BLOOMINGTON - During World War I, anti-German hysteria swept the American home front, with German soldiers portrayed as blood-thirsty Huns eager to rape and pillage their way through France and onward to America.
Once the United States entered the war in April 1917, federal, state and local government officials moved aggressively to stamp out German "Kultur," especially the use of German in newsprint, school textbooks and church services. German-Americans, including those in Central Illinois, found themselves under suspicion and often persecuted by this "superpatriot" hysteria.
Communities established local defense councils dedicated to "unification," a euphemism for a wide range of anti-German activities that included the "prosecution of citizens who, by their expressions, appeared to be disloyal." The slogan of the McLean County Council of Defense said it all: "Get right or get out."
At the time of the "Great War," or what mistakenly would be called "The War to End All Wars," Bloomington was home to a thriving German community. There were German churches, including St. Mary's Catholic, Trinity Lutheran and the Jewish synagogue on North Prairie Street. There was a German-language weekly newspaper called The Bloomington Journal, as well as highly visible German organizations, such as the Turners, or Turnverein, an athletic and social club with a spacious hall on South Main Street. Furthermore, local church services, school classes and meetings often were conducted in German.
The local Council of Defense, chaired by Bloomington Mayor E.E. Jones, formed in January 1918, though it didn't begin persecuting German-Americans in earnest until the spring.
On April 1, the council passed resolutions making it a crime to print any paper or publication in German. "The race hatred has reached a new point in our city," noted Bloomington Journal Editor John Gummerman in his paper's final German-language edition.
As the hammer fell on The Bloomington Journal, the stockholders of the German-American Bank, located in the 200 block of North Main Street, agreed to "conform to the spirit of the times" by becoming "100 percent American." They did this by changing the name of their institution to the American State Bank.
In late June, the small but active German communities near Colfax and Anchor came under attack by "superpatriot" mobs. A crowd of several hundred residents from Colfax and the outlying countryside descended on Immanuel's Evangelical German Lutheran Church in Lawndale Township, demanding the end to German in church services and school classes. There were threats that the school would burn and that a teacher would be "roughly handled."
Another church and school, St. John's German Lutheran, southeast of Anchor, also faced the threat of mob violence over its use of German.
During the war, Mennonites came under frequent suspicion, primarily because of the church's commitment to nonviolence. In July 1918, the Rev. C.R. Egle of the Central Mennonite Church near Flanagan was hauled before a federal official in Bloomington for alleged pro-German activities. The Pantagraph labeled Egle's church a "veritable nest of anti-war intrigue," all because several young men drafted from the congregation became conscientious objectors.