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The Plough and the Pen

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Youmans, Vance Joseph. The Plough and the Pen. Boone, North Carolina: Parkway Publishers, 1995.


A Bit of Historical Background

The Hutterites are one of a cluster of German-speaking Christian groups known as Anabaptists, along with the Amish and the Mennonites. What has set the Hutterites apart from other Christians and other Anabaptists as well is that they live in tightly organized rural communities and have all goods in common. Nothing is owned by individuals. If this alone did not create enough tension in their relationships with their neighbors and governments, their belief that they should not take up arms for any reason has created troubles for them throughout their history.

The Hutterites had their beginnings in 1528 in Switzerland, early in the protestant reformation. Persecutions, some early ones grisly, later with discriminatory laws, have kept them moving, from Moravia to Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Russia, and finally to the United States and Canada. It is because of their sojourn in the Ukraine, where they lived not far from the Mennonite communities, that they are a part of the story of the Germans from Russia. They are objects of great curiosity today. They maintain a distinctive personal appearance and culture, adopt the technology which places them among the finest and most efficient of farmers, and foster a family life that is among the most stable anywhere. And yes, they pay the same taxes everyone else does.

Book Review

When a Hutterite community grows to some 150 persons, they seek land on which to build a new community. The book THE PLOUGH AND THE PEN is the story of the founding and growth of a Hutterian (the word is used interchangeably with Hutterite) community near Seattle, Washington and of its mentor, Paul S. Gross. Gross, whose community lived in Canada, led a group to an area quite different from their customary prairies, and with hard work and the kindly assistance of local persons, created a thriving community. For awhile, they were the objects of anticommunist hysteria. After all, did they not come from Russia, and did they not practice a form of communism? But they have overcome this, and now they provide milk for the Carnation Company, raise geese for their meat, and ship tons of seed potatoes. If you were to check with them today, they would almost certainly be doing yet something else. Paul Gross, a minister, became a scholar and historian for the group.

The book is not told in a storytelling style. It is meticulously put together and informative, like a university graduate student's research paper, but not with the personal detail that would have evoked the life of the community. There are clear black and white pictures and appendixes that include lists of Hutterian family names, rules for church membership, a petition asking for religious freedom written to President Woodrow Wilson, Articles of Incorporation of the Hutterian Brethren of Seattle, and a sample sermon such as is read in the religious services.

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