Hutterian Brethren

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HUTTERIAN BRETHREN . The Hutterian Brethren are a branch of Anabaptist Christians originally organized by Jacob Hutter (d. 1536). Hutter's followers, known still as Hutterites, accept the year 1528 as the date of their founding because it was then that the founders decided to pool their resources andunlike their Anabaptist counterparts the Amish and the Mennonitesto hold "all things common." Although they have no objection to the name Hutterites, they prefer to be known as Hutterian Brethren or simply Brethren.

Jacob Hutter, a hat maker whose surname means hatter, was a Swiss Anabaptist minister who promulgated the practice of adult baptism, rejection of oaths, pacifism, and nonassimilation. He apparently had some education, since he spoke well and had knowledge of geography and basic mathematics. He was also a firm disciplinarian and a brilliant organizer. Journeying in 1529 from the Tyrol to Moravia, he found disarray and dissension among various congregations of Anabaptists. With an unwavering hand, he was able to overcome the schisms and impart a sense of mission.

Hutter was a man of indomitable will and exceptional courage. During a trip to the Tyrol in 1536, he was abducted and imprisoned by his enemies. Despite torture, he refused to give up his beliefs in the separation of church and state, and he refused to take oaths, to bear arms, or to abandon his economic communalism. In February of that year he was burned at the stake. After only three years as leader, he had become a martyr.

Following the death of Jacob Hutter, Hans Amon became head of the church. After Amon's death in 1542, Peter Riedeman, one of Hutter's former assistants, assumed leadership. Like Hutter, Riedeman was a man of total conviction. His beliefs, heretical to prevailing ones, prompted his imprisonment for nine years. Following his death in 1556, the Brethren continued to grow. By 1600 they numbered some 25,000 members.

The so-called golden years ended abruptly, however, and during the 1600s and 1700s persecution became relentless. Hutterite numbers dwindled, and those who remained faithful were forced eastward, to Moravia, Transylvania, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. Under a promise of religious freedom, the Brethren were able to survive in Russia from 1770 to 1870, at which time the promise was withdrawn. Between 1874 and 1877 the entire Hutterite population, more than one thousand members, emigrated to the United States. The communal members, approximately four hundred, settled in South Dakota in three separate colonies known as Bruderhofs. These proved to be successful and growth was rapid. By the time of World War I, some seventeen hundred Brethren lived in seventeen Bruderhofs.

Because of their refusal to bear arms, the war brought great difficulties to the Hutterites. Hostility caused all but one Bruderhof to relocate to Canada, but after the war many returned to the United States. During World War II, the Brethren were granted conscientious-objector status.

Each Bruderhof is a self-supporting agricultural community employing modern farm machinery. All property is owned communally by approximately 150 members. If a group grows beyond this number, branches are set up. The Bruderhof is administered by five or six men elected for a lifetime; women do not serve on the council, nor are they permitted to vote. The minister of each Bruderhof is both the spiritual and the secular head.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Hutterites had grown to over 400 colonies with a population of more than thirty thousand members throughout the midwestern United States and Canada. Three groups of Hutterites exist (though their differences are more traditional and geographical than doctrinal): the Schmiedeleut, the Dariusleut, and the Lehrerleut. In 1992, the Schmiedeleut branch of the Hutterian Brethren split when a large group of Schmiedeleut Hutterites (also known as Committee Hutterites or Group 2) became dissatisfied with some community policies. Thus, the committee Hutterites created a new church constitution and installed a committee of elders to look after their own affairs.

See Also

Anabaptism; Mennonites.


There are a number of accounts dealing with various aspects of Hutterian life, but the best single book is John A. Hostetler's Hutterite Society (Baltimore, 1974). Another sound book for the general reader is John W. Bennett's Hutterian Brethren: The Agricultural Economy and Social Organization of a Communal People (Stanford, Calif., 1967). A more theoretical approach is the same author's "Social Theory and the Social Order of the Hutterian Community," Mennonite Quarterly Review 51 (1977): 292307. Victor Peters's All Things Common: The Hutterian Way of Life (Minneapolis, 1965) provides a comprehensive overview for the nonspecialist. For readers interested in the earlier history of the Hutterites, an illuminating book is Leonard Gross's The Golden Years of the Hutterites (Scottsdale, Pa., 1980).

New Sources

Esau, A. "Communal Property and Freedom of Religion: Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren." In Religious Conscience, the State, and the Law, edited by John McLaren and Harold Coward, pp. 97116. Albany, N.Y., 1999.

Erb, Peter C. An Annotated Hutterite Bibliography. Kitchener, Ontario, 1998.

Holzach, Michael. The Forgotten People: A Year among the Hutterites. Translated by Stephan Lhotzky. Sioux Falls, S.D., 1993.

Hutterian Brethren homepage, available from

Packull, Werner O. Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation. Baltimore, Md., 1995.

Stephenson, Peter H. The Hutterian People: Ritual and Rebirth in the Evolution of Communal Life. Lanham, Md., 1991.

William M. Kephart (1987)

Revised Bibliography