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LESSON THIRTEEN

1890: Englishonly in Wisconsin Schools?

Introduction: By the 1880s, many immigrants, especially Germans, had established their own schools in their own neighborhoods as a way to preserve their cultures. Yankees often saw these schools as a form of unpatriotic resistance to American culture, and began to call for laws to hold parochial schools more accountable and to require that their classes be conducted in English. When William D. Hoard of Fort Atkinson ran for governor in 1888, he made these school reforms a central theme of his campaign. Rep. Michael Bennett of Dodgeville promptly introduced a bill that required stricter enforcement of attendance, specified that children could only go to parochial schools in their public school district, and required every school, public and private, to conduct its classes in English. Englishspeaking Yankees thought this would solve the problem of foreign “degradation” of traditional American culture. German Americans, however, denounced the Bennett Law as an assault on their culture by Yankees who sought to force their own values on everyone else. In the middle was a range of moderate voices arguing for the inevitability of assimilation and claiming that learning English would not destroy German culture. Opposition to the Bennett Law was loud, persistent, and widespread, and after only a single term the Republicans and Governor Hoard were voted out of office in 1890. The Bennett Law was repealed the following legislative session.

Background Reading: “Americanization and the Bennett Law” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp031/?action=more_essay

Document to Analyze: Hoard, William D. “Statement in Support of the Bennett Law.” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=969

Who, What, Where, When, Why: In this short piece, Hoard explains his support for the law and his belief that German Americans will soon realize the benefit of its provisions. This single sheet found among his manuscripts may have been notes for a speech, a letter to the editor, or a political flyer. Click ʺZoom & Panʺ to focus in on it more closely; scroll down to see a transcription of the text.

Related Documents: Koerner, Christian. “The Bennett Law and the German Protestant Parochial Schools of Wisconsin.” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=746 and “Excerpts from a scrapbook with the title, Bennett Law, Wisconsin, 18891890” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=727

Vocabulary: Unfamiliar words are defined at www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary

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