I Wish I'd Been There: Resisting a
By Julia Kasdorf
One Sunday morning during the 1930s, two young church members
walked into Maple Grove Amish Mennonite Church in Mifflin County,
Pennsylvania, with nothing on their heads. The night before,
they had hatched the daring plan together and vowed not to lose
their nerve, although they expected discipline.
When asked why she did it, one of them told me, "I didn't
want to be plain. I never was a plain Mennonite, and I am not
now." She wished to be nameless for an interview I conducted
while researching the life and work of J.W. Yoder (1872-1956),
but she explained her position. In 1928 about to graduate from
Belleville High School, she was told to wear either a net cap
or black bonnet to the baccalaureate ceremony. At first, she
couldn't decide whether to stay home or to comply with the church
rule. As a child, she had often heard her mother and J.W. Yoder
denounce the head covering as "unbiblical" during Sunday
dinners. Amish-born Yoder-a long-time member of the Women's Christian
Temperance Union and briefly a professor at both Elkhart Institute
and the progressive, "old Goshen"-regarded the head
covering as an un-Christ-like "subordination veil"
and saw no reason to retain a relic from Semitic antiquity. In
the end, the girl resentfully wore a borrowed bonnet to march
with her classmates in mortarboards.
Years later, she clipped a Gospel Herald article denouncing
the covering on biblical grounds, and pasted it inside her Bible.
Around that time-the late 1960s or early 1970s-she and three
others were the first to quit wearing coverings at Maple Grove.
But I wish I'd been there the first time she tried, because I
admired the way she placed her body in line with her beliefs,
following the strong tradition of our Anabaptist mothers. Also
in their spirit, she did not make that impossible stance of resistance
alone, and eventually she did see the rules change.
Julia Kasdorf is author of two collections of poetry,
Sleeping Preacher and Eve's Striptease, and a forthcoming
collection of essays, The Body and the Book: Writing From
a Mennonite Life. She teaches English at Messiah College and
worships at St. Stephen's Cathedral Church (Episcopal) in Harrisburg,
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, January 2000