Great Mennonite Schisms.

I’ve always been a fan of schisms and heresies (see this post and those linked in its first sentence), so of course I was pleased to find “In Praise of Older Schisms,” by slklassen, the Drunken Mennonite; I knew I had to bring it here when I got to the last one:

10. The Famous Bonnet Controversy of Stirling Ave.

Mennonite women in Ontario wore hats until the mid-nineteenth century. Like everyone else. Then they switched to bonnets. Like everyone else. Then, in the early twentieth century, they started to switch back to hats again. Like everyone else. Which, apparently, was wrongheaded of them. In 1924, the hat-wearers and their supporters at Berlin Mennonite Church (now First Mennonite), having had enough persecution from the bonnet faction, marched up the hill to form Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. I attended this Church through my growing up years. And never wore a bonnet once.

Hat heresies are the best heresies!


  1. Jeffry House says

    I live near Mennonite country in Ontario, near the Berlin Mennonite Church mentioned. I think I perceive that younger Mennonite women wear a transparent cap, called “Eastern Mennonite” in this photo, while older women wear black caps called “Midwest Amish” in the illustration.

    I never see anything I would describe as a “bonnet”.

  2. The rare hat-based post, as opposed to language-based post! Just to keep us on our toes…

  3. Jeffry, what is it that makes those not bonnets? The lack of brim? I’d certainly be more likely to call them bonnets than caps, since they cover only the back of the head and tie under the chin.

  4. The rare hat-based post, as opposed to language-based post! Just to keep us on our toes…

    Yes, I like to justify the second part of the name from time to time.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Someone (unfortunately, I forget who) once said that schism was a sign of religious vitality. As an observation, rather than some sort of value judgment, I think this is mostly true: after all, people don’t go to the trouble of anathematising each other if they don’t think religion is all that important in their lives.

    Perhaps “earnestness” is a better word than “vitality”, especially given the damaging effects of schism.

    However, hats, as we here can all agree, are central to the worldview of all thinking people. It is not surprising that they engender conflict.

  6. On a related note, the Roundheads and Cavaliers of the English Civil War came to blows over their divergent hairstyle choices.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Tibetan Buddhism has the Red Hat and Yellow Hat sects.

    While the differences are often held to be doctrinal, I feel we can confidently assume that they are in fact fundamentally postmillinerial.

  8. Hassidic sects notoriously differ by their shtreimels.

    (See WP under Shtreimel. I am still in link purgatory.)

  9. Red is the default color, and applies to three of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Only the Gelug-pa school has a specific hat color, namely yellow.

  10. postmillinerial
    Where is the “Like” button?

  11. I think there is a confusion in terminology here. I know little about Mennonites et al. but rather more about historical costume, so I will attempt an explanation.
    The headdresses shown in Jeffry’s link would have evolved from the ‘caps’ worn by most European (and American) women until the late 19th century to cover the hair, often with the addition of a hat out of doors. In modern usage some people call these bonnets.
    ‘Bonnet’ can also mean the type of feminine outdoor headgear fashionable for much of the 19th century, enclosing the back of the head and tying under the chin. I think the first part of Languagehat’s quotation, describing a change from hats to bonnets and back again, refers to these fashion changes, whereas the 1924 controversy was between women who wished to wear modern headgear and those who enforced the traditional dress of their sect.

  12. Thanks, that makes sense!

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