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1918: German Textbooks Burned in the Street

Introduction: The years 19141918 were a time of unusual tension in Wisconsin, as the nations in Europe squared off against one another. The sizable German American population, as well as the politically dominant Progressive and Socialist parties, generally opposed American entry into the war in Europe. When the U.S. officially entered the war on April 6, 1917, 9 of Wisconsin’s eleven Congressmen, plus Senator La Follette, voted against the declaration of war. But despite many sources of outspoken opposition, the majority of Wisconsin citizens supported the war, and over 118,000 citizens went into military service. During the war, as happened in other parts of the nation, antiGerman sentiment was unleashed in communities that had previously been more tolerant of ethnic differences. Anyone with a German name was a target for harassment; a widely publicized notice from the American Defense Society stated that a German American, “unless known by years of association to be absolutely loyal, should be treated as a potential spy.” German Americans reacted variously to the vigilantism directed toward them.

Background Reading: “World War One At Home & In the Trenches” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp037/?action=more_essay

Document to Analyze: “Burning of German textbooks.” (photograph) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=817

Who, What, Where, When, Why: This photo shows the charred remains of German language textbooks burned in the street in Baraboo on June 13, 1918, after the town refused to teach the German language in its high school. On the pavement is written, ʺHere lies the remains of German in B.H.S.ʺ The photograph was taken a local merchant and amateur photographer named Edwin B. Trimpey, who donated more than 1,000 photographs to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The two related documents below relate incidents on the Wisconsin home front and on the battlefield.

Related Documents: ʺProfessor of Northland Tarred and Feathered.ʺ Ashland Daily Press (1 April 1918) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1160 and “Letters from the Boys.” Neenah Daily Times. (8 January 1919 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=782

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


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