German Americans in Spokane

Click to Expand. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital ID cph 3g02793

Many Germans immigrated to the US before the war, and a large number settled in eastern Washington.  During the start of hostilities, as the mayor censored theaters that showed footage from Europe, many Germans favored their old country in the war.  During the first couple of years, local Germans felt slighted at times by a supposed pro-British press, which they felt didn’t give a fair side to the Central Powers.

Once the United States entered the war however, German-Americans didn’t want to appear disloyal.  But even before that, the effects of unrestricted naval warfare helped to solidify German-American unity against the German Empire. The National German-American Alliance, an organization composed of nearly three million Americans with German heritage, pledged their loyalty to the United States.  Representing German-Americans in 28 states, the Alliance endorsed the action of breaking diplomatic ties with the German Empire in early 1917.  Completely reversing their previous pro-German stance from earlier in the war, the organization pledged to use what had been their war relief funds, to raise “Teutonic Regiments to oppose the Kaiser” in case war broke out between America and Germany.1

To some Germans however, patriotic duty to America didn’t come easily. Many saw America’s growing passion for war linked not to German warmongering, but to a clear pro-Anglo bias in certain industries.   Adolph Munter, an attorney and considered by the Spokane Press “one of Spokane’s most prominent Germans”, did not view the breaking of diplomatic ties with enthusiasm. “Our avowedly pro-British press, more than any other factor, bears the responsibility for the present strained relations, by their coloring, distorting and, in many cases, absolutely falsifying reports of occurrences common to any war, by suppressing the truth, in whole or in part, when favorable to Germany’s attitude, and by incendiary editorials based on merest rumors, emanating from Great Britain, afterwords proving to be unfounded.2  The sinking of merchant vessels, both civilian and military alike, bound for England proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the sympathy many German-Americans still harbored towards their old country.

This political cartoon published in the Daily Chronicle on April 9th, 1917 mocks the Kaisers attempts to turn German Americans against their fellow countrymen.

A political cartoon featuring the Kaiser and a man labeled “German Americans” exhibits the patriotism that many German Americans felt towards their new home.  As the Kaiser attempts to hypnotize the German American, the nicely dressed man bearing a full faced grin responds enthusiastically: “Hurrah for Uncle Sam!”.3  Towards the end of March, 1917, Deutsche Gesellschaft, the German society of Spokane, took steps to distance themselves from their old country.  The president of the society, Dr. E.T. Richter , announced plans to take down portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm at their building on Third Avenue.  They also replaced German flags with the American one.  Dr. Richter said of the rising tensions between America and Germany: “There are 300 active members of the Deutsche Gesellschaft in Spokane, and I believe that every one of these deplores the action of the German government in its announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare.”4

In the opening months of the war however, Germans without American citizenship faced a great deal of suspicion and scrutiny from their host nation. Perceived as alien enemies of the Kaiser, newspapers began to publish warnings about them.  In a measure to protect military installations from sabotage, a ban on German aliens from within half a mile around Fort George Wright and the Armory on Second Street was imposed.  In June of that year, nine Germans in the city received federal permits that acted as waivers on the ban.  An article published in the Chronicle listed their names, occupation, age, and street address.5

A headline from the Spokane Daily Chronicle on April 20th announcing that German nationals would no longer be hired in public schools.

In Olympia that spring, the State Education Board unanimously passed a resolution to ban foreign teachers from teaching in common schools throughout the state.6  Privileges for Germans continued to deteriorate into 1918.  In March of that year, the school board at Lewis and Clark high school voted unanimously to cease teaching the German language at school.7  Beginning in that year, the Spokane Police Department required German aliens to register themselves at the Police Headquarters.  US Marshals announced the recording of upwards of 1000 German males and around 550 German females without US citizenship in all of Eastern Washington.8  German aliens were also required to turn over their firearms.  In one case, an English women reluctantly turned over her rifle to authorities who deemed her husband, born in Alsace, from an enemy country.9

Viewed with increasing suspicion throughout the early part of the war, Spokane’s sizable non-citizen German population became the target of a number of anti espionage efforts once the United States joined the war. These efforts included registration to the authorities, barring of residence near military installations, and disarmament of firearms. Although many Germans opposed the war and spoke out against what they saw as a pro-British press attempting to bait the US into the conflict, many others enthusiastically renounced the Kaiser, and sought to mobilize German Americans to fight for the US.



  1. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 8, 1917. Page 1, Column 6.
  2. Spokane Press, February 3, 1917. Unknown Page
  3. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 9, 1917. Page 1, Column 3.
  4. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 27, 1917. Page 1, Column 6.
  5. Spokane Daily Chronicle, June, 22, 1917. Unknown Page.
  6. Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 20, 1917. Page 6, Column 1.
  7. Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 26, 1918. Page 2, Column 5.
  8. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago This Week the United States Entered World War I, a Conflict That Would Claim the Lives of 200 from the Spokane Area.” April 01, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018.
  9. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago in Spokane: Federal Agents Confiscate Guns Owned by Germans.” April 23, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018.