Culture at Twilight: The National German-American Alliance, 1901-1918

By Charles Thomas Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Introduction

By the beginning of the twentieth century the German-American community was well established in the United States. It was also a community that, while maintaining much of its cultural heritage, viewed itself as American in every sense of the word. By 1900 the vast majority of German-Americans were assimilated into American society. Many had English-speaking neighbors and lived in predominantly English-speaking parts of the nation's cities. Their children attended public schools where English was the primar y language of instruction, and the majority of the books in use had a decided Anglo-American focus in terms of literature, culture and history. Within this community, however, were those who viewed themselves as Americans but who also sought to maintain Old World institutions and ties with the fatherland.

For some Germans then, assimilation mingled with a desire to maintain their heritage and resulted in, as author David Detjens put it, “a cultural schizophrenia within the German-American community.” Taking this point further, the phenomenon existed—not in the group which had discarded its ethnicity—but within the middle-to-upper-class elite of German-America that had adopted American ways. This group now sought to maintain a sense of Deutschtum—a sense of German community—by pre serving the culture and traditions of their German ancestors. Carl Ruemelin, a prominent German-American of the late nineteenth century, summed up this feeling when he stated that German-Americans wished neither to establish a new Germany nor disappear into America, but instead remain “honorably” German while being loyal to their new fatherland.

Individuals like Ruemelin, who adhered to such sentiments, probably felt secure in their status both economically and patriotically as Americans. They had created a comfort zone of confidence and ac

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