Hyphenated Americans – we had this same discussion exactly 100 years ago – see 100 yr old article and pics

Around the time of World War I, there was much discussion about whether immigrants who were arriving on the American shore could be trusted. 

The following article was published in the Northern Review, Volumes 2-3 in 1916 about the hyphen sign when describing Americans. It is still timely one hundred years later. 

Insulting Slogans Divide a United Nation


Much of the spirit and utterances of the press seems to confuse if not substitute the Americanism before 1776 for that after our Declaration of Independence. There is, however, a great difference. The vigorous, conquered party in that great epoch-making Revolutionary war was favored in that their speech continued to be the leading language of the Independent States through which language, consciously or unconsciously, the English views on all questions circulated and made our political life more British and less American in course of time than it was at its birth. Hence slogans, born of this spirit, have sprung up over our land at different times that have done great harm to our nation. The latest is the “hyphen”.

Cannot Change The Color Of His Skin

The question arises, when does the hyphen cease? Not when one is naturalized, nor when the family tongue is forgotten. Vikingism, for example, does not consist in a language, but in the character, blood, mind and spirit of a people, developed through a thousand or more years. When a Scandinavian forgets the dialect of his family, his tongue changes, but not his head, heart and blood. They undergo no like radical and sudden transformation. The dropping of the hyphen sign is easy, but the hyphen spirit remains, the Ethiopian cannot change his skin nor the leopard his spots. The hyphen may go, but that for which it stands will endure. It is not within the power of an honest, truthful, free, independent, just man to profess to do what he knows is not in his power to do. In the Declaration of Independence, and other political classics of the United States, so broad and inclusive, there is no reference to the narrow and exclusive spirit of the anti-hyphenates and one language advocates.

The broad and dignified meaning the hyphen had before the war should stand and the foreign meaning of traitor not put into it to worry loyal citizens and divide our nation. The word traitor is expressive enough and no substitute for it is needed. To use the word hyphen thus is un-American, unneighborly, prompted consciously or unconsciously by the traitor spirit. There are other English words that can be used for the new but none for the old meaning of the hyphen. Hence compounding words must continue in good English.

Immigrants to Ellis Island, New York 1910 (Library of Congress)

True Use Of The Hyphen Sign.

The hyphen is a little sign properly, but perhaps too extensively, used in the English language. It unites or joins two or more words, and their respective meanings to produce a third meaning resulting logically from the union. In German, Scandinavian, Greek, Latin and other languages two or more words are simply united by joining them without any hyphen or sign. If this were done in English it would help to develop our national language on its native original Anglo-Saxon foundation, and English would become purer and better English. We heartily favor forming compound words from AngloSaxon roots without hyphens. This would be explanatory and suggestive instead of being antagonistic and exclusive. It might also aid in the commendable tendency to use fewer capital letters. The first word of hyphenated compounds has an adjective force and Is better without the hyphen.

More might be said about the hyphen as a sign, but this is enough, as it seems to be used less and less. The words the hyphen unites and the thought back of the hyphen concern us more than the sign. A German can become an American, an American become a German, and retain both languages and be better and broader than If only one tongue is retained. Linguists use the sign less, but statesmen advocate more the true spirit it embodies.

Back of the phrase hyphenated Americans not so long in use, there seems to be a spirit of assumed superior American patriotism in those using it, incriminating others as un-American. This kind of work neither unites us as a nation nor makes us better Americans.

Ellis Island no date, ca. 1900 by Bain News Service

Whole Population Of The New World Is Hyphenated

The fact is that the whole population of the New World of America is hyphenated. There is very little, if any, of the Indian blood that has been preserved pure, and Indian is the only unhyphenated American blood known, and some claim it is not, as the Indian came from Asia. The French-Canadian, Indian-American, Spanish-Indian-American and the Negro-Indian-American prove that there is little pure Indian blood. Other languages write, Frenchindian, Spanishamericans, Negroindian, Anglosaxon. We thus get quicker the condensed meaning of the united words.

Promoters of the war against “hyphenated Americans” are not Indians, pure or mixed. They are not singly, but doubly hyphenated Americans and are proud of It. They are Scotch-Irish-Americans, Anglo-Saxon-Americans. They are a noble race, and we wish they knew the true meaning of their hyphens, of their compound; but they certainly cannot claim that they are better Americans than citizens with only one hyphen, if the hyphen counts for anything, and they seem to think it counts for too much. Then two hyphens count for more than one, and they should write Anglosaxonamerican in only one word.

An Irish-American, Scotch-American, German-American and Scandinavian-American are as good Americans as Anglo-Americans. The fact that English is the language generally spoken in the United States does not give England nor English-speaking people more privileges, honor or rights, than people possess from other lands, and with other tongues. No more so than have Spain and Spanish-speaking people in Mexico, Chile and Argentina, Portugal and Portuguese-speaking people in Brazil, or France and French-speaking people in Quebec. Yet, we speak of Canadian-French-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, even of Latin-Americans. There has been no objection to the hyphen in these cases. Why then object to it in German-American, Swedish-American, Norwegian-American, Scotch-American, Austrian-American? Why such agitation at this time of the war? Not many years ago Europe called South America “America Latina” (Latin America) and North America “America Germanica” (German America) using German in its broader sense. The Latin represents the civilization of the Mediterranean, Sea; the German, the culture of the North Sea. The one is in a dead, the other in a living language. In one breath we glory in our mixed blood, and say the mixture has made us a strong nation, and in the next breath we depreciate, ignore or insult the fact.

Simply Americans

English-Americans, New England-Americans, Anglo-Saxon-Americans seem to think that they are better and have more honor, privileges and rights than any other Americans, and yet they profess to be simply Americans. It is their intolerable assumption of possessing a superior Americanism that is dividing the American people into two classes, English and non-English Americans. The fact that one’s forebears came from the British Isles does not make him a better American than the person from the continent of Europe. The Anglo-Saxons, British and English use the hyphen the most and when they remove it first, they can with better grace urge others to do the same.

A prominent lawyer remarked on this discussion in retaliation that the British-Americans and English-Americans seem to prefer to drop the word American, and think only of British and English, while others retain the American part. The menace exists in dividing the American people by overstating the exclusive claims of any one people, and the studied ignoring in our social and school life all family languages spoken by loyal immigrants who maintain our courts and schools by furnishing the children and the taxes.

If we take public funds to teach the immigrant English in night schools, we should teach their children their family language one hour each day as allowed by the state laws. Many one-language educated persons seem to think the ability to speak two languages makes one less American. They look upon the mastery of two or more languages as an affliction, or a punishment from God, and think that a person who speaks only one language knows more than a person who speaks two. If there is a difference, people who speak two languages are better Americans, broader-minded, more humane than those who speak only one.

Immigrants in a night school, ca. 1910 Boston, MA. (Library of Congress)

All Great Nations Honor The Hyphen.

There are many hyphenated Germans as there are hyphenated Americans. Empire-Germans, Austrian-Germans, Swiss-Germans, Holland-Germans, Belgian-Germans, Luxemburg-Germans, Russian-Germans, Balkan-Germans, Jewish-Germans, South African-Germans, Australian-Germans, South American-Germans, Pennsylvania-Germans, New York-Germans, Illinois-Germans, Wisconsin-Germans, Minnesota-Germans, Texas-Germans, California-Germans, and many other hyphenated Germans. It may be difficult to banish the hyphen unless by compounding words without it.

This use is in every nation; we read of Swedish-Finns, the GermanRussians, Welsh-Britains, Scotch-Britains, Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Indians, Canadian-British, Canadian-French. In South America are Latin-Americans, Spanish-Americans and Portuguese-Americans.

The only country objecting to the hyphen is free, independent United States. The land least suspected of such action. “Hyphenated Americans”are not as dangerous as “a hyphenated America.” “America First” does not mean, “England First”, or “Germany First”.

Hyphenated English-Americans, because the English language supplanted the Dutch on the Hudson and Swedish on the Delaware, are on the war-path against ail other Americans. In. a plea to unite the American people they are dividing them into two distinct warring parties, because of the attack of the British-Americans on all others in condemning them as un-American without a hearing. The Jew is to lose himself, also the Chinaman, the Negro, the Frenchman, Italian, Spaniard and Russian. They will have a hard task, a sad future. It will be comparatively easy for the Germans and Scandinavians as they united to make everything that is English, and when the Germans, Scandinavians and Englishmen mingle, it is a question whether the English will not become conscious that they ought to be outwardly what they are inwardly. They have tried to make themselves appear to be what they are not. The French in Canada and the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America must surrender. There is no place for individuality. But who can even strive to be what does not exist, and is in the making? Who furnished the standard or ideal of a true American?

The tendency to learn English among hyphenated Americans is more American than is the tendency of the anti-hyphenated Americans to assume that they are in a higher class by themselves and oppose learning two languages. The Scotch, Welsh, English cultural aristocracy of the British Isles denies what they enjoy to their German, Slav and Scandinavian neighbors from the continent of Europe. It is unfortunate for all concerned that Mr. Wilson, as President of our Independent, free nation, while championing the cause of humanity, should, while president and with the prestige of the presidency, thus start to drive a wedge that threatens to split our country into two equal parts. The very name of the President, Wilson or Wilhelmson, the son of Wilhelm, or of Will, suggests Scandinavian descent. Emperor Wilhelm and President Wilson, like their twin brothers Ole and Frits (who together discovered America, formed the English language and people) agree far more than it appears. But trade and culture are in their very nature competitive, and competition is the life of both. Therefore, let each have fair play and equal rights in this free land, where one has done as well as the other. Do not check either, and America will be the richer, the happier and the freer. It is American to treat England, Germany and all alike.

Efficiency And Strength Of Hyphenates.

The 1910 Census reports for the United States a white population of 81,732,687, of whom 32,243,382 were born abroad, or one or both of their parents were natives of some other country. As to blood, culture and language, Germans lead, reporting 9,187,007; the Celts are second with 5,668,672 (4,655,985 Irish, 745,625 Scotch, 267,062 Welsh); Scandinavia conies third with 2,862,639 and England fourth with 2,476,825. The three Teuton nations, German, Scandinavian and English number 14,526,461 people. It must be remembered that these figures include only the first and second generations, immigrants and native children of immigrants, not grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of immigrants.

Britain’s rise dates from Napoleon’s fall. In 1680 England had 5,532,001) people, no more than Sweden has today. In 1780 France had 25,100,000 inhabitants and the British Isles half as many, 12,560,000, and England only 9,561,000. In 1913, France had 39,000,000 and the British Isles 45,000,000. The English people and language have had thus a rapid growth the last hundred years after they captured the whole Scandinavian fleet in the neutral harbor of Copenhagen and ruled the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean route to America. England, as one writes, has been hard on its nearest neighbors, the Irish, the Dutch and the Scandinavian hyphenates.

Immigrants on deck of steamer “Germanic.” 1887 – New York – Welcome to the land of freedom (Library of Congress)

Moral And Religious Influence Of Hyphenate Americans.

There are in the United States 24,594 – churches worshiping in other than the English tongue with 8,394,229 communicant members: 13,034 churches are German, 5,490 Scandinavian, 946 Hebrew, 889 French, 732 Spanish, 570 Polish, 524 Indian, 457 Italian, 363 Greek, 344 Dutch, 286 Welsh, 269 Bohemian, 263 Finnish, 164 Slavic, 147 Slovak. People who build churches in their settlements, worship in different languages and have no parochial schools, should not be denied instruction in the settlement languages, especially when they furnish most of the children and taxes. If parochial schools can teach two languages with their limited funds, why cannot the wealthy public schools?

Growing Press Of Hyphenate Americans. The number of periodicals published in the United States in 1900 compared with the number for 1880 in parenthesis ( ) is: German 613 (641); Scandinavian 115 (49); Spanish 39 (26); Italian 35 (4); Polish 33 (2); Bohemian 28 U3); French 27 (41). Other languages besides English are on the increase in a written and spoken form in America as appears from these figures. The circulation of the papers, as a rule, has increased. Germans who cannot read a German daily or weekly paper on the war misses one side of the question.

Yearly Output Of Books By Hyphenates.

The number of new books published by each country yearly, United States 10,903; Great Britain 12,067; Total English 22,960; Germany 32,998; Austria 2,867, Switzerland 4,779; Holland 3,673; Belgium 1,442; Total German 45,759; France 10,396; Italy 10,929; Spain 2,878; Scandinavia 6,451; Rumania 2,317; Bulgaria 1,400; Turkey 924; Greece 53; Ireland 180; Chili 385; Argentina 899; Mexico 167; Hungary 2,032; Canada 94; total in world yearly 160,000. Scandinavia ranks fifth, being surpassed only by German, English, French and Italian. It is worth while to the hyphenated Americans for access to current yearly literature in more than one tongue.


A Convention of the Board of Trade of North and South America was recently held in Boston.

The Daily Transcript of Boston came out in an editorial saying, “It is a thousand pities that modern languages are not effectively taught to American youth. We must educate public opinion to value, not a smattering of such tongues, but a genuine acquaintance with them.” The Mayor of Boston publicly urged that Spanish and Portuguese be taught in the grades of the public schools, and that special Interest be taken in the Portuguese boys in the cities of the New England coast towns with the view of making them ambassadors of trade in Central and South America. Boston is as near to Berlin and Copenhagen as to Buenos Aires. Like interest should be taken in German and Scandinavian boys, where they are numerous in other parts of the United States.

Ribbon of Love: A Novel of Colonial America Ribbon of Love is a wonderful love story of Henry and Mary living and struggling to succeed as one of the first families in the colony of Virginia in the 1600s. In addition to the love story, the descriptions of the clothing, home furnishings, personalities, family life, church and community are most intriguing. The exhilarating action and subplots keep the reader in constant anticipation. It is almost impossible to put the book down until completion.


About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She cohost the Podcast: Alabama Grist Mill and developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me

All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

She has authored numerous genealogy books.
RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE)
is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2)
is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series)
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)
is the continuation of the story. .

For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

One Response to Hyphenated Americans – we had this same discussion exactly 100 years ago – see 100 yr old article and pics

  1. Jim Yates says:

    No, it was NOT the same argument.
    100 years ago our nation was not threatened by a religion designed for world domination.
    Wake up Causey!

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