The German American Heritage Center in Davenport recently hosted a talk about German language newspapers in Iowa, and how most stopped publishing around the time of World War I because of widespread anti-German sentiment.
I wasn't able to get to the talk, but the subject intrigued me.
I contacted Glenn Ehrstine, the University of Iowa German professor who gave the talk, and he referred me to a website showing the locations of all known German papers in the state. Through time, there were at least 60.
As expected, Davenport was well-represented. But I was surprised to see that my hometown of Carroll in western Iowa also had a paper and, even more amazing, so did the still-smaller nearby town of Breda. In fact, the Breda paper continued publishing until 1973, making it Iowa's longest-lived German paper.
Most of the papers were weeklies, and their content varied. Papers reported local and national news as well as happenings in the homeland. Some also published serialized novels, as "cultural reading was harder to come by than news," Ehrstine said.
One of the Carroll papers I found in translation carried an editorial (at least it seemed like an editorial) that railed against a state Prohibition in 1884, calling it "shameful," "mean spirited" and "contrary to reason."
The goal of the long-lasting Breda paper was to report on "the doings of relatives in East Friesa," an area east of the Netherlands along the north seacoast, Ehrstine said.
Likely, German papers would have died out in time even without anti-German sentiment. Generally native speech continues for as long as there are new arrivals, Ehrstine said.
Exploring this topic of German newspapers has prompted a lot of musing on my part.
Foremost is the fact — it seems a fact, anyway — that unless there is written documentation of something (a person, event, place) and that documentation is read and discussed every so often, or there is an oral telling that keeps this something alive, then this something (a person, event, place) simply disappears, as though it never existed.
Is this is good, bad, or neutral? Does it matter that Iowa ranked sixth among the states in the number of German papers, or that Breda had the longest-running German paper in the state?
I'm not sure. But I do know that what we see and experience around us today, at this moment in time, in no way represents our entire universe. It would be good for us to know more.
My dad told me a lot of stories as I was growing up. These were not necessarily the stories of history books. They were stories about the lives of everyday people and what was important to them. The struggles they went through and their dreams. The way their lives were affected by history-book events, such as the Depression, World War II and changing agricultural practices.
I assumed that I would pass these stories, as well as my own, to our children. I'm not sure I've done enough of that.
With Christmas and its attendant family get-togethers coming up, now would be a good time for all of us to share our stories.
The more I think about it, the more I think it does matter that Iowa ranked sixth among the states in the number of German papers, and that Breda had the longest-running German paper in the state.
These were my people and what they did is part of my story. I want it to be part of our children's stories, too.