Family, church and market : a history of a Mennonite community transplanted from Russia to Canada and the United States, 1850-1930

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Loewen, Royden,
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This is a study of the family, church and market in the history of a small Mennonite group that migrated from Russia to North America in 1874 and settled in the vicinity of Steinbach, Manitoba and Jansen, Nebraska. It examines the manner in which the group's social structure and its members' life goals accommodated an increasingly urban, industrial world. This representative Mennonite sub-group, the "Kleine Gemeinde", is an especially valuable subject of study: it was sufficiently small to allow for a reconstruction of its social structure and networks; its members were articulate conservatives who have left a rich array of primary material; and this group settled in both Canada and the United States, thus enabling a comparative study of a single ethnic group in two countries. The examination of the Kleine Gemeinde and their descendants during the three generations between 1850 and 1930 illuminates the manner in which conservative, agrarian people pursued various strategies to reproduce their lifeworlds. The everyday lives of the Kleine Gemeinde reveal that the family, which included the kinship networks, the household economic units, and the domestic sphere of women, was their primary social unit. On the community level these families were tied together by the lay-oriented, church congregation; it encouraged a deep piety, ordered social relationships and defined social boundaries. This closely-knit community and the exigencies of its reproduction called for a judicious interaction with the market economy and the outside world. The factors of family, church and market thus worked together to ensure a measure of continuity in a changing environment. It was apparent throughout these years that differing national policies on minority groups were not crucial factors in distinguishing Canadian and American Mennonite adaptation. Far more important were the social forces that accompanied, the rise of an urban, industrial society. By 1930 rising wealth, land shortages, urbanization and closer integration with the wider society had divided the one-time homogeneous community into urban and rural factions; as some Kleine Gemeinde descendants opted for a more individualistic, differentiated urban existence others developed new strategies to reproduce their communal-oriented, ascetic lifeworlds in agrarian communities.