Students will learn about the history of German immigration in Iowa and the German experience from about 1848‐1948. They will see German newspapers, and interactive map of German newspapers printed in Iowa, school books, souvenirs, toys, brewing artifacts, and other memorabilia from this time period.
German‐speaking immigrants from Central Europe were the most prominent ethnic group in Iowa in the decades between 1846, when Iowa became a state, and the early 1900s. From the first US census data in 1850 until 1940, German‐born Iowans consistently made up between 30‐40% of all foreign‐born residents.
The eruption of the Great War (WWI) in August 1914 threw German Iowa into crisis. While the United States remained neutral until April 1917, German‐American communities divided. Conditions worsened further when the United States entered the war. German‐ Iowans suﬀered mightily under these conditions.
German Americans’ need to hide their heritage resulted from real discrimination during World War I. After the war, however, their ability to “blend in” spoke to advantages they enjoyed in a society structured around race and social class.
Stories of Iowa’s German past are still being uncovered today in Iowa! Iowans are encouraged to visit their own local historical society to find more information about their own town’s past and German ancestry.
An executive ordered banning the speaking of German in public, including shared‐party telephone lines by the Governor of Iowa in 1918. Students can listen to a shared‐party line through an interactive antique telephone. They can stand in an early Iowan’s shoes and decide how they would have reacted to forbidden German.
Contributing partners for this exhibit include: Women’s Archives, Iowa City; German American Heritage Center, Davenport; State Historical Society, Iowa City and Des Moines; Schuetzenpark, Davenport; Davenport School Museum, Davenport; University of Iowa Department of History and the College of Liberal Arts, Iowa City.
FOR CURRICULUM IDEAS AND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT GERMAN IMMIGRATION IN IOWA, VISIT IOWA PATHWAYS at
Main Themes of the German Iowa Exhibit
Agriculture & Commerce ‐ Many German immigrants embraced the opportunity to purchase land at low prices from the federal government, abandoning former career paths in favor of a life of farming. Germans, in addition to farming, found jobs as skilled laborers, tradesmen, bankers, druggist, bakers, and meatpackers often catering to other Germans.
Beer & Brewing ‐ In 1878, 138 breweries dotted the state, most founded and operated by German‐Iowans. Larger towns such as Sioux City, Des Moines, or Muscatine boasted three or more breweries. The state Prohibition law that went into eﬀect on 4 July 1884, which put over 50 brewery owners out of business, caused tensions and occasional open violence throughout the state. By 1916, consolidation had reduced the number of Iowa breweries to 16, and none survived national Prohibition.
Education ‐ German‐Iowans placed a premium on education, maintaining their language and cultural identity through the promotion of German‐only and bilingual learning.
Newspapers ‐ Prior to World War I, over 60 German newspapers existed in Iowa, with some towns supporting two papers side‐by‐side, particularly if party allegiance among the local German community was divided.
Social Clubs ‐ German immigrants fostered community networks through a variety of social institutions. Nearly every town with a large German population could boast a Turnverein (gymnastics society) alongside choral and marksmanship societies. Singers who could perform classical German repertoire were in great demand, often traveling to Iowa from Chicago, Milwaukee, or other urban centers, and towns such as Dubuque, Burlington, and Davenport hosted the bi‐annual National Sängerfest (Song Festival) of the Northwestern Sängerbund (Singers’ Union).
Social Issues ‐ Many of the so‐called 1848ers, who had immigrated to the US after their struggle for universal civil rights in German lands ended in repression and reprisals, were strong supporters of abolition. Germans were particularly conservative regarding gender roles. The failure of the 1916 state referendum on women’s suﬀrage was attributed to male German voters who not only distrusted women’s judgment in politics, but also feared that they would vote in Prohibition.
World War I: German Iowa in Crisis ‐ The eruption of the Great War in August 1914 threw German Iowa into crisis. While the United States remained neutral until April 1917, German‐American communities divided. Conditions worsened further when the United States entered the war. Nationally, the newly formed Committee on Public Information produced endless anti‐German propaganda, and the American Protective League supported spying on German‐Americans in every setting. German‐Iowans suﬀered mightily under these conditions. Their neighbors listened to their phone calls, watched their mail, scrutinized their participation in liberty drives, and reported any “suspicious activities,” such as the continued use of German in Iowan churches, schools, and businesses. Iowans who failed to show proper support for the war or continued to speak or pray in German were often denounced as “slackers,” and many found their homes and businesses painted yellow, others were forced to contribute to liberty drives, and still others were publically assaulted and humiliated, often while state authorities turned a blind eye.
Change and Continuity in Iowa’s German‐American Communities ‐ German Americans’ need to hide their heritage resulted from real discrimination during World War I. After the war, however, their ability to “blend in” spoke to advantages they enjoyed in a society structured around race and social class. New German migrants benefited from the racial provisions of the 1924 Immigration Act, and they continued to be the largest immigrant group to Iowa. In some rural Iowan communities, German‐language schools, church services, and newspapers survived.
During the Second World War, many German‐Americans in rural areas gained new neighbors: German prisoners of war. In Kossuth County, German prisoners at the Algona Camp mingled with their German‐American neighbors in work assignments, and townspeople attended concerts in the camp. Many of those townspeople had sons or husbands at war – where their German language skills often proved useful.
Objects on Display in the German Iowa Exhibit
• Magnus Brewery beer bottle, Cedar Rapids
• Magnus Brewery advertising
• A German schoolbook printed in Cincinnati for the American market
• A German songbook containing “America” in English alongside other songs in German
• Kuhnen Medal
• 1891 award sash, ladies section of Davenport Turners
• A souvenir pin from the 1896 Dubuque Sängerfest
• Gymnastics ribbons
• A wooden farm toy from Salzmann‐Becker collection at the Iowa Women’s Archives
TURNVENREIN – German for an athletic club
FREIDENKER – German for free thinker
SANGERFEST – German for singer festival
SUFFRAGE ‐ The right to vote in political elections
HEIMET – German for home or homeland
TEMPERANCE ‐ Abstinence from alcoholic drink
DISCRIMINATION ‐ The unjust or prejudicial treatment of diﬀerent categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex
PROHIBITION ‐ Prohibition is the act of prohibiting the manufacturing, storage in barrels or bottles, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol including alcoholic beverages
PROPAGANDA ‐ Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view
BILINGUAL – (of a person) speaking two languages fluently
BREWERY – A place where beer is made commercially