Hutterite Children

By Jacqueline Rogers

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    Do you ever wonder what you will be when you become an adult?

    That’s a common question children ask themselves as they are growing up. But there are some young boys and girls who never have to ask that question. They have an idea what they’ll be from the time they are very small. These children are part of a group called Hutterites, and many of them live in the United States.

    The Hutterite brethren came to America over a hundred years ago to escape persecution in Germany and Russia. Most of them settled in South Dakota, but other groups have found homes in Montana, Canada, South America, and England.

    Hutterites live together in colonies called Bruderhofs. Each colony has several houses, a church, dining hall, and small school.

    The Hutterites are excellent farmers, and they also raise chickens, cattle, and ducks. Every settlement has a special skill. Some craftsmen make furniture or shoes, while others may specialize in stainless steel work or carpentry. The colonies all have large gardens where the women raise vegetables and fruits to feed the colony for the entire year. The Hutterites try very hard to raise or grow all their own food and to provide each other with the necessities they need, so they will not have to visit stores or come too close to those who are not Hutterites.

    If you were to visit a Hutterite colony today, you would meet several young persons like John and Anna Hofer, who live in the Elm Creek colony of South Dakota. John is eleven years old, and his sister Anna is ten. From the first ringing of the early morning bell until it rings again for evening prayers, John and Anna will follow about the same daily schedule that their great-grandparents did.

    John dresses quickly when he hears the morning bell, slipping suspenders up over his shoulders as he joins his brothers and father to feed the animals. After breakfast with the other colony children in the big communal dining hall, John hurries to the small, one-room schoolhouse.

    John is not happy in school. He often wishes he were out in the fields with his big brothers, away from the musty classroom and the noisy girls. But John knows that he only has to go to school until the eighth grade.

    After he finishes school, John will be assigned chores or work in the fields until the time he is baptized. When he is about nineteen years old, the elders will put him with an experienced craftsman to learn a trade, perhaps as a carpenter or a bricklayer.

    John’s father is the cattle boss, and John wonders if he will be told to work with the cows. He hopes that he can learn a skill, so he can travel to other colonies and see more of the country. Whatever job John takes, he will not leave his home at Elm Creek until the elders decide it is time for him to work at other colonies and find himself a wife.

    John may sometimes wonder about things he hears mentioned, like high school, college, and the army; but he knows that those things will never be for him. John doesn’t mind, though, and he would never question the decisions the elders make for him.

    Perhaps it seems strange to children outside the colony, but John is very satisfied with his life. As he looks out at the vast fields of oats, corn, and wheat and at the huge herds of cattle and flocks of chickens, he knows that all of those things belong to him as much as they belong to any other colony member.

    Anna’s chores begin as soon as she wakes up, for it is her responsibility to help dress her three little sisters. First, she pulls on a long dark skirt and covers her neat white blouse with a vest to match her skirt. Then she slips her buttoned shoes over long white stockings. The most difficult job Anna has in the morning is keeping her sisters still long enough to pin their curly hair under their plain caps. All of the women and girls at Elm Creek dress the same way, and even little one-month-old Amy wears a cap. Anna has already sewn many caps for her “someday” babies.

    Anna attends school with John, and she often dreams of becoming a teacher like Mrs. Foster from town. But Anna knows in her heart that it is an impossible dream for her. Like John and the other children, she will leave school when she is thirteen and eventually become just like her mother.

    Anna will not be assigned a job like the boys, but she will help the colony mothers care for the babies and toddlers and keep the houses clean. Anna is already a skilled seamstress. Like her mother, she will make not only her clothes, but those of her husband and children someday. She will also learn to knit beautiful garments, to embroider, and to crochet.

    The Hutterite women, who are excellent cooks and bakers, take turns working in the big community kitchens.

    Anna and her friends spend quite a bit of time wondering about which colony they will live in when they marry and what boy they hope chooses them when the time comes. Although Anna could always refuse a boy who wants to marry her, she really has very little to say about that part of her life. It may seem strange that Anna, who is only ten, would think so much about her marriage. But for a Hutterite girl, it is the most important event in her life. She will be about seventeen or eighteen when she marries.

    Anna’s mother has fourteen children, and most of her friends’ families are large too. Both Anna and John hope that they have a great many children, because babies are considered a special gift to the Bruderhof.

    There are no television sets at the Hutterite colony, and most of the children have seldom heard a radio. John and Anna have never seen a record player or heard records. John’s big brothers and the men use tractors and special machinery on the farm. But Anna will never drive the colony cars or go near the machines, because it is considered unlucky for women to do so.

    The children at Elm Creek are taught that radios, television sets, and most other things like that are too much of the outside world. Such diversions would take their thoughts away from the Bible and the simple life they lead. When they go to church all day Sunday, and every night after meals, they are told that they must obey every word of the Bible and live exactly as their founders lived four hundred and fifty years ago.

    Each boy knows that if he leads a good life and becomes an upstanding member of his colony, he could be elected a leader some time in his life. That is the highest honor he can hope for. Each girl can hope that the boy she marries becomes a leader or preacher and that he will share some of that special work with her.

    Anna and John and the other children at Elm Creek live a happy, healthy life that is very different from most boys and girls. Yet they don’t miss having any of the toys or games outside children have, because they know practically nothing about them. Very few Hutterites leave their colonies after they are grown. They seem happy there with their homes and families, and they know that they will be cared for and honored when they grow old.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown