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—no 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 and gathers eggs, plus a dozen other chores. Bottom line: she’s busy from dawn until dusk.
Many young and married women work outside the home when children are in school or old enough to look after themselves. Since girls help their mothers with her multitude of tasks, including milking when needed, they are proficient in many skills useful in the workplace.
They 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.
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 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 and Sauder’s Fabrics, Herb Scrivener, described Lizzie Zook as “a maverick … An entrepreneur.”
Since Herb is an Englisher he can sell fabric on the Internet and is on Facebook, a practice prohibited for Amish business owners. Last year, he and his wife also hopped on a jet and visited me for tea!
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 are allowed.
Last year, I chatted with preeminent Old Order Amish quilter and good friend Emma Stoltzfus. Emma’s wholesale business, E. S. Quilts, sells to Amish-owned Riehl’s Quilts and Crafts (1-800-957-7105 ) and English-owned The Old County Store in Intercourse, PA.
Since Emma’s 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. Her workplace holds an abundance of quilts, 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?
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Kate Lloyd, a native of Baltimore, loves to spend time with family and friends in Lancaster County, PA, the inspiration for her bestselling novels Leaving Lancaster and Pennsylvania Patchwork. Her latest book, Forever Amish is the third novel in the Legacy of Lancaster Trilogy.
She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest, the setting for Kate’s first novel, A Portrait of Marguerite. Kate studied art and art history in college. She’s worked a variety of jobs, including car salesman and restaurateur.
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