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Americanization in Ann Arbor During the First World War and After

On April 1, 1914, more than 4,000 people gathered in the University's new Hill Auditorium to celebrate the birthday of the late head of Germany, Otto von Bismark. The crowd applauded when they heard the univesity's president say that 25 percent of the students were of German descent and that "nearly all" of the faculty had studied German or studied in Germany. The main speech by the German consul general from Chicago was introduced by Ann Arbor's mayor, a Scot by birth who spoke in German.

These positive attitudes toward Germans in Ann Arbor changed with World War I, actually even a couple of years before America entered the war. With the outbreak of war in Europe in the summer of 1914, the British controlled transatlantic cable communications, claiming that the Germans had started the war and they were committing horrible atrocities. In addition, there were monetary incentives for America's siding with the British. By the spring of 1917, J.P. Morgan and other investment bankers had sold almost a hundred times more Allied war bonds (2.3 billion dollars' worth) than such loans to Germany ($27 million). The loans made to the British brought great prosperity to the United States by funding vast amounts of exports.


German soldiers bayonneting children

A typical Life Magazine cartoon (July 25, 1915).


 Life cartoon attack on German Americans

Life (Sept., 16, 1915) started attacking German Americans almost two years before America entered the war against Germany on April 6, 1917.


 Life cartoon

Clearly, Life Magazine attack on German Americans felt German Americans were dangerous (February 17, 1916).

Sexual innuendo was often part of the American portrayal of the enemy. Official government posters also took part.


Sexual innuendo was part of anti-German propaganda in America.


More sex as part of anti-German posters

Bare-breasted woman in American anti-German poster

Poster with German soldier beating a woman.

This film appeared after the end of the war. The star, Lillian Gish, later asserted that the brutality in the film was unreal because every time a German came near, he kicked or beat her.


German Americans were attacked before America entered the war

Most German Americans kept a low profile during World War I given the massive propaganda that stared even before America began to fight the Germans. Life Magazine, January 6, 1916.

Fortunately anti-German posters during World War II focused on the German military and not German Americans. Ugly "Japs" also shared some of the heat. It was their turn to suffer ethnic cleansing.

Gruesome Benton anti-German poster for World War II

A U.S. government anti-Nazi poster by the eminent painter, Thomas Hart Benton.


World War II government poster

Another government poster.

The Swabian community continued to go downhill after World War II as the Univeristy of Michigan expanded enormously. The new staff, and especially students (who got the vote at age 18), were able to change the character of the town particularly with their control of city council. The famous $5 fine for marijuana was symbolic of the many changes.