Plain Women

Gender and Ritual in the Old Order River Brethren

By (author) Margaret C. Reynolds Translated with commentary by Simon J. Bronner

Hardback - £41.95

Publication date:

01 August 2001

Length of book:

208 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271021386

Despite the great interest in "plain" groups in recent years, comparatively little has been written about women and the particular role they play in preserving traditional religious and cultural values in the modern world. In Plain Women, Margaret C. Reynolds portrays the women of the Old Order River Brethren, a significant branch of the Brethren in Christ located mainly in Pennsylvania.

The members of this conservative offshoot of the Brethren are often confused with the Amish because of their plain attire, but, unlike the Amish, they have made some notable concessions to the modern world—including the use of automobiles, computers, and home appliances. Noting these accommodations to modern American life, Reynolds examines the ceremonies and traditions that allow the Old Order River Brethren to remain "separate" from other plain groups and from contemporary mass culture. She describes, for example, the love feast communion, a service that involves footwashing and a breadmaking ritual (one unique to the Old Order River Brethren and solely performed by women). Reynolds focuses in particular on the gendered customs of dress, hair, and domesticity that shape women’s lives and, in so doing, preserve the minority faith itself.

Plain Women is the first volume in the new Pennsylvania German History and Culture Series, published in cooperation with the Pennsylvania German Society. This series is a continuation of the Society’s annual volumes on Pennsylvania German scholarship in disciplines such as history, religion, folklore, literature, and arts.

“Written with nuance and insight, Plain Women is a fine and probing analysis of the role of women in the Old Order River Brethren. Reynolds has a firm mastery of the history and doctrines of the background movements of Anabaptism and Pietism, and her findings fill the gaps in published information on this minority faith.”

—Donald F. Durnbaugh, Juniata College