Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds
A Report by Brianna Jackson, '16
On March 10, 2014, Smith College alumna Soloma Miller Furlong ‘AC, author of two memoirs, "Why I Left the Amish" and "Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds," spoke to the Smith College and Northampton community in the newly renovated Helen Hills Hills Chapel about her experience leaving the Amish.
After a tumultuous past and years of rebellion, Furlong realized that she must choose to remain in the Amish or leave for Vermont, a land she had only read about in Yankee Magazine. With this choice, Furlong sacrificed her Amish identity to grow and live in freedom. In her Amish community, she had stability and family. Its ties were so deeply ingrained in her entire experience that it was immensely difficult for her to sever them. But her true, inquisitive nature and her deep love for David were not compatible with her desire for security and comfort and drove her away from the Amish.
Throughout her life, Furlong found herself constantly questioning the traditions of the Amish. When she was young, her mother forced her to wear a heavy, dark winter bonnet year-round, even in the blistering summer heat. Furlong lashed out against this unjust rule and burned her bonnet. This defiance was "a small liberation" for Furlong, but her unrest never ceased. "Why was I born with an inquisitive nature if I was taught not to ask hard questions?" she wondered. This constant search for knowledge eventually led her to attend Smith to further her education.
Another catalyst in her decision making process was her relationship with David, her future husband. The mental illness in Furlong's family and the domestic abuse she was subjected to left her feeling empty and trapped in her community. Because David was not Amish, Saloma could not marry him without leaving the community that previously defined her whole life."My soul was split in two," Furlong remembered. "I could not hold David close any more than I could let him go." David supported whatever Saloma decided to do, and he waited for Saloma to choose what her heart needed the most. Eventually, she chose the long awaited peace she felt in David's embrace over her tumultuous Amish past, and she went with him off into her new life of liberty.
After living in Vermont for years, Furlong finds herself perplexed by the way the Amish are portrayed in American media. Creating a relationship between the Amish and the dominant American culture becomes complicated by the different value systems of each society. Saloma describes the Amish as a community that honored Christ to such an extent that "there was no separation between what [the Amish] believed and what they lived." The principal American values of consumerism and social hierarchy are completely counter to this lifestyle, which makes it difficult for the American media to accurately depict Amish life without altering it to fuel these ideals.
Furlong's talk dispelled many untrue myths about the Amish for those in attendance. Ginny Patenaude, a resident of Northampton, had read Furlong's first book before the event and was inspired by the author's fearlessness and courage in choosing to leave the Amish. "I couldn't put the book down when I read of her life. I could feel her experience," Patenaude remarked. While Furlong described the themes in her books as "typically Amish," everyone can find truth in her story of self actualization, love and freedom.