When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, patriotic Americans demanded the ban of the German-American press as well as the speaking and teaching of the German language. In December 1917 John L. Rice, superintendent of Canadian County schools, alleged that only German was being taught in parts of Major, Custer, and Washita counties in Oklahoma. At a state meeting Oklahoma teachers recommended that a law be passed requiring that only the English language be taught. In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County Council of Defense Chair John R. Boardman agreed, stating that only English should be spoken until the war was over.
The Oklahoma Legislature did not convene during World War I. Consequently, a law was not passed until after the war. In March 1919 the Seventh Oklahoma Legislature enacted a law stating that English was the language of Oklahoma and that only the English language would be taught in the first eight grades in public and private schools. Anyone who violated the law was guilty of a misdemeanor and if convicted, would be fined between ten and one hundred dollars, or sentenced to six months in the county jail, or a combination of both. The law remained on the books for thirty years. In 1949, four years after World War II ended, the state legislature rescinded the law and allowed the teaching of foreign languages.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Edda Bilger, "'The Oklahoma Vorwärts': The Voice of German-Americans in Oklahoma During World War I," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 54 (Summer 1976). Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City), 12 December 1917. State of Oklahoma, Official Session Laws (Guthrie, Okla.: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1949). State of Oklahoma, Session Laws of 1919 (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Harlow Publishing Co., 1919).
Linda D. Wilson
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