Monday, December 19, 2011

A City of Immigrants: a brief overview of immigrants in Fort Wayne through 1920

On December 10, 2011, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a special program entitled “Examining Immigration through Faith and Politics” was presented in what is hoped will be a series dedicated to how faith and politics intersect in today’s prominent issues. The hosts were the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Wayne and Temple Acduth Vesholom with support from the League of Women Voters, Catherine Kasper Place and The Reclamation Project. This particular piece was included in the packet of information given to participants. While by no means a definite work on immigration in Fort Wayne IN, this piece does provide a preliminary look at some of the issues that have faced immigrants to our city, the diversity of nations from which immigrants came, and various opinions about immigrants as voiced by leaders in the community. If you’re interested in local history, the History Center has many back issues of the Old Fort News on sale at this time plus copies of the two-volume Allen County-Fort Wayne History published in 2005.

Part III

Let’s skip ahead to the time of World War I, returning again to a Clifford Scott article in the History Center’s Old Fort News (Volume 40, Number 2, 1977) entitled “Fort Wayne German-Americans in World War I: A Cultural Flu Epidemic”.

From the years 1914-1919, there were an estimated 40,000 Allen County-Fort Wayne residents of German descent. The majority of German immigrants arrived in the 1840’s and 1850’s and then again after the Civil War when the numbers surged in the 1870’s and 1880’s, dropping off to almost zero after the 1890’s. The 1880 census and the 1917 “enemy Alien” registration files as well as B.J. Griswold’s family biographies show, according to Scott, that most German immigrants were from Baden-Wurtemberg and Hanover although all regions of Germany were represented among the immigrant populace. Other but lesser numbers came from Hesse, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Westphalia, Alsace, Switzerland, Silesia, Schleswig-Holstein and the Rhineland. This census shows that many of these immigrants were first generation artisans.

“Ethnic identity, expressed by language and the religious and cultural values it manifested, was of the very fabric of Fort Wayne-Allen County life. And it was that ethnic identity which led to the cultural and civic trauma experienced by local German-Americans in World War I.

“An initial shock for a number of local first generation German-Americans was to discover that despite the length or loyalty of their residence in Allen County, they were considered by the government to be enemy aliens. Within two weeks of the United States entry into the war, local papers announced that the Justice Department required hundreds of German alien males to register at the local federal court if they wished their freedom of movement.”

At that time, becoming a citizen was a two-step process. First was a Declaration of Intent, required of foreign-born males by registration at the county clerk’s office, disavowing allegiance to any previous government and providing some personal information. This was followed by a minimum two-year probationary period when second papers—the Declaration of Naturalization—were filed. The applicant then appeared on one of two days in the year when the circuit court judge held hearings and swearing in of aliens.

“Yet the May, 1917, dusting off of the ancient 1789 Alien Law by the Department of Justice required local aliens—even those who had taken out first papers—who worked in or near, or who need to pass by, the Penn Central tracks, Bowser’s, General Electric, or the Post Office, to register as enemy aliens or face arrest….

“In a separate but related move, all German aliens were required to surrender any weapons of war, aircraft, wireless secret codes, or foreign flags to the local police.”

This proved to be problematic when it was found that the Allen County Sheriff, who immigrated to the US from Scotland in 1882, was reported to have never filed Second Papers. There was much scurrying around that summer of 1917 to have him naturalized.

A local retired blacksmith had failed to register and bragged that he’d like to see anyone arrest him. He got his wish—and spent eighteen months at Fort Oglethorpe, GA. Local antagonism against the 83-year old man put so much pressure on the Justice Department that they bowed to public opinion, even though, the man declared, he had come to the United States in 1859 and had voted for every Republican candidate since Lincoln.

“World War I created an environment for another major, and largely successful, attack on the acceptability of German language usage. Use of German was held to be a hindrance to patriotic sentiment and that it indeed induced anti-American attitudes. The attack centered mainly on those two socially sensitive institutions, church and school.

You can read about the Council of Defense on the History Center’s blog—there’s a recent post about the work of organizing and cataloging these materials as well as some of the observations gleaned by the volunteers doing the work. But if you want a quick “flavor” of how things were going on the Council, listen to these words of a second generation German-American, as quoted in Scott’s article:

“It should be your purpose to use as little German language in your church as possible consistent with the spiritual welfare of such of your members as do not understand sermon English. This is America and not Germany, and the German language does not lend itself well to American teaching.”

And another example of how the Council worked:

“Going through local registration files makes one seriously question, however, whether a seventy year-old nun, in the United States since the 1880’s, working at St. Joseph Hospital, and weighing in at less than ninety pounds, posed any threat to the security of the republic, or if instead the major effect of the registration dicta was to arouse public opinion and to frighten immigrant ethnics into cultural conformity.”

The Allen County Public Library removed books and pamphlets published in German from its shelves and complied with the rule that no more books written in German be purchased by the library.

As noted above, preaching in German was very much frowned upon.

“The venerable rector of St. Mary’s, a veteran of Fort Wayne’s religious and cultural skirmishes since 1888, kept the German Catholics one jump ahead of the Council of Defense, not without receiving numerous accusations regarding his loyalty,” wrote Scott.

“The crusty old Dutchman, a linguist with seven or eight languages under his belt, even lectured the Council, although quite diplomatically, for becoming anti-intellectual in their purge of languages, cautioning the group that in the years to come America as a world power would need citizens versed in the languages of the world.”

While all of this was going on, antipathy toward Mexico was, as Scott noted, very strong due to earlier Mexican military intervention by Wilson.

In an article by Herb Hernandez in the History Center’s Old Fort News (Volume 69, Number 2, 2006) entitled, “Early Latinos in Allen County: A Brief Historias of the Pioneers until 1950”, it is noted that by virtue of anecdotal evidence, northwest Indiana seems to be the point from which some Latinos migrated to Fort Wayne in the early twentieth century. Gary, Indiana was the sight of heavy steel production and companies there recruited Mexican workers since they “did not complain about the hard work or the low wages”. But feelings about the Mexican laborers were not positive. Father Jim DeVille was quoted as saying, “You can Americanize the man from southeastern and southern Europe, but you can’t Americanize a Mexican”.

The Ku Klux Klan was powerful and active during this time period in Indiana (another topic for another day) and targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics and anyone deemed a “foreigner”. Mexicans were targeted because of their brown skin, because they spoke little English and because they took “white men’s” jobs.

We have purposely not delved deeply into immigration issues of African-Americans and Latinos in this paper, believing that these two groups deserve more in-depth study as to the history and issues facing these populations.

If you’ve found statements from the past that sound much like today’s rhetoric in what is written here, that is a good thing. History repeats itself and not always in a positive way. There is one more bit of history to know before we end.

“Politically, the effect of World War I,” wrote Scott, “was to drive a wedge into the party affiliation of a major element of German-Americans in Fort Wayne and Allen County. It is not too much to say that the War created a political shift that would alter substantially the political balance in Fort Wayne.

“All through the late-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Fort Wayne was known as a Democratic town based heavily on the votes of German Catholics and Lutherans who sought to protect not only family traditions and city jobs, but also corner saloons, parochial schools, and the integrity of the German community from the personal-morality drive of Republicans who were often found among native-stock Americans organized through English-descended denominations such as the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists and Methodists.”

In 1914, about 60 to 65% of local German-Americans voted Democratic, about 30% Republican and 10% Independent or Socialist. Over 90% of German Catholics were Democrats and around 60% of Lutherans were Democrats. Approximately 85 to 90% of German-Americans who attended non-Lutheran Protestant Churches were Republicans.

Non-church Germans were usually Democrats.

But Wilson’s foreign policy resulted in a voting shift beginning in 1916 and Republican leaders capitalized on German ethnic unrest. Wilson and Congressional Democrats became increasingly hostile to Germany and pursued an interventionist policy in Mexico, which “harbored ill for the European conflict”.

In 1920, Warren G. Harding, a Republican, received a plurality in every Fort Wayne precinct.

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