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
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.
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.