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Before the Bonnet:
Amish Women's Hats

Most people probably assume that Amish women have "always" worn bonnets. In fact, the bonnet is relatively new in terms of over 300 years of Amish history. In Europe there was much work for the women in the fields, and women wore flat straw hats in the German Palatinate.

Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker claims that the Amish bonnet of today is really "an adaptation of the Quaker bonnet, which was introduced into Pennsylvania from England around 1800. Before then the flat hat was worn---straw in summer and felt in winter."

The first "Amish information" on bonnets we could find was in 1847, when an Amish girl had to make a confession in church for wearing a bonnet, after which she had to "put it away." So what did Amish women wear before the bonnet?

An Lancaster County Amishman known as "Mechanicsburg Johnnie" left us some interesting history in his many writings. He states that "when my mother was young, she wore a beaver hat. They were woolen, they had wide brims, and just a small head. They also wore straw hats the same size. They tied the brim down on the side with strings."

A 59-year old woman from Ohio wrote about her visit with an Old Order Amish woman. The older woman told her of these hats being worn to church, and that the women used to make their hair up in a bun on the top of their head. The bun fit into the small part of the hat.

There is still one group of Old Order Amish who do not allow women to wear bonnets. These Amish are known as "Nebraska Amish" or "White Topper Amish," due to the color of their buggies. They live in the Big Valley of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.

The fact that Amish women wore hats to about the middle 1800’s, and that bonnets were forbidden in the Amish church, is so unknown by most Amish that it is rather hard to get much information.

The following words come from Amish in Ohio...

"My grandmother was born in 1858. At that time all women wore hats, Amish and non-Amish. But styles changed and non-Amish started to wear bonnets. These were made more like the sunbonnets."

An Amish woman in Ohio wrote the following...

"Mother used to tell me that she and her sisters used to wear straw hats to go to church and so on. Mother said that their hats were rather tattered and torn. It was the time when some were beginning to wear bonnets. So her mother decided that since their hats were so worn looking, she would make the three little girls bonnets. It was on a Saturday. She was putting the finishing touches to them when their dad came in and she had them all three lying on the sewing machine. He asked her, ‘What are you doing, Mom?’ She said, ‘Well, the little girls’ hats are not very good anymore. I thought I would make them bonnets since we are going to a district that is new to us.’ He just up and said, ‘If you just want to dreib hochmut (promote pride) going to another church district, I can take care of that.’ He disposed of all three of them. He looked at bonnets as being worldly. Mother was born in 1883, and I was eleven when her mother died. So this would have been between 1883 and 1894."

Also from Amish in Ohio...

"My mother was born in 1896. My grandmother was born about 1850. She told my mother that Amish women wore wide brimmed hats with a scarf or length of cloth tied over top of the head and under the chin, bringing the sides down over the ears. Women’s bonnets were so colorful and elaborate and fancy that it was easy to understand why they were banned among the Amish women. Simple hats were more appropriate for Plain women. I understand my mother to say that women wore these hats to church. On dusty roads they could draw the cloth down over the face."

The following was obtained from Holmes County, Ohio Amish...

"My grandmother was born in 1858. Her mother died when grandmother was a baby. Then her grandparents raised her. In 1869, when grandmother was eleven years old, her grandparents planned to go away on a Saturday evening, and grandmother was also going along. Her grandfather hitched up the horse. When she and her grandmother went out to go, he looked up at his wife and said, ‘Where did you get that bonnet?’ She said, ‘Her hat is not fit anymore to go away.’ He said, ‘We are not going away with that bonnet.’ They did not go. She told me she cried all evening. The bonnet was forbidden. They were stylish and were just starting to be used by the Amish women in that area."

Perhaps in time, the fact that Amish women have not always worn bonnets will be something lost to history. Today we have only these few memories to tell us about what Amish women wore "before the bonnet."

Amish Country News Article (1999) Authors wish to remain anonymous.

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