John A. Hostetler, 1918-2001
THE MENNONITE QUARTERLY REVIEW regrets to announce the death of John Andrew
Hostetler of Goshen, IN, leading scholar of Amish and Hutterite societies. He
died on August 28, 2001 at the age of 82. Born on October 29, 1918 in an Amish
family in Big Valley (Mifflin County) PA, Hostetler was the fifth of seven children
of Joseph and Nancy (Hostetler) Hostetler. At the age of eleven, his parents
moved to Iowa.
As a youth he supervised his father’s turkey
operation, took courses on poultry raising, and received a poultry judging license
from the American Poultry Association. He discovered however that he enjoyed
reading more than raising turkeys and feeding hogs. At the age of 16, his essay
“Some Effects of Alcohol and Tobacco,” was published by the Mennonite youth
paper, The Words of Cheer. Never baptized in the Amish church,
in 1935 Hostetler joined the Mennonite Church. He attended Hesston College in
1941 but was soon drafted and served with Civilian Public Service in several
locations. He graduated from Goshen College in 1949 with a degree in sociology.
While at Goshen he assisted dean Harold S. Bender by writing articles on the
Amish and similar groups for the four volume Mennonite Encyclopedia
which Bender was editing. Thus began a productive and prolific academic career.
After marrying Hazel Schrock in June 1949, the
Hostetlers moved to State College, Pennsylvania where John began graduate studies
in rural sociology at the Pennsylvania State University. In 1951, his wife and
a daughter died in childbirth, the same year that Hostetler’s Annotated
Bibliography on the Amish won the University of Chicago’s annual Folklore
Prize. In 1953 Hostetler married Beulah Stauffer Hostetler, a book editor at
Herald Press. They had three daughters together, and their marriage marked the
beginning of a 48-year collaboration on many projects.
Dismayed by inaccurate popular essays on the
Amish, Hostetler published Amish Life (Herald Press, 1952) and
The Amish (Herald Press, 1995), books still in print whose combined
sales now approaches 850,000 copies. He received his Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania
State University in 1953 for a dissertation on The Sociology of Mennonite
Evangelism which was subsequently published by Herald Press. During
a five year stint at the Mennonite Publishing House, he served as book editor
and also wrote a history of the press, God Uses Ink (1958).
Beginning in 1959 he held faculty teaching appointments
at the University of Alberta, Penn State (Ogontz Campus) and Temple University
where he retired in 1985. He lectured widely at colleges and universities and
held several visiting professorships including five years (1986-1990) as a Distinguished
Scholar-in-Residence at the Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist
Groups at Elizabethtown College (PA) where his wife also held a teaching appointment.
Hostetler’s scholarship and publications included
at least twenty articles in church periodicals, nearly that number in The
Mennonite Quarterly Review and The Mennonite Historical Bulletin
as well as some twenty additional articles in other scholarly journals
including the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
and the American Journal of Medical Genetics. He contributed
at least 15 chapters to edited books as well as several essays to encyclopedias.
Hostetler produced eight full length books and six booklets for popular audiences
including the best selling Amish Life. His most important and
influential book was Amish Society (Johns Hopkins). First published
in 1963, with a fourth edition in 1993, it became one of the best selling volumes
in the history of the Johns Hopkins University Press. Hutterite Society
(Johns Hopkins, 1974) provided an authoritative account of Hutterite life and
society. Other major books included Children in Amish Society
(Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971) coauthored with his long-time colleague Gertrude
Enders Huntington, and Amish Roots (Johns Hopkins, 1989). At the
Amish Tricentennial Conference at Elizabethtown College in 1993, Hostetler was
recognized by friends and colleagues and presented with a festschrift, The
Amish and the State (Johns Hopkins, 1993) which honored his scholarly
In addition to his formal publications Hostetler
wrote many research reports, directed six funded research projects, and served
as an expert witness in at least five court cases involving minority groups,
the most prominent one being Wisconsin vs. Yoder which was heard
by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. He was an active participant in the National
Committee for Amish Religious Freedom. Hostetler served as an advisor to two
major films: The Amish: A People of Preservation (1976) and The
Hutterites: To Care and Not to Care (1983). Among numerous awards, John
A. Hostetler was a Fulbright Scholar, received an honorary doctorate from Elizabethtown
College, and was recognized by the Society for German-American Studies and the
National Historic Communal Societies Association.
Through his publications and contacts with the
public media Hostetler served as the leading national interpreter of Amish and
Hutterite communities throughout the last half of the twentieth century. As
a champion of religious liberty, he was instrumental in preserving and protecting
the fundamental religious rights enjoyed by all religious minorities. Always
working in quiet and sensitive ways, he built bridges of understanding and respect
between Old Order communities and the larger world. Indeed one of his most enduring
accomplishments was his ability to nurture and maintain the trust of leaders
and members of Old Order communities.
Scholars of Anabaptist communities are indebted
to Hostetler for his enormous contribution to the scholarship of these communities.
As a student of culture and human society he helped many of us to better understand
the world views, values and social organization of Old Order communities. I
am grateful for having had the opportunity to work with him and to benefit from
his wise counsel.
Donald B. Kraybill Elizabethtown, PA