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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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German heritage is even reflected in this humorous postcard.
Packet of postcards describing the "Heidelberg of America," circa 1907
GERMANS. German immigration to the United States boomed in the 19th century. Wars in Europe and America had slowed the arrival of immigrants for several decades starting in the 1770s, but by 1830 German immigration had increased more than tenfold. Until WORLD WAR I, almost 90 percent of all German emigrants chose the United States as their destination. Once established, these settlers wrote to family and friends in Europe describing the opportunities. These letters, circulated in German newspapers and books, prompted "chain migrations." (1) From 1820 to 1870, over seven and a half million immigrants came to the United States — more than the entire population of the country in 1810. Nearly all of them came from northern and western Europe — about a third from Ireland and almost a third from Germany. (2) Germans had an immediate disadvantage. Unlike the Irish, many were unable to speak English. (3)

German immigrants, however, were quick to become naturalized and were active in politics and business. Although few German names appeared in the census of 1840, by 1850 they were second in numbers only to the Irish. By 1860 Germans were the largest ethnic group in the city composing 30 percent of the population. In 1895 the DUBUQUE NATIONAL DEMOKRAT reported that 65% of the population of Dubuque was either foreign-born or had foreign-born parentage. The newspaper went on to state that 62% of that number were natives or the children of German-speaking countries. (4) In 1931 Germans continued to be the leading foreign-born population of Dubuque with nearly 50% of those foreign-born shown in the census. (5)

The need to have an educated German-speaking ministry to serve the rapidly growing German population in the Midwest led Adrian VAN VLIET pastor of the German Presbyterian Church in Dubuque to begin taking a few young men for instruction in theology and the art of preaching. The work eventually eventually led to the formation in 1852 of the Dubuque German College and Seminary, the predecessor of the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. (6)

German immigrants first settled in an area bordered by White, Washington, and Central STREETS to 14th and Fifth, Sixth and Iowa. Staying east of Central until the 1860s, they expanded their neighborhood from 17th Street to 24th and northerly along Windsor Avenue. Symbols of German influence were German ethnic churches like SAINT MATTHEW LUTHERAN CHURCH and ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH. Other symbols included the GERMAN SAVINGS BANK, GERMAN BANK, GERMAN AMERICAN SAVINGS BANK, and the GERMAN TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK. The influence of Germans was also obvious by the presence of German newspapers including the Dubuque National Demokrat, IOWA, and the LUXEMBURGER GAZETTE. (7)

In 1878 the editors of German language publications in Iowa and Illinois river cities formed the German Press Association of Iowa. Iowa then had 23 German papers with a circulation ranging from 50,000 to 60,000. (8)

German influence in Dubuque was widespread. Germania Hall is pictured.
Music program printed in German for use in Dubuque in 1886.
German ancestry was so common in Dubuque by 1900 that German was spoken in many north-end churches and schools. Singing societies, gymnastic clubs, and shooting contests with names like the DUBUQUE SOCIALER TURNVEREIN, DUBUQUE SAENGERBUND, KATZENJAMMERS, and Schuetzenfest were known to everyone. Social events and meetings of the GERMANIA SOCIETY were held at Germania Hall at 9th and Iowa STREETS. German choral groups like the Dubuque Maennerchor or the Dubuque Saengerbund performed and the Dubuque Schuetzen Gesellschaft had its shooting park on Sageville Road (now U.S. 52). In 1910 the German operetta "Doruroeschen" was performed in German at the Germania Hall. (9) German-American groups reached their peak of activity in the 1890s.

On July 1, 1891 the membership in German societies was the subject of an article in the Dubuque Daily Herald. The societies included: Badischer Verein, 60; Luxemburg Singers, 65; German veterans, 75; Liederkranz, 80; Swiss Maennorchor, 125; Turners, 180; German Benevolent Society, 270; and Saengerbund, 300. (10)

German Catholic societies from across the United States met in Dubuque in September, 1892. An estimated ten thousand visitors were expected and all railroads coming to the city agree upon the same fare. (11) Paving of Main Street was to be completed to 8th Street with the rest of the street not torn up until after two parades. (12)

Dubuque residents of German heritage were concerned in 1899 when it appeared the United States was being led into foreign alliances. Rather than a mass meeting, a "convention of delegates" representing the estimated fifty German societies of Dubuque County was called for Germania Hall on May 9, 1899 for an "anti-alliance meeting." (13) The delegates expressed their concern that the United States would align itself with England whose "commercial interests are diametrically opposed to those of the United States" and whose opposition to this country "has gone into history in the two great wars that menaced the very existence of our country in its infancy." (14)

Saengerfest pin.

Dubuque hosted the national convention of the Deutscher Kriegerbund von Nord-Amerika, the German Warrior Federation of North America, in August 1906. German-American members of the federation had fought in three wars that led to the unification of Germany. Local bakeries, attempting to feed the convention delegates and visitors to the Tri-State Fair that opened the same week, ran out of bread. Germania Hall served as the convention headquarters. Dubuque was also home for a chapter of KRIEGER-VEREIN."

Education kept German culture alive in Dubuque. German was taught in the elementary school and fifty percent of the children studied it. (15) Beginning in fourth, the school day was divided into two distinct parts. The morning classes of German grammar, catechism, and the Bible were taught entirely in German. The afternoon classes of American history, arithmetic, writing, and English grammar were taught in English. The use of High German in classes sometimes caused some confusion because different dialects were used at home.

While it was easy for older people to maintain their separate cultural sense, it was much more difficult to pass this concern along to the younger generations. Studies of Dubuque marriage records between 1853 and 1867 have indicated few marriages outside the German community. This pattern had nearly ended by 1900 to 1920 when marriages between second and third generation German immigrants and non-Germans were common.

1902 envelope with German language in upper left corner.
ARCHBISHOPS of Dubuque also played a role in the breakdown of local German culture. John J. KEANE announced soon after coming to Dubuque that he would seek to install many native-born clergy. The German priests in the ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE were opposed to the appointment of Archbishop Keane because of his opposition to the teaching of German in the parochial schools in 1900. (16) He once went so far as to stand up during a service at St. Mary's Catholic Church to stop a song being sung in German and request that all music be performed in English.

Archbishop Keane launched an strong temperance movement in Dubuque. (17) His efforts, however, met with stiff opposition. German-Americans were among the earliest to support anti-prohibition efforts in Iowa. In 1910 Dubuque and Cedar Rapids residents formed the German-American Citizens' Liberty League of Iowa. Among the permanent officers elected were Max Rathberger, vice-president and representative organizer of the third district and Charles Sass, treasurer. (18) In 1911 members of the German American Citizens' League journeyed to Des Moines with a petition bearing 7,000 signatures asking the legislators to vote down any measure either for a resubmission of a prohibition amendment to the Iowa constitution. Included in the delegation was Arbst F. FRUDDEN and Mayor Daniel J. HAAS.

Willingness to openly be associated with anything German declined during and after WORLD WAR I. Feelings against Germans ran high in the United States. The word sauerkraut was replaced by "liberty cabbage." (19) The year the United States entered the war, the use of the German language at St. Mary's was abandoned. In 1916 Iowa Governor William L. Harding issued an official proclamation that the use of foreign language was prohibited in public, over the telephone, or in church services. (20) The State Superintendent of Schools ordered that the teaching of German cease. By the end of April, the schools had compiled and German textbooks were removed from the schools and burned. (21)

Dubuque German College dropped "German" from its name in 1920. (22) The GERMAN SAVINGS BANK changed its name to PIONEER SAVINGS BANK AND TRUST COMPANY. (23) The German American Trust and Savings Bank dropped "German" from its name and GERMAN TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK became UNION TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK. (24) The Dubuque Schuetzen Gesellschaft became known by only its English translation, DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY.

Recent attempts to revive interest in German contributions to Dubuque may be traced to the formation of DANK. (Photo Courtesy: http://www.dubuquepostcards.com)



1. "Immigration," Library of Congress. Online: https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/german4.html

2. "Irish and German Immigration," U. S. History. Online: http://www.ushistory.org/us/25f.asp

3. "Now They Even Marry Each Other," Telegraph Herald, June 18, 1979, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=6BhCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=S6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6821,2451025&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

4. "Foreign Born," Dubuque Daily Herald, Jan. 13, 1895, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=8o5FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9rwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2775,2558992&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

5. "More Women Than Men in Dubuque County," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Sept. 28, 1931, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=V5BSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Mr4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=3999,2785921&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

6. "Dubuque German College," Telegraph Herald, Aug. 23, 1914, p. 29. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JQ5eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4F8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=4295,1115368&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

7. "Now They Even Marry Each Other."

8. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 29, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780829&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Opera Will be Sung in German," Telegraph Herald, February 6, 1910, p. 7

10. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 1, 1891, p. 8.

11. "Municipal Molecules, Dubuque Daily Herald, September 11, 1892, p. 4

12. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 14, 1892, p. 4

13. "Against Alliances," The Dubuque Herald, May 2, 1899, p. 8

14. "Germans Will Protest," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 10, 1899, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YGhBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=EakMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3866,7456077&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

15. "Foreign Language in Public Schools," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 20, 1917, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=2wpeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=618NAAAAIBAJ&pg=4300,3600572&dq=german+education+dubuque&hl=en

16. "Germans for Dr. Carroll," Dubuque Daily Herald, Apr. 5, 1900, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=9SZBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dqgMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4808,4279638&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

17. Gallagher, Mary Kevin. Seed/Harvest: A History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Dubuque: Archdiocese of Dubuque Press, 1987, p.55

18. "State Germans Organize Body," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 3, 1910, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GylCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5990,1256253&dq=germans+dubuque&hl=en

19. "Sauerkraut," http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=liberty%20cabbage

20. Cooper, Brian. "Reconfiguring Words: Why?" Telegraph Herald, Mar. 18, 2003, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=nsRFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=470MAAAAIBAJ&pg=6490,3464523&dq=pioneer+trust+and+savings+bank+dubuque&hl=en

21. Richard, Lord Acton and Patricia Nassif Acton. To Go Free: A Treasury of Iowa's Legal Heritage. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1995, p. 225

22. Cooper

23. Tigges, John. "The Great War Comes to an End," Telegraph Herald, June 12, 1998, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=1OtYAAAAIBAJ&sjid=f7sMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6541,2347744&dq=german+american+bank+dubuque&hl=en

24. Report of the Superintendent of Banking for the Biennial Period Ending June 30, 1918. Des Moines: State of Iowa. Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=smPPAAAAMAAJ&pg=PR6&lpg=PR6&dq=GERMAN+TRUST+AND+SAVINGS+BANK+%28DUBUQUE%29&source=bl&ots=TDOKTj1mzR&sig=_JPQvxEvn6uB_j_BSxFTYvaq-Lw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=kb9YUs2XEsfNqQHz94HgDg&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=GERMAN%20TRUST%20AND%20SAVINGS%20BANK%20%28DUBUQUE%29&f=false