My character's name is Lori Fried, born in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1892 to German immigrants. Her ethnicity is German-American. She was raised in a working-class socialist family. Her father was a mechanic, her mother a seamstress. After high school, she became a teacher in a neighborhood German school. She was well-mannered, pleasant and outgoing, with an endearing personality, especially loved by her students. She was born in between two brothers. She liked German classical music and would regularly attend musicals at the German cultural center in Kansas City. She was fluent in both English and German, the latter which she used for teaching in her classes.
Lori is a female name of German-American ethnicity. I chose the ethnicity so I could explore the experiences of German-Americans during WWI. I chose the female gender so I could explore the lives and roles of American women from the beginning to the middle of the 20th Century. As for the choice of the teaching profession for Lori, census data around that time shows that it was quite was common among women at the time (Fouka). Her outgoing personality made her a good fit for the teaching job, and also made her well-known around town. I use her love for music to show some of the cultural losses Germans suffered when America entered WWI.
Major Historic Conflict: World War I
The First World War had a disastrous effect on Americans of German ethnicity and their cultural heritage. They had for a long time been the most well-integrated and most well-esteemed racial and ethnic minority in the US. Most of the five million German-Americans had arrived in the US in the course of the 19th Century, though there were many that had been in the US since Colonial days. German-Americans had a significant level of influence in several of the bigger cities, most notably Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. They were considered industrious and charitable. Over the years, they had invested heavily in their culture; there were many German social clubs, music halls, pubs where they served German lager, churches, and schools. Many of the schools in German settlements taught in German.
This rather favorable attitudes changed with the start of WWI. German-American heritage suddenly became a liability. When the US declared war on Imperial Germany in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt became negatively vocal about what he called "hyphenated Americanism," referring to the perceived dual loyalties of the German-Americans. This triggered a wave of anti-German hysteria across the nation, and paranoia among the German-Americans. Many of them made changes to get rid of aspects of their identity that were distinctly German, like their names and businesses. Streets that were named after anything German were changed. Many local politicians took the cue and spoke out publicly against German identity, creating a highly polarized atmosphere of ethnic hatred. These attitudes were even codified in laws like the Espionage Act of 1917, the Trading with the Enemy Act, and the Sedition Act. There was systemic exploitation as was particularly evident in the fundraising initiatives for the war; German-Americans were required to prove their loyalty to the US by purchasing Loyalty Bonds. Local vigilante groups were formed to enforce these loyalty drives, many practicing extrajudicial acts against perceived enemy collaborators that were overlooked by the Department of Justice. An example of this was the infamous lynching of Robert Prager in Illinois in April 1918, where the perpetrators were found not guilty (Hickey, 117-134). The Kansas German Cultural Center, where most Germans in the state would converge for cultural occasions, was closed by authorities for fear it would be used as a center for anti-American was activities. The property was confiscated and held in trust for the government by the State Alien Property Custodian for the duration of the war.
Lori's school was ordered to stop teaching in German, causing considerable confusion and anguish among students who were now forced to learn in a language they were not very good at. Most lived in German neighborhoods where almost everyone spoke in German and they didn't need to learn English to get by. Lori and her fellow teachers did their best to handle the transition, which included translating the teaching and learning material, and reviewing the syllabus to reflect more "American" content.
The anti-German sentiment in Jefferson City was quite strong. The city has a strong and influential chapter of the American League, an infamous national movement that had taken up the job of weeding out perceived pro-German collaborators. They forced German families to prove their loyalty by enlisting in the war draft and buying the Loyalty bonds. Karl, Lori's elder brother, enlisted to save the family, and was shipped off to Britain after a short stint at the Jefferson Military Base. Lori's parents used up a good portion of their savings to purchase the bonds to clear out of the vigilantes' radar. They all stopped conversing in German, even inside the house; it was Lori's job to help most of the older members of the German community, and recent immigrants to cultivate a more American accent to avoid sticking out in their day to day dealings. It was a generally disruptive period that saw the decline of German culture in the city and all over the nation.
Primary Source: Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA)
The Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA) is a US federal law that was enacted in October 1917 after the United States entered World War I. It is described as "An Act to Define, Regulate and Punish Trading with the Enemy and for Other Purposes" (U.S. Congress). It is a wartime law that was created to prohibit or regulate trade with individuals or entities that are citizens, natives, or subjects of a nation with which the United States is at war, and to punish those in violation. Its aim was to prevent any trade that would empower the enemy at the expense of the United States, whether financially or materially, for the duration of hostilities. Section 6 of the Act provides for the office of the Alien Property Custodian, who is empowered to receive, hold, and account for all money or property belonging to any enemy or ally of an enemy. It is still in use today, though it has been amended severally to align with other related laws or to accommodate changing realities.
This law was used extensively against German immigrants perceived to harbor pro-German sympathies. Their money and property were confiscated by the Alien Property Custodian, and held until the peace treaty between Germany and the US was signed in 1921. The threat of such dire economic sanctions forced many German-Americans to withdraw from public discourse about the war to avoid drawing attention to themselves. While many of them would have wanted genuine grievances discussed and factored into the direction of the war, like the plight of relatives back at home, there was no democratic space to raise any such issues. Instead, they did everything they could to appear integrated and ended up being complicit in the actions of the allies against their kin in the Fatherland, as they fondly referred to Germany (Dewitt).
Her Roles in the German-American Community, American Society, and US
Lori grew up in a closely-knit German-American community. The German language was used in almost every aspect of their interactions. They had their own churches, schools, libraries, social halls and other social amenities where the primary language was German. The German language was the second most widely spoken language in the US after English. There were national and local German newspapers and other such publications. With the prevailing anti-German sentiment during WWI, the German culture and language suffered a huge backlash. Many German newspapers were forced to shut down; those that survived had to deliver translations of every publication at their post office and get a loyalty approval stamp. German books were brought down from library shelves and thrown away or burned, quite often in mocking public bonfires. It was an uphill battle for schools to continue instruction in German; there was stubborn, unthinking repression of all things German. Churches and other social facilities were forced to convert their meetings to English, or be considered to be anti-patriotic (Fouka).
Lori felt betrayed by American society, which she felt she was rightfully a part of. It worried her how irresponsible American politicians had become. In the 1916 presidential elections, both Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes expressed suspicions of the disloyalty of German-Americans. This emboldened local politicians, who then facilitated the local "patriotism" outfits that harassed German-Americans at the local level. She liked democracy as practiced in America, and American culture too, but for the first time she felt like her basic rights were being violated by society and government, like somehow she didn't completely belong. She had been brought up all her life in America, and had only been to Germany a handful of times. She didn't feel a sense of belonging there either.
Resolving the Conflict
As a teacher of German ethnicity, herself raised and trained in German, Lori considered herself to be a community custodian of German heritage, responsible for teaching and shaping her students. Now, she and her fellow educators found themselves forced to translate teaching materials and revise the curriculum into English, forced even to remove some of the more overt references to German heritage. Lori's was of good standing in the community, to both her German community and the rest of mainstream American society. She blended well. Still, as a teacher, she was exposed.
The way she carried herself meant a lot to her and her family and her community. Yet, she felt she owed a duty to her students to teach them German culture. She now found she was forced to encourage the culture of the society that was part of this harassment. It was no-win for her. It was a trying time for them as they tried to pass on the cultural meanings and nuances into English. She faced a dilemma over how to maintain her individuality and live up to her role as an educator and a cultural educator in her community.
In the end, the teachers stashed away as much original German material as they could, and maintained as many cultural references as they dared to in their translations. In the end, she thought it best to retreat. They would rebuild when it was all over. She had faith that American society would bounce back. For now, though, the danger was real, to herself, her family, and her students. She tried to maintain a safe balance in her work. Some things were lost forever. The development of the German language and culture in America was at its peak; the future was bleak.
As for belonging, she understood her place in society as a child of immigrants. She felt was fully American in every other way. She also felt she had an important role in the transition.
Fouka, Vasiliki. "The History Of German Americans Shows That Even When Facing Discrimination, Immigrants Don't Give Up Trying To Integrate.". USAPP, 2020, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2019/11/01/the-history-of-german-americans-shows-that-even-when-facing-discrimination-immigrants-dont-give-up-trying-to-integrate/.
Dewitt, Petra. Degrees of Allegiance: Harassment and Loyalty in Missouri's German-American Community during World War I. 1st ed., Ohio University Press, 2012. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1j7x8hz. Accessed 27 Apr. 2020.
Hickey, Donald R. "The Prager Affair: A Study in Wartime Hysteria." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 62, no. 2, 1969, pp. 117-134. JSTOR...
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