“Plain People” Discussion Continues–Author Judith Miller & the Amana

Judith Miller Amana Author

The second week of our PLAIN PEOPLE discussion features author Judith Miller who writes about the Amana. Many of you might never have heard of this sect. But since I lived in Iowa for almost twenty years, I am well acquainted with them. I recently ate at the Ronnenberg Restaurant in the Amana Colonies. And everyone has heard of Amana appliances, right?  Judith is offering a copy of her latest book in the HOME TO AMANA series, A Shining Light. BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT TO ENTER THIS BOOK DRAWING.

So let’s see what Judith has to tell us about this interesting and unique group of Plain People, THE AMANA!

1-When and where did your sect of Plain People begin?

The Inspirationists eventually settled in Amana, Iowa originated in Germany, during the early 1700’s where a religious awakening had begun. They soon were persecuted due to their refusal to send their children to public schools, because they believed in freedom of speech and worship, because they were pacifists.

They took refuge in Hessen, Germany where they were given protection, but due to excessive rents and taxes, continued persecution and a killing drought, their leaders decided the Lord was leading them to a new place. They scouted land in America and first settled near Buffalo, New York, in 1842. They called their settlement, Ebenezer, and they adopted a constitution and established a communal system.

In 1855, when more farmland was needed for the expanding community that now numbered around 1,200 members, leaders looked to the west for farmland and finally agreed upon land in Iowa where the first village, Amana, was constructed. Five more villages, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana and East Amana, were built. In 1861, Homestead was purchased. These seven villages and the 26,000 acres of land they came to own, are known as the Amana Colonies.

2-What sets your group apart from other Christians?

Eberhard L. Gruber, a Lutheran clergyman, and Johann F. Rock, a harness maker, became acquainted. They believed a prayerful relationship with the Lord would lead to a Godly life. They advocated humility through simple worship and believed that God may communicate to his followers through an inspired individual as He did in the days of the Biblical prophets. This individual, called a Werkzeug (instrument) is regarded as a tool of God’s will through which God speaks to his people. This was (and is) a foundation of the Amana Church. The last Werkzeuk was Barbara Heinemann Landmann who died in 1883. There has been no other Werkzeug since that time, although this belief remains  a foundation of the Amana Church.

Their communal lifestyle also set them apart from other religious sects. The community which now owned about 26,000 acres continued their communal lifestyle until 1932 when the members voted to abandon the communal way of life, but maintain their community. The old system was set aside and a new profit-sharing, joint stock corporation, the Amana Society was formed.

3-Is your sect still active today? If so, why do you think that this sect has survived? If not, why do you think your sect didn’t last?

Yes, they are still active. Although they believed that remaining single was preferable (so that there would be no distraction from individual relationship with the Lord), marriage was permitted. Unlike the Shakers who lived communally, but prohibited marriage and were housed in dormitory style housing, the residents of Amana lived in houses with their families. Many of the houses were quite large so there would be apartments for single or small families. Each set of living quarters had a parlor and bedrooms although there were no kitchens since all of the cooking and meals were shared in communal kitchen houses. There were more than 50 kitchen houses in the seven villages feeding the 1,500 residents three meals a day plus two coffee breaks.

Visitors may attend church services in South Amana, the early service is still conducted in German while the later service is in English.

4-Why did you choose to write about this sect?

I am drawn to unique settings, so after a visit to the Amana Colonies many years ago, I knew I wanted to write about these people and their history in this country. They have maintained fabulous historical documentation which, for any writer of historical books is a wonderful gift. After spending time in their museum, touring the villages, and perusing some of their archives, I was captivated and knew I wanted to share stories set in the Colonies. The Inspirationists have a rich history in this country. Although there are a number of non-fiction books and a multitude of articles and theses setting forth the history of the group, there are not many works of fiction set in the Colonies. After writing six books set in the Colonies, I have developed many friendships among the residents and have enjoyed the relationships I’ve developed over the past years.

I look forward to hearing any questions or comments you might have regarding the Amana Colonies.





or on Twitter at @JudithMiller18

A Shining Light

To purchase, click here.A Shining Light (Home to Amana)

Back cover copy:

The kind people of Amana have been her guiding light, but her greatest trial is yet to come. . . West Amana, Iowa, 1890  After Andrea Wilson receives the devastating news that her husband has been lost at sea, she returns home to Iowa with her young son, Lukas. But what she finds there causes more heartache: The family farm has burned and her father has died, leaving Andrea with nothing.??Andrea must rely on the kindness of the people from the nearby Amana village who invite her to stay with them for a time. She discovers much generosity and contentment among the Amanans–especially from the tinsmith, Dirk Knefler, who takes her son under his wing. But is the simple, cloistered life in Amana what Andrea wants for Lukas’s future? Is she willing to give up the comforts and freedom of the outside world? And when yet another round of shocking news comes her way, will Andrea ever be able to find the serenity and hope that have eluded her for so long?

Short Bio:

Although born and reared in a small suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Judy moved to Kansas at the age of seventeen and has considered the sunflower state ‘home’ ever since. She currently lives in Topeka, and in her spare time enjoys reading, traveling, scrapbooking, researching history, and Bible study.

Writing Christian fiction is Judy’s second career. For many years she worked as a legal assistant in law firms and later worked in government law offices. She has retired from legal work in order to write fulltime —a vocation she considers both a ministry and a blessing from the Lord.

Judy has authored or co-authored more than twenty-five books since she began writing in 1996. Her love of history and her desire to point readers to the love and grace of Jesus are reflected in all of her books.

Upcoming authors:

Ann H Gabhart-who often writes about Shakers, guests on September 22

and Marta Perry-who writes about the Amish, winds this up on September 29

QUESTION: Had you ever heard of the Amana before? Do you see any similarities between the Amana and the Quakers? Leave a reply to be entered in the book drawing!

PS: Last week’s winner of HONOR is Linda Kubick!



About Lyn Cote

Lyn Cote welcomes other authors to her "Strong Women, Brave Stories" blog to share stories of women who triumph over the challenges common to all women.
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47 Responses to “Plain People” Discussion Continues–Author Judith Miller & the Amana

  1. Lyn Cote says:

    This has been a lovely lively conversation. Remember next week, Ann H Gabhart will share with us about THE SHAKERS! I hope you’re enjoying this discussion as much as I am!

    • I’ve really enjoyed connecting with folks on your blog, Lyn. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Can’t wait to see what Ann will be sharing with us next week, and Marta the following week! I know it will be fun and informative.

  2. Deanna S says:

    I do enjoy books about the Amish. It seems like there is an Amana colony in Iowa. Not sure but find this so interesting…

    • Hi Dena,
      Yes, the seven villages that comprise the Amana Colonies are in Iowa. Their beliefs are somewhat different than the Amish, but before they ceased their communal living, they were considered “Plain People.”

  3. Diana Pugh says:

    I think the information about Amana is so interesting,their lifestyles, and their society. I have read a couple books about them, looking to read more. Thank You having this chat thing.

    • Thanks for joining us, Diana. I really appreciate Lyn inviting some of us to share the differences and likenesses of “Plain People” so we can better understand each sect. It’s been fun, and I’m looking forward to Ann joining in about the Shakers next week.

  4. Emma says:

    I have never heard of the Amana before reading this blog. from reading this blog I see similarities between the Amana and the Quakers.I am looking forward to reading A Shining Light (Home to Amana).Thank you for the opportunity to win.I enjoy reading Judith others books.

    • Hi Emma,
      I’m truly pleased Lyn has given me this opportunity to share a little more about Amana with her readers. There are lots of folks who have never read about the Colonies–even residents of Iowa, where they are located. The Amana Society is the largest landowner in the State of Iowa so you’d think everyone who lives there would know about them, but I think it’s true that we sometimes overlook the history and beauty in our own backyard.

  5. I know, Judy. You’ve been so kind to write endorsements for several of them. I’m looking forward to reading more of your Amana books too.

    • Hi Ann,
      I hope you can find some time to read, but you keep mighty busy with all your own writing. It’s so sad, but it’s truly difficult to find time to read once you’re a writer.

      • That unfortunately is true, Judy. But it’s also very important for a writer to read other fiction on top of all the necessary research for books. And the other point is that I love to read. I think I need to take a reading vacation! Not a vacation from reading, but a vacation to do nothing but read.

  6. Cheryl Baranski says:

    I have heard of Judith. Have only read one of her books so far.
    Would love to win this one!

    • Hi Cheryl,
      I hope you’ll have an opportunity to read some more of my books in the future. If you haven’t read any of the books set in Amana, I think you’d enjoy them–at least I hope so. 🙂

  7. Frances Cavallo says:

    I would love to win the book!!! I have never heard of the Amana, but I am reading about them in your answers. It is very interesting. I hope I win the book so I can learn more about them! Thanks you for this opportunity to win and God Bless You Both!!! Good luck to everybody!!!

    • Hi Frances,
      Thanks for your kind comments. If you aren’t the winner, you might check with your library to see if they have any of my books so you can learn a bit more about the Colonies. There are a total of six books, the first series is Daughters of Amana and the second series is Home to Amana.

  8. Ola Norman says:

    Sounds interesting. I’ve read a book or two about them but would love to learn more.

  9. Sonja says:

    I had never heard of these people before. I am learning a lot reading your blog and articles similar to them. It is very interesting how they believe and about their German background. Thanks for sharing these interesting facts with all of us!

    • Glad you enjoyed learning about the people who settled in the Amana Colonies, Sonja. I had a wonderful time researching there and will return for Oktoberfest the first weekend in October to sign books and enjoy the atmosphere. Hope anyone living nearby will join me!

  10. Jan Hall says:

    I had not heard anything about the Amana group before. I can see one or two similarities with the Quakers. I like learning about these groups. Thank you

    • Hi Jan, Glad you’re enjoying this month of “getting to know” more about the various sects of Plain People. If you’re ever in Iowa, you should stop and visit the Colonies. Although the folks there are no longer “plain,” in their dress, they maintain their villages and the history center has wonderful information and walking tours to enjoy.

  11. Becky Lee says:

    I’m familiar with the Amana Colonies.It is one of my cousin’s favorite place to visit. He loves the food.

    • I agree with your brother, Becky. The food at the Amana restaurants is excellent. And, of course, goodies from the bakery and chocolate shop are always favorites. 🙂

  12. Amy Kittel says:

    Thanks for that interview. I had heard of the Amana after my mom visited there last year. But I learned more in the above interview than what little she told me. I don’t know much about Quakers, other than they were very strict. I’ve been interested in reading about the Amana, since I only live 3 hours from them, and I like reading about US history with a Christian spin on it. If I don’t win this book, I should still pick up Ms Miller’s Amana books, since I have enjoyed her other books 🙂

    • Hi Amy,
      If you’re only three hours away, you should DEFINITELY visit the Colonies. Oktoberfest is the first weekend in October and I’ll be at the General Store for a booksigning. Would love to meet you. Of course, the festivities during Oktoberfest are a far cry from the type of lifestyle the people of Amana practiced back in the 1800’s.

  13. Paula Osborne says:

    I have read books by Judith before and knew of this Amana grp from her stories. The communal kitchen is interesting and would like to visit a place like this someday. Interesting that many of these are just a little different but still similar…I sure enjoy reading about them.
    thanks for sharing about the differences in this post.

    • Hi Paula, You’re right that there are similarities between the sects. I think that occurred because many of these groups were escaping persecution in Europe and wanted to exercise a personal relationship with Christ, and that idea was frowned upon by the church. Like churches today, the groups had their own idiosyncrasies that grew out of their personal interpretations of Biblical truths, so while their are similarities, differences remain. I hope you can visit Amana one day. You’d love it!

  14. Gail Hollingsworth says:

    I’ve read a lot about the Amish but have never heard of this group. Interesting…..

    • Hi Gail, Glad you joined in and learned a little about these fine folks. I had the pleasure of going to Germany with a group of descendents and we visited many of the places where they migrated from and even the castle where they were protected for a period of time. It was a wonderful experience for me.

  15. Marta Perry says:

    Fascinating post! I knew almost nothing about this group, and now I’m eager to learn more.

  16. Elizabeth Dent says:

    Hi Judy and Lyn, No i do not know anything about the Amana and their ways. All I know about any of the plain people is only through books. I don’t think I would love to cook for a large amount of people everyday. Thanks for all your INFO .

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for joining the discussion. The communal kitchens permitted time for the women to visit just like when we prepare large meals in our church kitchens. Not sure I’d like it everyday, but I do enjoy “group cooking” sometimes.

  17. Lynn Grier says:

    The cover on your new book is awesome. I love reading about the Amana. Looks like they don’t dress as plain as the Amish. I would have liked to cooked in the communal kitchens. I would love to read your book and place comments on the sites. Your books are awesome!

    • Thanks, Lynn. I love the cover, too. You’re right–they didn’t dress quite as plain as the Amish. In fact, the Amish who lived in Kolona, Iowa thought they were very “fancy.” 🙂 However, the girl on the cover wears her hair in a far more modern fashion than would have been used at that time. They had a calico mill where they produced very fancy fabrics to be sold to outsiders. While they wore some prints in Amana, usually they were of dark colors. It was those prints that created some raised eyebrows among the Amish. 🙂

  18. Love the cover of your new book, Judy. Very nice. And it was interesting to read this glimpse into the Amana history. What about the appliances? When did that start and were they actually made by the Amana communities?

    • Hi Ann,
      I love the cover, as well. Bethany House creates some lovely covers. Glad you asked about the Amana Corporation. It was founded in 1934 in Middle Amana by George Foerstner as the Electrical Equipment Company (this was after the change from communal living). It was later purchased by the Amana Society and became known as the Amana Refrigeration. It is now owned by Whirlpool, and remains in Middle Amana. Not sure how many employees work there, but quite a number. The first domestic microwave oven was produced in 1967 by Amana when they were a division of Raytheon. The people of Amana always embraced technology and were willing to use products that saved them time that could be better used to study the Word and worship God.

      • That much sounds like the Shakers. They always wanted to do their work as well and as efficiently as possible. They invented machines to make that possible.

  19. Carolina says:

    I like reading books with an Amish setting. They just seem so peaceful and without so many distractions.It helps me focus on what is important in life.

    • I agree, Caroline. I think the huge surge in books about “Plain People” is because we all long for a simpler life with more quiet time and not all the interruptions of our busy lives. Thanks for joining in the discussion!

  20. I have read only one book about the Amana and found them so interesting and different, but I don’t remember who all wrote the book or the name now. I have been trying to look for more books about the Amana. Now I will look at the library for Judith Miller books.

    I saw that they are different because of that one book where the colonies were so willing to allow someone into their homes from the outside world without any hesitation. I haven’t really read many books about the Quakers so I don’t know how different the two are, but from the Amish there is a huge difference it seems.

    Thank you for sharing about the Amana for I really want to read more about them.


    • Hi Janine,
      Glad you enjoyed reading about Amana. Hope you’ll ask your librarian to order some of the books if they aren’t available. Thanks for your comment!

  21. amyc says:

    I only know of the Amana because of Judiths writing. They seem somewhat similar to the Quakers.

    • Lyn Cote says:

      Yes, but the communal living is a difference. I like the idea of not having to cook!

      • The communal kitchens were one thing that brought many of the women together in a “sense of community” where they could share their time and work together. I have often thought it must have been very difficult for the women when they voted to cease living communally. Just think about cooking for 40-50 people each day as a group and then cooking for only your small family. Plus, all the homes had to have kitchens installed and then there would be all that cookware to purchase. 🙂

        • I think you’re no doubt right that it was difficult for the women to change the way they cooked. Of course, I’m sure the feeling of community lingered and perhaps they helped one another out. The relationships with the other women, or Shaker sisters, was one of the big pluses for women living in Shaker villages and they did have the communal kitchens too.

          • Ann, I visited the Shaker villages in both Canterbury, NH and Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and truly enjoyed learning about their culture and lifestyle. So glad you’ve written about them in your many books which I have enjoyed!