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When war broke out in Europe in 1914, President Wilson announced that the United States would remain neutral. Most Americans supported this policy. The country did not want to become embroiled in a foreign war. Wilson was reelected in 1914, running on his slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.”

But public opinion gradually shifted against Germany, and Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917. He stated that “The world must be made safe for democracy.”

Things changed very quickly for Americans. The draft was reinstated, and Women began to take factory jobs to fill the gap in the labor force. Soon the nation would begin to experience shortages of goods like milk and flour.

On this date in 1918, the newspapers were full of war news. There were lists of men who had registered for the draft. Americans were cautioned to conserve products like milk and meat, and to substitute potatoes for wheat products.

There was also a notice that alien women were required to register with the government. This was particularly significant in North Dakota, which had a high percentage of German immigrants. A headline in the Ward County Independent read: “Alien Women Must Register.” This applied to women living in the United States who were natives, citizens, or subjects “of the German empire or of the imperial German government” who were over the age of fourteen and not naturalized United States citizens. This also applied to women married to German citizens, even if the women were Americans. The women were required to report to their local post office with three small portrait photos. Fingerprints would be taken, and there was a four-page form to fill out with information about immigration, physical description, and family. More than 480,000 German enemy aliens would be registered nationwide.

Anti-immigrant sentiments strengthened during the war. This was especially aimed at Germans. Before the war, Germans were considered ideal immigrants, serious and hardworking But World War I caused many Americans to view Germans as the “bad guys.” German immigrants were harassed, tarred and feathered, fired from jobs, and even lynched. Many immigrants of German descent tried to hide their heritage. They stopped speaking German in public and dropped out of German social groups. It took several years for German heritage to begin recovering following the war.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Ward County Independent. “Alien Women Must Register.” Valley City ND. 6/13/1918. Page 4.
History. “US Entry into WWI.” Accessed 5/14/2022.
Daily Mail. “The Plight of Germans in America during the First World War.” Accessed 5/14/2022.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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