Old South Amana School
622 46th Ave.
Amana, IA 52203
The history of Amana Colonies, a National Historic Landmark and one of America’s longest-lived communal societies, begins in 1714 in the villages of Germany. Two men, Eberhard Ludwig Gruber and Johann Friedrich Rock, advocated faith renewal through reflection, prayer and Bible study. Their belief was the basis for a religious group that began meeting in 1714 and became known as the Community of True Inspiration. Though the Inspirationists sought to avoid conflict, they were persecuted for their beliefs and began searching for a new home. Led by Christian Metz, they hoped to find religious freedom in America and left Germany in 1843-44, purchasing 5,000 acres near Buffalo, New York. When more farmland was needed for the growing community, the Inspirationists looked to Iowa where attractively priced land was available. In 1855 they arrived in Iowa and chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 26,000 acres – Amana (or Main Amana), East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad. In the seven villages, residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities, and schooling for their children. Property and resources were shared. In 1932, amidst America’s Great Depression, Amana set aside its communal way of life and established the Amana Society, Inc. a profit-sharing corporation to manage the farmland, the mills and the larger enterprises. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Amana Colonies, known for their restaurants and craft shops, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually all of whom come to see and enjoy a place where the past is cherished and where hospitality is a way of life.
One hundred years ago the schools in the Amana colonies were much like other rural, one-room schools in Iowa at the time. Children studied reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, geography and history. Classes recited their lessons in unison for the teacher to hear. They took 7th and 8th grade county examinations like all other students in Iowa at the time. Boys wore sturdy overalls and straw hats and girls wore long dresses and bonnets. They played games, chanted rhymes and sang songs before filing inside. But as other schools changed to keep up with new ideas and modern educational practices, the schools of the Amana colonies didn’t. Amana children attended school six days a week with no summer vacation. Amana school days started early in the morning and ended late in the day. Long school days provided necessary care and supervision for children whose parents, grandparents, and grown brothers and sisters were busy at their jobs. Children entered Amana schools at age five, speaking only German. Students learned English as a second language and used English textbooks for many courses. Use of English in daily conversation was discouraged. It was considered “worldly.” School days were broken into three parts: academic and religious instruction, playtime, and manual skill training. Even the youngest children learned skills they could use for the benefit of the community.
In the winter boys and girls learned to knit. Boys trained in shops and factories to learn a trade. In the summer children tended gardens and grape arbors in the school yards, taking turns planting, hoeing, watering and cutting. As in much of rural Iowa, regular lessons were often set aside during harvest time so children could help with the extra work. Religious training in Amana schools included lessons from the Bible, a study of the history, traditions, beliefs and leaders of the Community of True Inspiration. Occasionally a young man was selected from the graduating class to attend high school outside Amana. He would then go on to college to become a doctor, dentist, pharmacist or teacher. Amana schools experienced many changes when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Changes in the Amana communities which led to reorganization in 1932, which the people of the colonies called the event “The Great Change,” also led to major changes in the Amana school system. Saturday school and the extensive religious instruction were stopped. A high school was built so the children could continue their educations. Today the schools located in the Amana colonies are no different than any other school in Iowa.
Every village had a general store, such as those in High Amana and West Amana, a Kinderschule for children from the ages of two to seven, and a school for children ages 7-14. The schools in the Amana Colonies were similar to churches and were generally built of brick. Schools were sometimes centrally located or, as the case with this former school in South Amana, on the village fringe. Almost always, schools were located near an orchard which the school children tended. The schoolmaster usually lived in a residence that was part of the school building. Children attended school from the ages of seven to 14. At 14, the girls received a kitchen assignment while the boys were assigned to the farm, a shop, or a mill. The South Amana School is located at 505 R St., in South Amana. It is now used as an apartment building, and is not open to the public.