World War I in Lawrence: Brides shun wedding marches by German composers

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.

According to a local musician, the familiar strains of the “Here Comes the Bride” or “The Wedding March” were to be banned from this year’s weddings, if patriotic brides had anything to say about it. An article in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World on July 3, 1918, proclaimed that “Kansas brides have issued a war ultimatum! … If the orchestra strikes up the old favorite Mendelssohn wedding march, the procession doesn’t start until the tune is changed. Nor will the Wagner or any other Hun composition serve as a substitute. ‘As a matter of fact, I don’t believe any orchestra in Topeka would dare play Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for fear of mob violence,’ declared Bertha Hemstead, a well known Topeka musician. ‘Anyhow, why one of the Hun selections when there are so many others?'” Hemstead reportedly had prepared a list of substitutes for the German-composed favorites, saying that several Belgian, English, French, Italian, American, “and even Russian” selections were well suited for wedding music. The article continued, “‘There is a growing antipathy against German musical compositions,’ declares Miss Hemstead. ‘Especially is this true of the German wedding music. To be sure, there is less feeling against the older German composers, but Wagner, Strauss and others of the newer school of music are strictly taboo. Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and others of the older type are allowed to linger, but still, the feeling prevails that there is a certain inappropriateness in the march to the nuptial altar of an American — soldier or civilian –and his bride, to the strains of a German song.'” However, judging from the ceremony descriptions in the marriage items from this summer’s Journal-World’s Society page, Hemstead’s outrage had not infiltrated Lawrence sufficiently to prevent the “Wedding March” from being used in local nuptials.


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