In Plain View: The Daily Lives of Amish Women by Judy Stavisky is a very informative and enjoyable book. For a decade, the author volunteered as a driver for a number of Amish women in Lancaster County, PA. She accompanied them on their errands, and thus she came to know them and discover how they lived, raised their children, planned family meals, cultivated their gardens, preserved the produce for winter, cleaned their houses, purchased fabric and sewed their family’s clothing, hosted church services in their homes, and many other tasks.
The author saw how they shopped at diverse stores, including stores that catered to Amish customers as well as mainstream stores that had what they needed. For example, Costco is a perfect place for Amish women to buy bulk foods and other goods for their large families — and occasionally a rotisserie chicken, the only ready-prepared food the author saw an Amish family use. In thrift stores like the Salvation Army, they look for household goods and some articles of clothing, such as men’s shirts. Amish general stores and sewing stores offer a variety of specialized items, including the school books for Amish children, who use very outdated texts that feel more relevant to their way of life.
While most of my previous reading about the Amish features the things that are absent from their lives, especially modern conveniences, this book tells what they do have, and how they have adapted their use of modern technology on their own terms. For example, putting food away for winter involves canning but also freezing the produce from gardens and meat from economic purchases. Amish homes are not wired for electricity, so they often have propane-powered freezers. Also, larger families rent lockers in a the freezers of commercial establishment. Many families have one or two electric lamps that are powered by a battery pack so that they can light rooms at night. A small shed on their property allows many families to control the use of a telephone and answering machine. Members of the family can get messages, but do not generally have phone conversations. As the author learned at the beginning of her contact with them, Amish people do not drive or own cars, but they do accept rides or hire non-Amish people to drive them to places that are too far to go by horse and buggy.
Above all, the book documents a people who combine individual family life in single-family homes with a very communal attitude towards helping friends, family, and neighbors. Here’s an example of the way their values are expressed: any sort of competitiveness is discouraged. In school, children’s drawings posted on the classroom bulletin board have the signatures on the back to avoid comparing the work of one with another. At weddings, to avoid comparisons between hosts, the main meal served is always the same — stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed celery, and coleslaw (p. 181). Women sew their own clothing from a very restricted range of fabrics and colors, and essentially all use the same dress pattern. If women want to express solidarity or friendship, two or more of them often arrange to wear matching colors when they get together.
The book includes a wealth of detail that I have never seen before in articles about the Amish, nor have I been able to make any observations at this level of detail when visiting Lancaster where my brother and sister-in-law live. I’m grateful that they sent me this book, which is really wonderful to read!
Review © 2022 mae sander
This book sounds fascinating Mae. I think most of us have probably wondered about the lives of the Amish at one or another. I learned a lot just reading your post. Who knew they'd go to Costco? Happy weekend. hugs-Erika
Great review about a topic I know very little about - it sounds like a good place to start to learn more about the Amish. Thanks for sharing about this book. Hope you have time for another good one this week!
Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys
This is a fabulous review and a book I would be interested in. Thanks and have a great day.
The Amish have always fascinated me, so I might have to see if I can find a copy of this, it sounds really interesting
Mae, thank you for this great review. I have watch a few documentaries on TV about the Amish and we have an Amish community about 1 and 1/2 hours away in Pennsylvania. I have always found their lifestyle unusual and fascinating. I know I would enjoy reading this book. Glad to know about it.
We call them Mennonites. We did a tour to one of their homes in the Kitchener-Waterloo area a few years ago. We were not allowed any photos inside. It was fascinating, they seemed so contented. There is a blogger I read who has Amish for neighbours and she often talks about their frugality and how they often help her and her husband.
I am going to look for this book.
We call them Mennonites. We did a tour of a family in the Kitchener-Waterloo area a few years ago. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the house. The husband talked us through the customs and their lifestyle.
There is a blogger I read who has Amish neighbours that she often talks about. She learns things from them and they all help each other.
Sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review.
Note: Amish and Mennonite sects are distinct. Their religious beliefs are similar, but the groups have different traditions, especially in terms of using motor vehicles and other modern equipment.
I grew up in Ohio and there were a lot of Amish not far from us. I think I'd like this book.
There's something that's fascinating to me about the Amish. They seem to live full, rich, active lives, and they work together with others in their communities in ways that are commendable.
I could be Amish.
I guess I'd have to give up my blog, though.
I love reading about the Amish, I also love when I see them in person!
when we were staying with our Philly friend for some months, we drove out to Lancaster County. It was amazing to see the Amish in their horse and buggy setup. I remember one snowy day driving up a hill with Amish in front of a huge truck which was trying to get up the hill. It was scary to watch as the truck kept slipping down the snowy road due to the slowness of the buggy!
Sounds like a good book. Thanks for sharing.
This sounds really fascinating. I love the idea of all wedding meals being the same.
I know next to nothing about Amish Lives, but learning more might be very informative. I'm trying to think if I've actually read a book about the Amish before and nothing comes up. I know there's a Jodi Picoult somewhere on my shelf, I need to take a look.
Wishing you a lovely week ahead!
A great review! I know next to nothing about this way of life and learnt something from your review.
Have a great weekend!
Emily @ Budget Tales Book Blog
My Sunday post:
I had no idea about avoiding competition in the Amish community, also about the freezer system and the storage lockers . I did know about the public transportation, as I have taken greyhound bus across state and noticed several Amish.
This sounds like a fascinating read. I often wonder what it would be like to live without all the mod cons. I'm so reliant upon technology-particularly the internet-that I think I'd find it extremely difficult. But I imagine it could be peaceful and rewarding too.
I read what Jackie wrote. I live in both Amish and Mennonite country. Mennonites are far less rigid than the Amish. They even have vehicles. Of course, then I read your comment and you are definitely correct. Even their dress code is different. The Mennonites I know even send their children to state schools (as in USD).
The Amish I have been around are hard working. The women shop for clothing and quilt fabrics at JoAnn's. Their quilts are sold in stores that cater to tourists.
For the longest time, the road I used to take had NO poles on it, either phone or electricity. Now there are poles, but no wires go to the omes of Amish.
This was a fascinating read and review, which just confirmed my own experiences with these people.
I'm going to request this book from the library. I have many fond memories of going to Lancaster, Bird-in-Hand and Akron when I was growing up. My father would drive us to get produce, stop at the outlets and we always ate at a place called The Akron Restaurant. The honey fried chicken was amazing and it was a pleasure to take my husband to eat there when I went home (years ago) to visit my dad.
His first taste of Shoofly pie!
I absolutely loved where I grew up.
A lovely review of "In Plain View: The Daily Lives of Amish Women"! A DC friend with a colleague in Lancaster sent me the link to your blog. I am honored to be included here. Happy to answer questions related to Amish women. With gratitude, Judy Stavisky
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