Monday, January 23, 2017

German Instruction at State Normal During World War I, part one

Our colleagues in University Archives at UNC Chapel Hill recently wrote a great blog post about a parent who, in 1918, was upset that his son was required to have two years of German courses before registering for a chemical engineering class. This letter from the parent to UNC President Edward Kidder Graham (father of later Woman's College chancellor Edward Kidder Graham, Jr.) was sent approximately one year after the United States declared war on the German empire and officially entered World War I.

At the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG), teaching of the German language also fell under attack during this time. German language instruction had been offered at the school since its opening in 1892. Both German and French were offered under the Department of Ancient and Modern Languages during that initial year. By 1895, students were required to complete four years of foreign language study in either French, German, or Latin. In 1896, Bertha Lee (one of the first graduates of State Normal) was named head of the department - a position she held until ill health forced her retirement in 1913.

Cornelian Literary Society, 1914
The October 1913 State Normal Magazine announced the arrival of professor Christine Reincken, the new head of the school's German department. Reincken was the first faculty member dedicated solely to teaching German; previous German instructors also taught courses in other departments, such as mathematics or pedagogy. The announcement in State Normal Magazine notes, "Miss Reincken, who is a native of Germany, has been living in this country a number of years, and has taken courses at Columbia University and like institutions. She comes to us from Ward Seminary, Tenn., where she was likewise head of the German department." Under Reincken's leadership, the German department continued to grow as a small, but strong, academic unit. She also served as a faculty member of the Cornelian Literary Society.

On April 2, 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress to ask for an official declaration of war against Germany. Four days later, with a vote of 82-6, Congress passed a resolution stating:
Whereas, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
As U.S. involvement in the war progressed, so did anti-German sentiment across Greensboro (and across the United States). In their February 8, 1918 issue, the Greensboro Daily News reports the resignation of Professor Robert L. Roy, a faculty member at Greensboro College. The article notes that "the resignation was the result of a complaint voiced by E.D. Steele of High Point, at the time he withdrew his niece from the student body, giving publicly his reason that the college was employing a German citizen on its faculty."

Fearing that parents might similarly argue against her employment, on February 13, 1918, Reincken sent a letter to college president Julius Foust expressing concern. She wrote, "conditions may make it necessary that I resign my position, for my presence here as a German may be embarrassing. Will you please tell me when the time has come or if it is better not to wait and resign now? It is with a heavy heart that I write this for I love my classes and could not appear before them and feel their mistrust in these times." Foust met with her, and Reincken decided to stay at the college for the time being.

Greensboro Daily News, March 22, 1918
The following month, on March 22, State Normal hosted a competition between Davidson and Lafayette Colleges in which students debated over the whether or not "the successful prosecution of war requires that all citizens of Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Turkey now residing in this country be interned for the term of the war." In their argument in favor of this statement, Davidson debaters argued that "enemy aliens" had destroyed $50 million of American property, "distributed propaganda in the United States that is dangerous," and "influenced nearly 2,000,000 negroes to leave the south." One debater questioned whether Germany would provide American citizens with freedoms, adding "do you think that you could listen to this debate in Berlin and come out alive?" Ultimately, however, the judges determined that Lafayette's debaters who spoke in opposition to internment were victorious.

Anti-German sentiments continued to grow across Greensboro as well as most of the United States as the war progressed. Next week, we will look in depth at how this affected Christine Reincken and her work at the State Normal.

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