THE AMANA SOCIETY
By Dr. Charles T. Noe
The early history of Iowa County is intimately connected with that of the Amana Society, the founders of which
came to this county when the first settlements were being made and when the line of civilization was slowly advancing
westward from the eastern border of the state.
The history of the Amana Society dates back fully two centuries when, in 1714, it had its beginning in Germany
through the organization of a small group of religious men who had found the teachings of the then existing churches
to be entirely too formal and superficial. Their ideal was the church as established by Christ himself, and they
endeavored to return to the simple faith of the apostles and disciples of Christ. They held their own religious
services, and their number slowly increased as their faith and belief became more widely known.
Among them were highly gifted men, sometimes members of the clergy, whose teachings were of such power and conviction
that they were accepted as being inspired by God. Therefore the little band of separatists became known as Inspirationists
and their organization as "The Community of True Inspiration."
Their disavowal of many of the formal and superficial doctrines of the church soon brought upon them the hatred
and persecution which in those times were the lot of all whose faith was at variance with the ruling church.
After existing under varying conditions for over a century, the community found the conditions intolerable and
a new home was sought in a country where religious freedom was one of the keynotes of government. They came to
the United States in 1843, about eight hundred in number, settling near Buffalo, N. Y., on a former Indian reservation
of about ten thousand acres, and founded the several Ebenezer villages.
However, very soon the proximity of a large and growing city was found to be detrimental to the progress of the
community, and a new location was sought in 1854 and found in Iowa, the state to which the general trend of emigration
swept thousands of new settlers in that time. When the first members of the community arrived in Iowa the railroad
ended at Rock Island, whence they traveled by steamboat to Muscatine, and from there the journey was made overland
to Iowa County, their new home. Much of the land had already been entered by others, but a few thousand acres of
Government land was still obtainable, and in the course of a few years nearly all of the land now owned by the
society, comprising about twenty six thousand acres, had been bought.
Several villages were laid out, first in 1855 Amana, named so from the Bible and meaning "Remain true,"
then West Amana and South Amana in 1856, High Amana in 1857 and East Amana in 1860.
Until this time Iowa City had been the nearest railroad station, but in 186o the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad
(now the Rock Island) was extended westward and was located through Homestead, a little village just at the southern
edge of the lands of the society. This village was later bought, owing to the necessity of having a railroad station,
and it became one of the villages of the society.
In 1859 the society incorporated under the name of "Amana Society," and has remained under this corporate
name to the present time. In 1862 an additional village, Middle Amana, was laid out. During all this time the gradual
sale of the New York property was carried on so that the lands in Iowa could be paid, until in 1864 everything
had been sold and the last of the members transferred from New York to Iowa.
To convey a thorough understanding of the purpose of the society it is perhaps best to quote from its constitution
the most important provisions, articles and 2 being given in full:
Article 1. The foundation of our civil organization is and shall remain forever God, the Lord and the faith, which
He worked in us according to His free grace and mercy, and which is founded upon (1) the word of God as revealed
in the Old and New Testament; (2) the testimony of Jesus through the spirit of prophecy; (3) the hidden spirit
of grace and chastisement.
The purpose of our association as a religious society is therefore no worldly or selfish one, but the purpose of
the love of God in His vocation of grace received by us, to serve Him in the inward and outward bond of union,
according to His laws and His requirements in our own consciences, and thus to work out the salvation of our souls,
through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, in self denial, in the obedience of our faith, and in the demonstration
of our faithfulness in the inward and outward service of the community, by the power of grace, which God presents
And to fulfill this duty we hereby covenant and promise collectively and each to the other by the acceptance and
signing of this present constitution.
Article 2. In this bond of union tied by God among ourselves, it is our unanimous will and resolution that the
land purchased here and that may hereafter be purchased shall be and remain a common estate and property, and with
all improvements thereupon and all appurtenances thereto, as also with all the labor, cares, troubles and burdens,
of which each member shall bear his alloted share with a willing heart.
And having obtained in pursuance of the act of the Legislature of this state, chapter 131, passed March 28, 1858,
an incorporation as a religious society, it is hereby agreed on that the present and future titles to our common
land shall be conveyed to and vested in "The Amana Society," in the Township of Amana, as our corporate
name, by which we are known in law.
Article 3. Agriculture, manufactures and trades shall form the means of sustenance, and out of the income of these
the expenses of the society shall be defrayed. If any surplus remains it shall be applied to improvements, to the
erection of school and meeting houses, care of the old and sick, the founding of a business and safety fund, and
to benevolent purposes in general.
Article 4. The control and management of the society shall be vested in a board of thirteen trustees, to be elected
annually out of the number of elders. The trustees shall annually elect out of their number a president, vice president
and secretary, who shall have full power to sign all public and legal documents in the name of the society.
Article 5. Every member is in duty bound to give his or her personal and real property to the trustees for the
common fund, at the time of joining the society. For such payments each member is entitled to a credit thereof
on the books of the society, and to a receipt signed by the president and secretary, and is secured by the pledge
of the common property of the society.
Article 6. Each member is entitled to free board and dwelling, to support and care in old age, sickness and infirmity
and to an annual sum of maintenance, the amount of which is to be fixed by the trustees. The members release all
claims for wages, interest and any share in the income and of the estate of the society separate from the common
Article 7. All children and minors after the death of their parents and relatives shall be orphans under the special
guardianship of the trustees during their minority. Any credits, if not disposed of by will, or any debts left
by the parents are to be assumed by the children. Credits of members dying intestate without leaving lawful heirs
shall revert to the society.
Article 8. Members leaving the society either by their own choice or expulsion, shall receive back the amount paid
into the common fund without any interest or allowances for services during the time of their membership.
From the foregoing it will be seen that communism is not practiced for temporal or pecuniary purposes or as an
experiment to solve social problems, but is one of the means to lead a better and truer Christian life. The religious
faith of the community is founded on the revealed word of God in the Old and New Testament, on the divine doctrines
and teachings of Christ and the apostles, and on the writings and teachings of the founders of the society, held
and revered as inspired from God. Divine worship is offered in prayer meetings where word of God is read and comments
for instruction and useful application are rendered thereon by the elders. Baptism is not practiced, as it is held
to be only an outward form of true spiritual baptism. The Lord's Supper is celebrated biennially in the manner
introduced by Christ. War is believed to be against the will of God, and oaths are forbidden.
The spiritual management rests entirely in the hands of the elders, who are chosen by the board of trustees from
those best fitted. Everyone is in duty bound and expected to contribute all of his or her ability towards the maintenance
of the society, those of little ability contributing little and those of much ability contributing much, and all
receiving equal benefits of the amount and manner of contribution. All of the income derived from the various enterprises
which are conducted for the support of the society goes into the common fund, from which the individual members
are supported alike and equal and in accordance with necessity.
Each village has a number of kitchens and eating houses to which members are assigned for their meals. No cooking
is done in the individual homes, and where there are small children the food is supplied from the kitchens. The
food is plain but abundant and of the best quality, meat being provided twice each day, with plenty of home grown
vegetables. The cooking is done entirely by the women and girls, who take turns at the work incidental to it.
All of the vegetables needed are raised in the gardens of the community, where the women not occupied in the kitchens
take care of the lighter work and men attend to the heavier duties. Everything is raised in plentiful supply, but
no special effort is made to raise any garden products for the markets except onions. In good crop years there
is usually a surplus of other vegetables which is sold. In farming it is the object of the society to raise what
is needed for its own supply, about six thousand acres being under cultivation and farmed to crops of corn, oats,
wheat, barley and potatoes; about eight thousand acres are in pastures and meadows, and the balance is timber and
Each village has a general store where the members are credited with their annual allowance against which purchases
may be made. Aside from the members the stores are largely patronized by the farmers of the vicinity. At Amana
and Middle Amana are located the woolen mills, where flannels and blankets are manufactured, and a calico print
mill is located at Amana. The society keeps a herd of dairy cows at each village, of sufficient size to supply
the required amount of milk and butter. An orchard and vineyard is maintained at each village, the products of
which are distributed among the members.
The domestic and family life differs in no way from that elsewhere. Most families occupy a house by themselves,
unless the family is quite small, or sometimes single members live with families who help to take care of them
and their homes. The houses are built extremely plain, but very substantial and warm, and no paint is used on the
outside. Marriage is not permitted under the age of twenty four for men and nineteen for women. The house furnishings
are the personal property of the members, although a certain supervision is exercised over them to maintain equality
and simplicity. Each family is given sufficient ground around the house for a fruit or flower garden, and many
find much pleasure and pastime in caring for these in a model manner.
Sick, infirm or aged members are cared for to their end regardless of their ability to work. They receive appropriate
food and care, and free attendance by the society's physicians. The latter are members of the society, educated
at its expense, and they practice under the state law.
The schools are conducted under the supervision of the county superintendent and are graded according to the customary
course of eight grades. Besides the studies embraced in these, various branches are taught in German, the language
used almost exclusively in home and church. The schoolhouses are substantially built of brick, and are roomy, clean
and warm. Some attention is given to the teaching of knitting, sewing and needle work to the girls and of practical
agriculture to the boys.
The amusements and plays of the children do not differ materially from those Of other places, but as to entertainments
for older people there is considerable restriction. No dancing, theaters or band concerts are allowed, although
the more refined forms of music are permitted in the homes.
The woolen mills provide a means of employment for many who are not able to take part in the heavier work of farming,
and at the same time the mills contribute a large share of the support and maintenance of the society. It is the
endeavor of the management to provide occupation and employment for each member in accordance with natural inclinations,
talents and abilities, at least as much so as is practicable and compatible with the general welfare of the society.
Each one is morally bound to assist and share in the work and labor of providing for the community, to help in
the care of those who are not able to care for themselves, and thus to lighten and distribute the burden which
in the great world is often too heavy for one alone.