Friday, January 25, 2013

From Waldo to Amana: Pietism and Community Building

[Wrote this for the Ohio Postal History Journal]

“…[P]rior to 1883, U.S. fourth-class offices – those with less than $1,000 annual revenue – had to furnish their own postmarking devices…”
{Richard B. Graham, United States Postal History Sampler (Sidney, Ohio, 1992), p. 24.)

My great-grandmother, Lyda Bensley Rathbun (1879-1973) was born in a Marion County village called Waldo. She had been left at an orphanage at a very young age; her mother died and her father could not or would not take care of the children. She spent a long life believing she was born somewhere in northern Ohio. It was only after she died in 1973 that I used census data to figure out that she had been born in Waldo.

Great-grandma, who I knew as a child, has nothing to do with postal history, but the story of figuring out the place from which you came does resonate. By and large, Americans are a rootless bunch. Few of us live in the same town we were born in, and making connections between point A and point B is half the fun of genealogists, essayists, and of course philatelists. Given my mysterious connection to Waldo, it is not surprising that I picked up this cover on eBay. But there’s another story connected with this cover.

The clear, manuscript date stamp, has no date beyond “Mch 4” (?), so we cannot pin the handwriting on a particular postmaster. The stamp is the issue of 1873 (Scott). The enclosure is long gone. We can assume that Waldo of the mid 1870s was one of those fourth-class offices not provided with the mechanical date stamps that were becoming common. But the address – the address was interesting.

The cover is addressed to one John Esterle, of East Amana, Homestedt [sic] Co., Iowa. There was a John Oesterle in the 1880 Census of 1880 living in Amana, Iowa. A German-born farmhand, we can be fairly sure we have the right man, especially since there were any number of Oesterles is Waldo, Ohio. But what is special about East Amana?

East Amana, Iowa, was and is one of America’s longest running “intentional communities.” Here in Ohio we may be more familiar with Zoar and Gnadenhutten in Tuscarawas County, the Amana Colonies were founded by German pietists called “Inspirationists.” Founded in Germany in 1714, the Inspirationists came to America in 1843, settled near Buffalo, New York, and in 1855 relocated to Iowa. They founded six villages, of which East Amana was one. They lived, ate, and worked communally. No one was paid and all did farmwork or work in support of the residents

In 1932, as the Depression dragged on, the Amana colonies gave up the communal lifestyle, but not their religious or agricultural ways. To keep the binds of their community, the Amana people kept their church and also created the joint-stock Amana Corporation, tying themselves in a new way while preserving the sense of community.

To many Ohioans, Amana is just an appliance company, although its origins can be found in the Amana Colonies history. But is America is about connections across time and space, that cover hand postmarked Waldo, Ohio, does connect us with those hardworking farmers who started a collective farm out on the Iowa prairie.

[For more about Amana and their history, see:]

No comments:

Post a Comment