Part 2: The Shameful History Be hind Iowa ’s English Only Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Sep 24 14:10:53 UTC 2008

Part 2: The Shameful History Behind Iowa's English Only Policy

by Nancy Thieman, LMSW, Sioux City, Iowa

An original Blog for Iowa exclusive in four parts

A System of Coercion

The Babel Proclamation was not an Iowa law, per se.  Nevertheless, the
Babel Proclamation's English-only policy appeared to carry the weight
of law through a system of coercion, which included arrests by county
sheriffs, neighbors spying upon neighbors and reporting what they saw,
and "extra-legal" court proceedings that instilled themselves with the
authority to fine and jail suspects who did not cooperate when money
was extorted from them for "Liberty Bonds" or who were reported to be
disloyal Americans—the only offense being that they were "caught"
speaking German.

As researcher Leola Allen explains, during and even after World War I,
"concern for the loyalty and patriotism of all Americans approached
paranoia in many sectors of the nation.  Iowa was particularly
affected because many Iowans were of German birth or ancestry." In
fact, during World War I, each state set up a Council of Defense that
organized the enforced patriotism.  These councils had what were
called "secret service" agents (no relationship to the modern-day
Secret Service under the Department of the Treasury) who investigated
purported acts of disloyalty, such as speaking the German language,
and who used their pressure tactics to enforce the
no-foreign-languages proclamation.

Targeting the German-language Ministers

Iowa's Gov. Harding strongly believed that the German-speaking leaders
of German-stock congregations "undermined trust in the nation with
their indecent tales, communication in code, [and] their fanatically
loyal following."  Therefore, one of the first groups targeted in the
coercion campaign were the German-speaking ministers.

In one case, the Reverend Baushoff, pastor of the German-language
congregation of the German Evangelical Church in Denver, Iowa, in
Bremer County, said that he would take up arms to defend his right to
preach in German.  When he continued to deliver his sermons in the
German language, he was "visited" by the Iowa secret service agents
and quickly was "convinced" to sign a paper agreeing to give services
only in English.

In Alta, Iowa, the Lutheran pastor, a Reverend Mennoich, who spoke no
English at all, refused a "leave of absence" to study English, and was
summarily called before a "board of military affairs," where he
promised to be "good."  One wonders how this "good" Reverend supported
his family once he was forced from his profession.

In Cedar County, outside of Lowden, Iowa, the German immigrants and
their children made up 81% of the population.  This area was a hotbed
of coercive behavior.  For instance, when the German-language pastor
of the Zion Evangelical German Reformed Church, the Rev. John
Reichardt, voiced objections to public claims of German atrocities,
maintaining that German cultural traditions and cultural consciousness
deserved respect, a U.S. Marshall was sent to arrest him on charges of
sedition under the guise of a law passed by the U.S. Congress in June,
1917.  The judge "took pity" on Rev. Reichardt, exacted a promise to
use his power for good, and let him go after he paid a $5000 bond to
ensure his appearance in court, the rough equivalent of $84,750 today.

Tomorrow on Blog for Iowa
Targeting the Average German Speaker, Part 3 of The Shameful History
behind Iowa's English Only Policy

Allen, L., (1974). Anti-German sentiment in Iowa during World War I.
The Annals of Iowa, 42, 418-429.

Derr, N., (1979, July/August). The Babel Proclamation. The Palimpsest,
60(4), 98-115.

Derr, N., (1989, Summer). Lowden: A study of intolerance in an Iowa
community during the era of the First World War. The Annals of Iowa,
50(1), 5-22.

Dollar Times Inflation Calculator. (2007). Retrieved September 21,
2007, from

Sharon Avery, Archivist, State Historical Society of Iowa, personal
communication, September 7, 2007

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