Archive for Tuesday, February 27, 2018

World War I in Lawrence: ‘Tractor school’ helps farmers feed troops more efficiently

February 27, 2018

Editor’s note: Local writer Sarah St. John compiles reports of what it was like to be in Lawrence 100 years ago during World War I.


An event described in the Lawrence Journal-World as a “tractor school” took place this week in Lawrence with the intended purpose of making farm work more efficient. The event, described as “purely a patriotic and educational affair,” took place in the Douglas County Courthouse, where “experienced tractor men [were] on the bench […] telling the farmers of Douglas county how to run and care for their tractors that the largest amount of food in the history of this country might be produced this summer in order to feed the American army in France and to keep the Allied armies intact.” Although the largest tractor manufacturers of the U.S. had provided speakers for the two-day workshop, no sales took place and no specific tractor was described as being the best choice. The sole purpose of the tractor school, it was stated, was “to educate the tractor owners of the county to keep their tractors in running order” and to “prevent waste.”

Elsewhere in Lawrence this week, the Rotarians, “in their determination to follow up their campaign for the Americanization of the elementary schools,” adopted a resolution to exclude the German language from elementary schools. A two-person committee, composed of Lawrence school superintendent Raymond A. Kent and Supt. H. B. Peairs of Haskell Institute, presented the resolution to the local Rotarian branch, whose members intended to have it adopted as a state policy later in the year. It was resolved that “no language except English shall be taught or permitted to be used as a medium of instruction in the elementary public schools of America” and that the teaching of German in high school and college “be not arbitrarily excluded, but that the study of this language be left to the election of the students.”


Ron Holzwarth 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I have a family history story about German being spoken in secret by second and third graders, relayed by my grandfather.

The new rule was, no German was to be spoken at school anymore. This presented a difficulty, since German had been spoken at home and everywhere else for centuries, and now only English was to be spoken at school. This was difficult in some schools, because just about all of the students were of German heritage, although via Russia for the most part. They had left the German principalities in about 1820.

My grandfather knew of the children speaking softly to each other in the bushes during recess, because he was one of them, I'm sure.

There was a problem. At least one of the students was not German, and didn't know the language at all. He ran and told the teacher what was going on.

I remember so well how hard my grandfather laughed as he recalled that single student. He thought they were "selling our country down the river!"

Spys! Third graders whispering German in the bushes!

Sarah St. John 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Ron! Do you know if the children got in trouble? It's interesting -- I never knew about Volga Germans until I moved to the Midwest (which was in the mid-1980s). One of those things I never learned in east-coast History classes!

Ron Holzwarth 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I imagine that the teacher just laughed, but that's just a guess. My grandfather didn't relay that part of the story.

An interesting thing about my family community's German - it's what's called Low German, or officially Plattdeutsch. It's considered to be a guttural language today, and little or no printed material is available in it. It's a dialect of German that's fast disappearing.

We were always told to never talk German as our families did - learn High German, or Hochdeutsch, in school, which is considered to be grammatically correct.

A bit of trivia: There are several different variations of the spelling of my last name. But, my name has the original German spelling. Correctly pronounced in German, it would be almost unrecognizable to an English speaker.

Ron Holzwarth 3 months, 2 weeks ago

It would come out something more or less like this: Hullts'-vart

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