1919 April 9

Nebraska Outlaws Teaching German


Nebraska enacted a law on this day that outlawed teaching in any foreign language in public or private schools and also the teaching of any foreign language before the eighth grade. The law was part of the anti-German hysteria that had swept the country during World War I. Famously, hamburgers became “liberty burgers,” the teaching of German was dropped by many schools and colleges, and the music of Beethoven and Bach was dropped by many symphony orchestras. In one incident, women in New York City, on October 11, 1918, publicly smashed German-language phonograph records to demonstrate their patriotism.

A challenge to the Nebraska law led to the important Supreme Court decision, Meyer v. Nebraska, on June 4, 1923, in which the Court upheld the right of parents to control their children’s education. In its ruling, the Court established a limited right to privacy.

The Meyer decision, together with Pierce v. Society of Sisters in 1925, which struck down a KKK-sponsored Oregon law that would have closed Catholic parochial schools, were early manifestations of what would become a major transformation of America: the penetration of constitutional principles into every phase of American life.

Nebraska law: “No person, individually or as a teacher, shall, in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any subject to any person in any language other than the English language.”

The Court in Meyer v. Nebraska: “ . . . it is the natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life,” [and] ” . . . Mere knowledge of the German language cannot reasonably be regarded as harmful. Heretofore it has been commonly looked upon as helpful and desirable.”

Learn more about the case here.

Learn more about anti-German hysteria during World War I: http://www.authentichistory.com/1914-1920/2-homefront/4-hysteria/

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