A Cloud of Suspicion

As the United States moved closer to breaking ties with Germany and its allies during the First World War, citizens across the country took steps to separate themselves from all things German. Foods with ties to German culture received new names. Hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches.” Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage.” Teaching the German language, playing German music, and even speaking in German were banned in some areas. Violators of these restrictions often found their loyalty to the United States questioned.

Anti-German sentiment was far-reaching, and Florida was not immune. In 1910, Germans made up 10.7 percent of Florida’s total white population of foreign birth or parentage, second only to Cubans in number. German and German-American immigrants had established farms and businesses across the state. German-American clubs had sprung up in Jacksonville, Tampa, and even smaller towns like Arcadia and Daytona. Members of the German-American community often denounced the war and spearheaded efforts to raise money for organizations like the International Red Cross, but they still frequently came under suspicion.

German American Club building in Tampa (circa 1912).

German American Club building in Tampa (circa 1912).

In Tampa, for example, the German-American Club was ultimately forced to dissolve, and its building was attacked by vandals. Saint Leo Abbey, a German Benedictine monastery located at San Antonio just to the north of Tampa, was home to Florida’s only German-language newspaper until its editor was arrested and held until the end of the war. The Legislature even passed a law in 1917 requiring all aliens to register with local authorities.

An early photo of Saint Leo Abbey in San Antonio, north of Tampa (circa 1920s).

An early photo of Saint Leo Abbey in San Antonio, north of Tampa (circa 1920s).

German-American businesses were often seized by the federal government to prevent their profits from aiding Germany, and to stamp out any attempt to use them as a front for German espionage. The German-American Lumber Company, a thriving Pensacola-based concern involved in Florida’s yellow pine industry, fell victim to this practice in 1918. The company’s leaders attempted to avoid interruption of business by transferring control to native Pensacola attorney and board member W.A. Blount. The strategy failed. On March 23, 1918, company president H.G. Kulenkampff was arrested as an “enemy alien,” and control of the lumber company was transferred to a new board of directors appointed by the federal Custodian of Alien Property, A. Mitchell Palmer. When the war ended, the reorganized “American Lumber Company” was put up for sale. Because Germany agreed by treaty to compensate its nationals for property confiscated by the United States during the war, the federal government did not compensate the original German owners of the German-American Lumber Company for their losses. No records indicate whether they ever received any compensation at all after the war.

Engine #7 of the German-American Lumber Company at Millview (1915).

Engine #7 of the German-American Lumber Company at Millview (1915).

Even the loyalty of some of Florida’s most respected German-Americans was called into question. Joseph L. Earman, chairman of the State Board of Control, wrote to naval authorities at Miami in 1918 requesting an investigation into the loyalty of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women. Conradi, while born in Ohio, was of German parentage, and Earman believed an investigation was in order because of the “all important” nature of his work. Earman admitted that Conradi’s teaching was excellent and that the college had prospered under his leadership. “At the same time,” he wrote, “patriotism is above all in these trying times.”

Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women during World War I (photo circa 1925).

Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women during World War I (photo circa 1925).

Letter from State Board of Control Chairman Joseph L. Earmon to Lieutenant C.A. Muller of the Seventh Naval District, requesting an investigation of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women - Box 2, folder 17, Correspondence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1882-1922 (Series 249), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from State Board of Control Chairman Joseph L. Earmon to Lieutenant C.A. Muller of the Seventh Naval District, requesting an investigation of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women – Box 2, folder 17, Correspondence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1882-1922 (Series 249), State Archives of Florida.

Anti-German sentiment began to fade after the war, and Floridians of German heritage were able to openly celebrate their culture once again. Today, German-American clubs and societies thrive throughout the state, including in Miami, Jacksonville, Cape Coral, Lake Worth, Casselberry (Orlando area), and St. Petersburg. Traditional German food, music, and dancing are popular components of multicultural celebrations, and some communities even hold events specifically honoring German culture. The annual Oktoberfest events held in cities such as Palm Beach and Tampa are good examples.

Performers dancing at an Oktoberfest celebration in Lantana (1986).

Performers dancing at an Oktoberfest celebration in Lantana (1986).

What cultural influences have made an impact on your Florida community? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook, and search the Florida Photographic Collection for more photos of multicultural celebrations.

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One thought on “A Cloud of Suspicion

  1. This topic brings to mind a relatively unknown incident that occurred in Tallahassee, Florida during World War 1. It involved a Pentecostal Holiness preacher, Gustav Sigwalt, of Tallahassee who began to preach in his services that the U.S. was not justified in entering the war. Moreover, he openly advocated conscientious objection to military service. Warned by friends in advance that government officials were enroute to arrest him, he fled into hiding in the nearby Apalachicola National Forest, but eventually made his way to Carrabelle. A Federal marshall finally found him conducting services there and arrested him at the end of Sept. 1917. He was charged with “seditionary utterances” against the U.S. government. In April 1918 he was tried and convicted of violating Section 3 of the Espionage Law, which had been enacted in 1917. He was sentenced to federal prison in Eastpoint, Ga. The war ended in Nov. 1918 but Sigwalt was not freed until April 1, 1919.

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