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World War I Fear Strips Area of German Heritage

By Jim Reis-reprinted here with his permission from
Pieces of the Past-Volume I

 

Wie geht es Ihnen?

There was a time when most Northern Kentuckians could read that simple sentence as easily as they could read anything else in the newspaper.  But time and world events conspired to strip away part of our heritage.  Until 1918 German was the second language of Northern Kentucky.  Thousands of first generation Americans learned German at home, while others learned in school.  A few were taught in the public schools.

World War I changed that.  In a few months, Northern Kentuckians filled with patriotic zeal stripped German from their schools.    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, German was spoken on street corners, churches held services in German and the Covington and Newport public libraries set aside sections for German language books.  There were also a couple of newspapers published in German, but they disappeared by the 1900s.

Alexandria held a series of "German Day" celebrations with a parade and a festival to honor the 200th anniversary of the first German settlement in America, which had been located in Pennsylvania.  Educator F D Fasterius had landed near Philadelphia on August 6, 1683 and was followed on October 3 by 13 German families who settled Germantown.  To celebrate the anniversary in Alexandria, 5000 people came out on October 8, 1883 to watch a long line of floats, to hear a German Military Band and speeches at the fairgrounds and then to march to the Alexandria Cemetery for a memorial service.

In 1911, a statewide German Day festival coordinated by Newport officials was held at the Ludlow Lagoon amusement park.  The governor and the German Imperial Consul were among more than 10,000 people who attended.  German was available in most public high schools.  The combination of German ancestry and the scientific importance of German publications at the time made German a popular language among high school students.

The Covington Board of Education in its 1905-06 annual report recommended that students in college preparatory courses take four years of German.  Those in general or commercial courses were advised to take two years.

Then came World War I.  The United States declared war on Germany April 6, 1917 which had begun in Europe in 1914.  The Kentucky Post carried pictures and stories about the war and its devastation.  American public opinion turned against Germany.  In the summer of 1917 Dayton Public Schools stopped offering German classes.  Pressure was applied to Ft. Thomas, Bellevue and Newport to do the same. The Citizens Patriotic League of Covington was formed by 25 people in July 1917.  By the end of 1919 its ranks had grown to more than 1000.  Among the league's declared aims was the elimination of German and all modern foreign languages from elementary schools and a ban on German in print or public speeches.

Anti-German sentiment increased.  Many street signs and company names were purged of their "Hun" origins.  German Street became Liberty Street and the German National Bank became American National Bank in Newport.  In Covington it became Liberty National and Bremen street became Pershing Street.  On January 10, 1918 Bellevue schools dropped classes studying German.  On February 5 Newport schools dropped the classes and went a step further, "casting out" its German books.  Ft. Thomas followed immediately after.

The Citizens Patriotic League turned its attention to German-language newspapers.  There were two Cincinnati German newspaper in circulation at the time.  Members posted placards warning people not to subscribe, read, circulate or buy advertising in German newspapers.  The boycott ended the circulation of the newspapers in Northern Kentucky


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