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Interpreting the Evidence

German Language Banned in Rye Schools

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Mid Hudson
    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load German Language Banned in Rye Schools, June 21, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
An excerpt from a timeline denoting wartime events in Rye, New York, including the ban on the teaching of the German language in Rye Public Schools, June 21, 1918.

Historical Context
During the World War One years, a great fear of anything German spread throughout the United States.  As the fight against Germany occurred abroad, the U.S. government was pushed to launch a home front attack against any pro-German sympathizers.  The Espionage and Sedition Acts were passed and fear grew as propaganda flooded the nation. Organizations like the American Defense Society claimed that the evident moral breakdown of the German culture required that civilized nations change their use of the German language, literature, music, and much more.  The society claimed that new, repulsive qualities of the German culture were being revealed and pushed for all English-speaking nations to make the German language a dead language.  It recommended to Congress that the compulsory study of German in public schools be banned.  German teachers often lost their jobs, because of the possibility that they supported the enemy.  German books were pulled from the shelves of libraries across the nation.  German foods were renamed and German operas were banned in major opera houses across the nation.  Streets and towns with German names were often renamed and many German-American families even changed their surnames to sound less German.  Even with all of the anti-German sentiment, however, many German-American families remained loyal to the United States throughout the war years. 

Essential Question
How did national defense issues impact individuals in times of war?

Check for Understanding
Explain the reasons for banning German classes during World War I.

Historical Challenges
Research local schools to see if they banned German classes during the WWI years. Contact your local historical society to see if any anti-German acts occurred in your town.

Interdisciplinary Connections
German Class: Imagine you are a student who has just learned that you will no longer have the German language taught to you and write a letter (in German) to your relatives that still live in Germany explaining why you are upset.

Art: Draw a picture of a schoolyard where one lone German student sits outcast from her friends.