23 July 2017

German Language Education in Albany Schools

In the mid 1850s, German was taught in all of the German parochial schools, but not in the city’s public schools.  A society to create a Freier Deutscher Schulverein, or a free German public school, was therefore instituted in 1855.  Picnics, balls, and theatrical performances were organized to help aid the school society.  On March 2, 1856, the school opened at 63 Green Street.  Three years later, the school moved to Madison Avenue near Franklin Street.  Tuition cost $.06 week for children under nine years old and $.12 per week for children over nine years old.  Carl A. Meyer was hired as the school teacher for $7.00 per week.  Meyer remained in that position until the school closed in August 1882.[1]
Beginning in the early 1870s German was now taught in both private and public schools, such as the elite Albany Academy for Boys, the Albany Academy for Girls, and Albany High School.  By 1873 German citizens had endowed a yearly prize for German at the Albany High School.[2] The honor was known as the German Medal and was awarded to both students of German parentage and also of non-German parentage.  Within Albany High School the Barbarossa Society was founded around 1885.  The society nobly and zealously promoted the German language at the Albany High School.  Membership included over one hundred students.[3] The society was active, awarding the yearly Barbarossa Prize to the student with the highest standing in German for three years.  The prize was worth $5 in gold.  The Barbarossa prize was awarded yearly until 1930, except for the years 1918 and 1919 when no awards were given in the German language department.  Furthermore, the society sponsored an annual evening dance known as Barbarossa Abend.  The event included a play and a musical program with vocal, piano, and violin solos from its talented members.  Also, German poems and German compositions usually were read during the affair.[4] From 1912 to 1916 the local branch of the DANB annually awarded a student from the Albany Academy and the Albany High School a silver medal for the best German essay.
As Joy Becker states, “By 1893, there was an advantage for the modern language department: French and German were now taught in the primary grades, so upper class students had a basic grounding before they began.”[5] Conversely, according to Reimer, German was not taught in public grade schools, and in 1908 the local Lutheran ministers organized an unsuccessful campaign to have German taught in all public schools where the children of German parents predominated.[6]  However, a bill was later introduced by Nebraska House of Representative member John H. Mockett, Jr. and after its approval by Legislature on July 17, 1913, the Mockett Law went into effect.  It provided that every school was required to teach modern European languages in grades above the fourth if it was requested by at least fifty parents.  By this time, French, Latin, and Spanish were also taught in Albany High School.  Meanwhile, Albany High School’s German language department was the largest of all the foreign language departments.  It had three full-time teachers and a department head.  Over the years the German language department supervisors included Leo H. Altmayer.  He was appointed department head on September 7, 1868, and he was educated at Bonn and Göttingen.  The second German language supervisor was Carl A. Meyer.  He was appointed in 1886 and educated at Hamburg, Johanneum.  Meyer died April 30, 1899, and Heinrich Bosch was appointed next in 1901.  Frederick Mueller followed Bosch and was appointed in 1908.  He was educated at Sinsheim Gymnasium in Germany.[7]  Mueller also was pastor of the Fourth Reformed Church.
After the United States became a belligerent in World War I, the American government became fearful of German sympathizers and of German ideologies infiltrating the general public.  According to pro-American attorney Gustavus Ohlinger, German schools and churches abroad were outposts of her power.  Secret German agents were introduced into native education to disseminate doubt with regard to the adequacy of established institutions and to replace national spirit by fostering an admiration of Kultur to the disparagement of national achievements.[8] As a result of American entry into the war and nativist anxieties, legislators succumbed to pressure and enacted new laws restricting the instruction of the German language.  Most laws were phrased to prohibit all non-English languages, but in Ohio and Louisiana, the laws were explicitly written to outlaw German.[9] The Smith-Towner Act, passed by Congress in 1918, at the behest of the National Education Association, provided that no state was allowed to receive federal funds unless it enacted and enforced laws requiring the chief language of instruction in all schools, both, public and private, be English.[10] As a result, a bill was introduced in the New York State Senate at Albany to abolish all foreign-language papers in the state of New York.[11] Fortunately the bill failed.  Furthermore, the Mockett Law mentioned earlier was repealed by the House in 1918.  But its repeal did not forbid the teaching of foreign languages in public schools, but merely removed the provision that school districts had to offer such instruction when requested by the parents of at least fifty pupils in grades above the fourth.[12] This further reduced the number of students studying the German-language.  Meanwhile, there were some voices of reason among governmental officials, although, unfortunately not many.  One such spokesperson was Doctor Philander P. Claxton, the United States Commissioner of Education.  Claxton opposed the elimination of German language instruction. “The United States is not at war with the German language,” he wrote in a widely publicized letter.[13]
According to local city historians, both Thomas Reimer and John J. McEneny, Albany ceased the teaching of German after American entrance in the war.  However, the SHJ reported that both Superintendent of Schools Jones and Abram Roy Brubacher, President of the State College for Teachers, declared that German would continue at both Albany High School and the New York State College for Teachers.  Brubacher noted that prospective teachers’ interest in German-language courses drastically declined at the college subsequent to America’s entrance in the war.[14]  Later, in 1932, Florence Ellen Chase, an Albany school teacher of German, since 1914, wrote, “Albany represents one of the few public school systems which did not discontinue the teaching of German.”[15]  Still, Albany drastically decreased its expenditures on foreign language textbooks employed in the high school; (see Table X.)  The German-language department used a total of eighteen books, during the school years of 1913, 1914, and 1915, but by 1918 the number was significantly reduced to only four textbooks.  At the same time, Frederick Mueller, the Supervisor of German at Albany High School, was discriminated against for teaching and promoting the German-language.  As Albany resident, David Cook put it, “Mueller was proud that his students came out of his class with [German] good accents.”[16]
Table X: Textbook Expenditures at Albany High School[17]

Source Page
p. 675
p. 620
p. 609
p. 597
p. 795
p. 672
p. 595
p. 587
p. 482
p. 442
p. 539

To protect and shelter German and German-American children, Superintendent of Schools C. Edward Jones “called attention of the principals [of Albany’s schools] to the necessity of seeing that children of German parents in the schools are not embarrassed in any way and that it should be assumed they are as loyal as any other American children.”[18]
In contrast, other New York State school districts were not as progressive as Albany.  The study of German was gradually and quietly withdrawn from public schools in Buffalo, where German language study was always optional.  The Board of Education stated that at start of the new school year no new German language classes would begin.  Pupils that already began its study had the option of continuing it or dropping it.[19] Finally, the study of foreign-languages in the elementary schools of New York City was to be discontinued after February 1, 1918, according to a decision by the New York City Board of Education.  Approximately sixty-five percent of all pupils studying foreign-languages in New York City elementary schools were studying German.[20] The New York City Board of Superintendents determined most of the curriculum taught in its public schools.  The Board demanded that its teachers and principals present a lasting effect on the ideals and emotions of the pupil regarding the World War.  Therefore in 1918, the Board adopted a handbook, The World War, A Syllabus for Use in the High Schools of the City of New York.  The pamphlet explained why America entered the war, expounded Americanism, condemned Germany, and detailed Germany’s guilt for the war and its atrocities.  As Professor of History Todd Pfannestial put it, “The experiences of New York City public school teachers during the First World War…stand[s] out as an example of how patriotic appeal can quickly degenerate into negative stereotypes, ethnocentrism, and the repression of students.”[21]
According to The Literary Digest, fewer pupils in Albany were taking German than in the past.[22] Chase confirms that statement as she affirms, “Immediately upon our entry into the World War, German began to decline both in numbers and percentage relations.”[23] She bases her conclusion on the number of Regents papers in New York State.  Her figures were acquired from data amassed by Dr. A. W. Skinner, Director of the Examination Division of the New York State Department of Education, and from statistics in “German in Our High Schools” by Curtis C. D. Vail, in the German Quarterly, May 1929; (see Table XI.)
Table XI: Study of Modern Languages in High Schools throughout New York State[24]

Number of Students in NYS High Schools
Percentage Relation




In September 1918, the Albany School District had twenty students registered in the first year of German-language study at the Albany High School, while seventy scholars and fifty-five pupils were enrolled in the high school’s second and third year of German-language study, respectively, according to a reporter from the Albany Argus.[25]
A national campaign to offset the influence of pro-German propaganda and “Kultur” would soon be launched in the schools of Albany according to an April 1917 report from the Times Union.  Plans were being made for students to take a “Course in Americanism.” The itinerary would teach students the truth about Germany and the war.  Emphasis was to be laid on the truth that Germany was the aggressor and that the Entente Allies and the United States were the defenders of civilization.  Every student would be required to pass an examination on the main facts of the war.[26] Ironically, Americanization courses began, in Buffalo, in 1908, before the word was coined.  In 1914 three thousand non-English speaking men and women were studying English and the principles of our government in night schools of Buffalo.[27] By 1925 Albany had established evening classes in Americanization for the foreign-born adults of the city, and 525 individuals were enrolled in the classes.  The majority of the students were of German nativity.  Eugene D. Holmes, Director of Americanization, reported to the Albany Board of Education that this year’s numbers are not as great as preceding years owing to the effect of the new immigration law.[28]

[1] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 109-115.
[2] Conners, “Their Own Kind,” p. 109. Reimer, “Ethnicity in Albany, N. Y., 1888-1908,” pp. 46-47.
[3] The AHSIAN, 1914-1915 (Albany: Students of the Albany High School, 1915), p. 85.
[4] Times Union, February 3, 1915, 8:2.
[5] Joy Becker, “Educating and Reforming Youth in Albany, 1868-1905” (Masters thesis, State University of New York at Albany, 1992), p. 84.
[6] Reimer, “Ethnicity in Albany, N. Y., 1888-1908,” pp. 46, 50.
[7] Proceedings of the Common Council of the City of Albany, Volume II, [reports] 1913 (Albany: The Argus Company, Printers, 1914), pp. 614-617.
[8] Ohlinger, The German Conspiracy in American Education, pp. 15-16.
[9] Rippley, The German-Americans, p. 123.
[10] Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty, p. 312.
[11] Wittke, The German-Language Press in America, p. 271.
[12] Rodgers, “The Foreign Language Issue in Nebraska, 1918-1923,” Nebraska History 39(2): 8-9.
[13] Philander P. Claxton, “Patriotism and the Study of German,” The New Republic 14 (March 2, 1918): 146. Frederick C. Luebke, “Legal Restrictions on Foreign Languages in the Great Plains States, 1917-23” in Germans in the New World: Essays in the History of Immigration (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), p. 36.
[14] Schenectady Herold-Journal, May 31, 1918, 1:5.
[15] Florence E. Chase, “A Study of the Results of Regents Examinations in German in the State of New York From 1917 to 1931” (Masters thesis, New York State College for Teachers, 1932), p. 15. In 1914, Miss Chase was appointed to a new position created in the German department; Proceedings of the Common Council of the City of Albany, Volume II [reports] 1914 (Albany: The Argus Company, Printers, 1915), p. 684. In early November 1918, the Albany High School was closed, and the Times Union printed homework orders from Superintendent Jones.  Listed were all courses, including German language study, and the appropriate work to be completed by students in the listed courses. This occurred shortly before the Armistice. The Spanish Influenza rapidly spread through the city and claimed the lives of between 300 and 400 residents.  To prevent further spread of the disease, Mayor Watt recommended closing public halls, theaters, and schools.  Headlines in the October 28, 1918 Times Union reported “Influenza is Still Raging All Over the City.” Times Union, November 3, 1918, 2:3. Bowers, “The Texture of a Neighborhood,” pp. 243-245.
[16] David Cook, interview by Anne Rabe, 31 March 1978, Albany, NY, tape recording, Albany County Hall of Records.
[17] Proceedings of the Common Council of the City of Albany, Volume II [reports] 1910-1920 (Albany: The Argus Company, Printers, 1911-1921).
[18] Knickerbocker News, April 11, 1917.
[19] “Teaching German in the Schools,” The Elementary School Journal 18 (October 1917): 92.
[20] New York Times, December 27, 1917, 20:3.
[21] Todd Pfannestial, “The Little Red, White and Blue Schoolhouse,” New York Archives 3(2): 17.
[22] “American Students Boycotting German” The Literary Digest 56 (March 30, 1918): 49.
[23] Chase, “A Study of the Results of Regents Examinations in German in the State of New York From 1917 to 1931,” p. 7.
[24] Ibid., pp. 7-9.
[25] Schenectady Herold-Journal, September 13, 1918, 1:7.
[26] Times Union, April 11, 1917, 1:1.
[27] Yox, “Decline of the German-American Community in Buffalo, 1855-1925,” p. 246.
[28] Proceedings of the Common Council of the City of Albany, Volume II, [reports] 1925 (Albany: The Argus Company, Printers, 1926), p. 335.