On Sunday, June 28, 1914, a Bosnian Serb, Gavrillo Princip, stood on a street in Sarajevo, waiting for the motorcade carrying the heir of the Austria-Hungary Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand to go by. As the cars drove by, one of Princip’s conspirators threw a bomb at the Archduke’s motorcar but the bomb was diffused, missing Ferdinand but injuring others. Later in the day the Archduke decided to visit the wounded. His driver took a wrong turn and Princip shot and killed Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.
So began a chain of events leading to World War I. After the assassination, the major powers of Europe took steps that drew the entire continent into conflict. On July 28, Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia mobilized and then Germany and France entered the war. When Germany invaded France via Belgium, England entered the conflict.
President Woodrow Wilson worried that some or even many Americans would sympathize with one side or the other because of their heritage. Wilson warned of the danger of taking sides in the conflict. “The people of the United States,” Wilson said, “are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict.” He continued, “Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. “Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend. I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.”
Between 1914-1917, Germany committed a number of actions that turned many Americans against it and eventually led to the United States declaring war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Germany was now America’s enemy and anything associated with Germany came under assault. The reaction against German culture and society was disproportionate. While it is true that German spies blew up a munitions plant in New Jersey and the German government recruited some German and Irish Americans to their cause, the actions of a few did not justify the hysteria. Instead of quelling the fear and anger, President Woodrow Wilson made matters worse. He openly questioned the possibly divided loyalty and patriotism of German-Americans when he said “Any man who carries a hyphen around with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of the republic.’”
The fear of espionage and disloyalty led to a campaign to eradicate German culture in America. Everything from last names, street names, hotels, sauerkraut and frankfurters was changed. States governments banned German language classes in public schools.
German churches also felt pressure and soon services that were conducted in German switched to English. For example, at St. Clement’s Catholic Church in Chicago, the sisters were required to report and register alien members. Many Lutheran churches across the United States held services in German, but under duress changed their liturgy to English.
At first glance, it seems that the attack on German-Americans was felt in Quincy at St. James Lutheran Evangelical Church and School. The church was founded in 1851 by immigrants to Quincy from Herford, Germany and was originally called St. Jakobi. A school opened that same year and for a time both the church and school were in separate and temporary buildings. The first permanent house of worship opened in 1858 at 7th and Jersey. But as the population of Quincy swelled, so too did the congregation and by the middle of the 1860s, St. Jakobi needed a larger building. The new structure was completed in 1867 and stood at 8th and Washington. By 1907, the church had over 1,300 communicants.
For the first five decades of its existence, St. Jakobi held services in German. While many Lutheran churches in the United States changed their liturgy to English because of the World War I, St. Jakobi had begun making the transition before the war. In 1897, some of the congregants were confirmed in English and fifteen years later, an English worship service was introduced. The changes were being made as a result of demographics, not from outside pressure. Fewer Germans were arriving in Quincy, and many in the church spoke only English. While it is true that during the First World War, the name of the church was anglicized to St. James, the move was also more about the nature of the of the congregation than because of an anti-German sentiment. As the Reverend Marlin Rempfer noted in his history of the church, “St. James appears to have escaped the attacks made on German speaking institutions made during the war.”
Today St. James Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod is located at 17th and Jefferson. Proud of its history, the church has kept the original German language Bible used when the church opened. The name of the church changed, but its spirit did not.
“History of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church of Quincy, IL, 1851-2001.”
St James (St Jacobi) Evangelical Lutheran Church, Quincy, Illinois.”http://adams.illinoisgenweb.org/church/church_st_james_jacobi.html, accessed March 27, 2017.