November 8, 1917; Duluth schools complete process of “cleansing” German text books

On this day in Duluth in 1917, the Duluth School Board announced that it had completed a process of “cleansing” its schools “objectionable laudatory passages for Germany, the kaiser, the German flag, the crown prince and other Hohensollerns” in books used throughout Duluth’s schools. America had entered the war in Europe earlier in the year, and anti-German rhetoric was at a fever pitch throughout the country. (The Hohensollerns were a powerful family that ruled the German state of Prussia.) The schools, according to school superintendent Dr. K. J. Hoke, had gone through 42 text books and “eliminated every sentence that is in the least way laudatory to German ideals or rulers. When we found textbooks that dealt too profusely with German laudatory comment we discarded the book entirely.” The action was spurred by an editorial in the Duluth News Tribune that appeared in September, calling for books used for teaching German “should be entirely discarded.” The school board, however, stopped short of eliminating the German language from the criteria. But that wasn’t the end of it. Four days after the school’s announcement, librarian Frances Earhart told the paper that “Pro-German propaganda has been ruled out of the Duluth Public Library.” Then, on December 8, the school board not only voted unanimously to eliminate the teaching of both the German language and German political history beginning on January 1 of the following year, it also passed a resolution “to require every teacher in the [Duluth] schools to sign a printed loyalty pledge which virtually makes every one a special government informer of suspected treason either in the schools or in the vicinity of them.” Once signed, the pledges were to be framed and “hung in each hall office and assembly room in our public school buildings.”

Duluth school teachers were forced to sign this loyalty pledge in 1917. (Image: Zenith City Press)