practical importance of knowing English and arithmetic, but at the same time they are wary of influences from the outside world. The teacher at the English school must be fully aware of this and be able to adapt to the special demands imposed by Hutterite beliefs. Films and TV cannot be used, as the Hutterites are opposed to them as a matter of principle.

Relations between the Hutterites and the outside world have often been strained. Before World War I most Hutterite communities were located in South Dakota. During the war, however, there was widespread popular disapproval of the Hutterites based on a combination of factors. Their use of the German language and their insistence on the use of German for religious instruction was one problem. Their refusal to serve in the military or to support the war in other ways, such as by purchasing war bonds, was another problem. Added to this was a fear and mistrust of a people who purchased large tracts of land but kept to themselves and wanted to have as little to do as possible with neighboring non-Hutterite communities. Distrust of the Hutterites in South Dakota reached the point that there were state laws passed to restrict their influence and set limits on their acquisition of land. Beginning in 1918, many of the Hutterite communities in South Dakota disposed of their property there and moved to Canada. At first they tended to settle in Alberta, but similar anti-Hutterite legislation there subsequently caused some of their communities to resettle in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Montana.

Baptism is one of the most important rites of passage in a Hutterite's life. Baptism usually takes place around the age of twenty, but does not occur until the person feels ready for it and formally applies for it. Accepting baptism involves an affirmation of commitment to membership in the community, so it is taken very seriously. It is only after one has been baptized that one becomes a full-fledged member of the community.

Most Hutterites marry while in their early twenties. It is customary to seek a marriage partner from a neighboring Hutterite community, so opportunities to visit neighboring communities are important for young people of marriageable age. After marriage, the bride customarily comes to live in her husband's community.

Smoking is taboo in a Hutterite community as is listening to the radio or watching television. The Hutterites produce their own wine and allow strictly moderate drinking. Social deviance, such as alcoholism, is extremely uncommon. Sometimes a young man who is not yet married will leave his colony and work in the outside world for a few months or even longer, but most such people return to their community. Hutterite culture conditions the individual to obedience and submission in the interest of the group, so the typical community is quite resilient, even when a certain amount of internal dissention may take place.

3. Suggested further reading

John Andrew Hostetler and Gertrude Enders Huntington. The Hutterites in North America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.

_____. Hutterite Society. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974.

Victor Peters. All Things Common: The Hutterian Way of Life. Minneapolis: The Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1965.

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Created: 4 August 1998, SEL
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Comments to: Eberhard Reichmann, reichman@ucs.indiana.edu
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