Tag Archives: schools

Ku Klux U: How the Klan Almost Bought a University

Hagerstown Exponent, October 4, 1923

When the Hagerstown Exponent published this headline in October 1923, the editor had gotten the facts wrong.  The Ku Klux Klan’s powerful “Indiana Realm” had not bought itself a venerable institution of higher learning that summer.  But it had come close. For a few weeks, Valparaiso University — sixty miles from downtown Chicago, and formerly one of the largest private schools in the U.S. — teetered on the brink of becoming a “Ku Klux Kollege.” Once praised as the “Poor Man’s Harvard,” in 1923 many feared the university was about to become a “hooded Harvard.”

“Valpo” is a thriving university today, with some of the best programs in Indiana — and has no connections whatsoever to the KKK.  But a century ago, after its rapid rise to national fame, the highly-respected school was caught up in hard times. Yet its sudden nose-dive after World War I took many alumni and faculty by surprise.

Founded by Methodists in 1859, the original school — Valparaiso Male and Female College — took in students of all levels, from elementary to college age.  The pioneer school was also one of the few co-educational institutions in America before the Civil War. That war wreaked havoc on enrollment, leading the college to close its doors in 1871.  Two years later, it reopened as a teacher’s college. Until 1900, the school went by the name Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute.

Renowned for its economical tuition and low cost of living — as well as for admitting women and students from overseas — by 1905 “Old Valpo” enjoyed one of the highest enrollments of any private university in the U.S.  With over 5,000 students that year, the school ranked just behind Harvard.  Its affordability to working-class Americans led many to praise it as the “Poor Man’s Harvard.” (Harvard itself was sometimes jokingly called “The Rich Man’s Valpo.”)


Valparaiso University circa 1915
(Valparaiso University, circa 1915.)

Students from all over the U.S. and the world trained to be public school teachers here.  Some were busy teaching English to immigrants employed at Gary’s new steel mills.  Valpo’s programs in law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry were well-regarded. Its College of Medicine and Surgery had been brought over from Northwestern University in Chicago.  When the college moved back to the Windy City in 1926, it formed the nucleus of Loyola’s medical program.

Harvard and Yale might have been too good to take out ads in Chicago newspapers.  But this ad from 1905 appeared next to one for another great school on the rise, the University of Notre Dame.


The Inter Ocean, August 1, 1905
(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, August 1, 1905.)

Yet once enrollment peaked in 1907, venerable Valpo plunged into an unexpected, two-decade-long decline.  After accreditation of American colleges and universities began at the turn of the century  — partly driven by a desire to standardize high-school education and thereby “unify” the country — Valparaiso failed to win accreditation. Suddenly unable to transfer their credits, current and prospective students found the school a harder sell, especially as affordable new state universities, teachers’ colleges, and urban night schools entered the competition.  Valpo’s lack of a football team and Greek life were another stumbling block, though it hurriedly scraped together a football program in the early 1920s and even played Harvard.  (It lost 22-0 in its first game.)


VU


World War I issued another blow.  The famously affordable university had always attracted international students.  (One of the more unusual of them was future Soviet Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, “Stalin’s Man in China,” who would die in a Siberian gulag in 1951.)  But after 1914, many of these students left to fight for their European homelands in WWI.  When America entered the war against Germany in 1917, student military enlistment left Valpo’s academic and residence halls almost empty.  And with plenty of war-related jobs now available to women, female students also tended to skip out on college for the duration of the war.


Journal Gazette (Mattoon, IL), July 17, 1923
(Journal Gazette, Mattoon, IL, July 17, 1923.)

In 1919, Indiana passed a new law requiring private colleges to maintain a half-million dollar endowment.  Cash-strapped Valparaiso University, burdened with a $350,000 debt (almost $5 million in today’s money) faced the real prospect of bankruptcy.  The school’s trustees even tried to sell it to the state that year for use as a public teacher’s college, but the Indiana legislature declined the offer.

Holding on by a thread — and led by controversial president Robert Hodgdon, who turned out to hold fake medical degrees — desperate trustees and the equally-desperate citizens of Valparaiso sought new owners.  That list of potential “saviors” grew to include the Presbyterian Church, the International Order of the Moose, and the owner of Cook Laboratories in Chicago, who wanted to turn the campus into a syringe factory and provide 1,000 jobs to townsfolk. (Their prosperity would have been shattered by the school’s demise.)

Then, in July 1923, a new bidder expressed interest.


Daily Republican (Rushville, IN), August 16, 1923
(Daily Republican, Rushville, Indiana, August 16, 1923.)

For some residents of Valparaiso — which hosted a parade of at least 5,000 Klansmen in May 1923, an event that attracted 30,000 visitors from around the Midwest — the offer to take over the struggling school seemed like a God-send.  Academics, alumni, and many students, especially “undesirable” Catholics and Jews, thought differently. Many teachers and students were ready to pack up and leave.

But incredibly, as far as the trustees were concerned, the question of selling Valparaiso University to the Ku Klux Klan mostly came down to whether that organization itself had the resources to made good on its own offer.

The efforts of the revived Klan proved more “sophisticated” than that which had died out in the 1870s.  Klan rallies and parades occurred all over the North and West, from Chicago to L.A., from Oregon to Maine.  And the flag they waved wasn’t the rebel flag.  KKK membership in those years peaked in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, “ground zero” for some of the biggest Klan activity.  D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Old Man of the Klan,” operated mostly out of his headquarters in Indianapolis, a city that was almost taken over by Klansmen and Klanswomen; It was also a city that fought a valiant battle in the press, courts, and churches to discredit the “Invisible Empire.”


KKK Members, Valparaiso, 1923
(Klansmen on Franklin Street, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1923.)

The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923
The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The “Second” Klan defined itself as a hyper-patriotic organization of white Protestant Americans and was more mainstream than at any other point in its history.  During the ’20s, the Klan was less concerned with suppressing African Americans than with stemming the tide of new immigration coming from Southern and Eastern Europe — including to heavily-industrial towns like Gary, just thirty miles from Valparaiso.  The Klan sought to cripple an imaginary conspiracy contending that Catholics wanted to destroy American public schools and hand the U.S. government over to the Pope. It also warned of the activities of “Jewish Communists” and anarchists in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the 1919 Red Scare. (The fear provoked by deadly anarchist bombings wasn’t entirely groundless, however.)  Prohibition of alcohol, another cause taken up by the KKK, was a barely concealed way to crack down on immigrant culture.

These views were shared by thousands of Americans who didn’t belong to the Klan.  The Invisible Empire even found strange bedfellows in Progressivism, including women’s suffrage advocates, who espoused some of the same “reform” ideals promoted by the “kluckers,” albeit with different objectives. Newspapers, big mansions, and church services lent the “hoodlums” in “nighties,” as a Muncie editor quipped, credentials that midnight lynchings in cornfields didn’t.  In Indianapolis, the organization considered establishing a Klan hospital on North Alabama Street for white Protestants only.  (The hospital was never built.) Acquiring a university would help the Klan project a cleaner image. And since Valparaiso was a teacher’s college, the Klan could now propagandize American children from within schools.


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (4)
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

By July of 1923, the trustees of Valparaiso University and the Klan were talking.  Representing the Klan was Milt Elrod, whom Stephenson had recently made editor of The Fiery Cross, the major KKK newspaper, printed at the Century Building on South Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis.

Encountering obvious concern from much of the faculty and student body, Elrod assured the press that a Ku Klux takeover of the school would change nothing except the trustee board, which was to be packed with Klan appointees.  The school would remain open to women and would be non-sectarian, Elrod insisted — though Catholic students were already beginning to drop out and enroll elsewhere.  Ludicrously, Elrod initially claimed that the Klan would admit any applicant who met the proper “educational requirements,” including “Negros,” though he later admitted that the school would not have the “proper” facilities for African Americans.  (The sad irony is that Valparaiso University did not admit African Americans even before the Klan tried to buy it.)


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923 (2)
(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923.)

Few people — the trustees excepted, it seems — took Elrod at his word when he said that nothing else would change at the university except skyrocketing enrollment and the return of its once prestigious reputation.  (There were rumors that it would be renamed “National University”).  Yet Elrod’s enemies had already come out.  In The Fiery Cross, he was busy singling out “un-American” and “alien” opponents. Elrod may have been quick to pick up on campus rumors that Catholic priests from Notre Dame had visited town, spurring the Klan to act soon and not be outbid by the “agents of Rome.”


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (3)
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Heavy opposition came from the press.  Even in Indiana, major urban newspapers tended to be anti-Klan, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News and most famously the Indianapolis Times, which won a Pulitzer for its battle against the group.  Some of the sharpest criticism, however, came from George R. Dale, the wildly colorful and energetic editor of the Muncie Post Democrat.  Dale, who endured death threats and assaults on his life and that of his family, ran a paper that could be called The Onion of its day.  His paper, virtually one long, rambunctious op-ed piece, employed a folksy humor to give sucker-punches to the powerful “Indiana Realm.” Dale went on to become mayor of Muncie in 1930.


Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923
Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Editors and cartoonists nationwide– including E.H. Pomeroy, an illustrator for the Valparaiso Vidette — tore into Elrod’s proposal once it came out that he might, in fact, get hold of the $350,000 in cash needed to bail the school out of debt.  (Elrod also promised that the Klan would set it up on a million-dollar endowment, twice the amount required by Indiana law.)  As the story spread across the U.S., an illustrator in the New York Call went straight for the jugular, publishing a parody of Dante’s Inferno — “Abandon All Brains Ye Who Enter Here.”  The cartoon depicts book-burning, classes in whipping and tar-and-feathering, a “Klinik” to teach “100% Americanism,” and a commencement day ceremony where students sport an unconventional new style of cap and gown.


Literary Digest, September 15, 1923
(“Abandon All Brains, Ye Who Enter Here.” Republished in Literary Digest, September 15, 1923.)

Another critical broadside came from Helena, Montana.  The writer in Helena’s Independent Record thought that a bout of education for “kluckers” might at least have a few salutary side-effects.


The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923

The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923 (2)
(The Independent Record, Helena, Montana, August 28, 1923.)

One editorial appeared in Robert W. Bingham’s Louisville Courier-Journal.  Bingham fought a crusade against Southern poverty and criticized Fascism before even Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced it.  “Ku Klux and Kolleges” may have been Bingham’s own editorial.  It asks if there is no provision in the Indiana school’s original charter to prevent the sale to the Klan.  The Courier-Journal also pointed out that many teachers in Kentucky  had been trained at Valparaiso in its better days, and that Kentuckians should be concerned about its ultimate fate.


Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923 (3)
(Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923.)

Though excitement among some Valparaiso citizens allegedly ran high, Milt Elrod was probably too quick to make blustery promises about the Klan’s own financial strength.  His proposal to buy the school wasn’t a “joke,” but Elrod was a notorious booster and propagandist.

Through the sale of thousands of robes, newspaper subscriptions, and membership fees, the “Imperial hierarchy” of the Klan had amassed huge fortunes for itself.  D.C. Stephenson had gone from being a poor coal dealer in Evansville to a wealthy man by age 33, but he squandered Klan money on liquor, women, cars, and a yacht. Even the $350,000 needed to buy the Valparaiso campus — not to mention the $1,000,000 offered as an endowment — was apparently beyond the ability of bumbling Klan leadership to come up with (or hang onto).

The American press and higher education breathed a sigh of relief when, after just a few weeks, Elrod feebly announced that the Klan had changed its mind due to “legal technicalities.”  Some papers reported that — true to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s suggestion — a clause in the school’s original charter had been discovered, preventing control by any “fraternal, benevolent or charitable order” (an inaccurate description of the Klan, at any rate).


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923 (2)
(Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923.)

“Legal technicalities” caused by the school’s charter might be a myth, a clever way for both the university and the Klan to save face after the embarrassing episode.  Most newspapers ran with it, but there seems to be little evidence that university trustees would have called off the sale if enough cash had been put down in front of them.


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923
(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923.)

Fortunately, Valparaiso University never fell into KKK hands. With the corrupt Klan itself in disarray by 1925, and with Stephenson headed to the nearby state prison at Michigan City for rape and murder, any future Klan bids were out of the question.

In the summer of 1925, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rescued the run-down, almost abandoned school.  Lutherans at that time had several colleges and seminaries around the U.S., but no university.  They announced vague plans to use it as a theology school or teachers’ college.  Securing the deal was assisted by Reverend John C. Baur, a Lutheran minister and noted opponent of the Ku Klux Klan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 18, 1925
(The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, May 18, 1925.)

Under Lutheran guidance, Valparaiso University’s fortunes gradually turned around, though it barely survived the Great Depression.  By the 1950s, “Old Valpo” once again ranked among Indiana’s and the nation’s best colleges, a reputation it still holds today.


Hoosier State Chronicles provides searchable access to several years of The Fiery Cross on our site.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

An Indiana Banned Book List — World War I Comes to the Library

Banned Books Week is here.  We thought we’d take a look at a few volumes of “insidious poison” the Indiana State Council of Defense asked to be withdrawn from Hoosier library shelves in 1918, during the height of America’s involvement in World War I.  Hoosier State Chronicles neither endorses nor criticizes these books, many of which are hard to find and might even have been destroyed.  Some aren’t as interesting as the lives of their fascinating and controversial authors. But we do support your right to read and discuss them — if you ever happen to find a copy.

We focus on three books. A “behind the scenes” look at some of these titles reveal fascinating back stories.


Lake County Times, February 1, 1918
Lake County Times, February 1, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

State and county defense councils emerged after America’s late entry into the war against Germany in 1917.  Indiana’s defense council was organized on May 19.

When it comes to freedom of speech, these groups had a sketchy record.  Though much of what they did was simply ordinary work to contribute to the war effort — arranging food drives, relief for wounded soldiers, the sale of Liberty Loans, and urging Americans to conserve grain — the councils had a dark underbelly.  The conservation of grain, for example, was an underhand way to enforce contentious “dry” laws, since corn and wheat were used in alcohol production — and alcohol was being labeled “German” and “foreign.”  Under the influence of women’s and church groups, Indiana ushered in statewide Prohibition in 1917, three years before the national ban on booze, and at the same time that insidious rumors about spies and terrorists were lurking in the press.  It’s an overlooked fact that the Prohibition movement was often tied at the hip to nativism, and that “unpatriotic” German beer-lovers were accused of wasting grain to undermine the war effort.

In many states, notably Iowa and Nebraska but also in Indiana, defense councils and local “Liberty Leagues” stood behind bans on the German language, an interdict that in some states forbade the speaking of any language other than English.  In 1919, Indiana made it a criminal offense to teach German to children in elementary schools — largely out of concern that militaristic foreign propaganda and love of the “old country” was being spread by German-language textbooks and pamphlets (which were allegedly being burned in Indianapolis.)  In many American schools, German classes weren’t offered again until the 1920s and the subject never recovered its pre-war popularity.  World War I also virtually exterminated the once-flourishing German-language press in the U.S.


Lake County Times, December 19, 1917
Lake County Times, December 19, 1917. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Much American news coverage drew on allegations from the British press, including illustrations and tabloid journalism.  The British had exploited and exaggerated the very real human suffering of the 1914 “Rape of Belgium” for political ends and to encourage the U.S. to enter on the British side.  Soon Hoosiers were reading about the sadistic sexual perversions of German commanders and soldiers, including accusations that the Kaiser’s “book of instructions” to officers authorized the rape and mutilation of children and the elderly.  Many of these events did occur, though reports weren’t rigorously fact-checked.  Yet American feminist writer Susan Brownmiller argues persuasively against the attempt to redeem German honor by downplaying the amount of rape during the war.


Lake County Times, April 8, 1918 (1)
“An official photograph of the club with which the German armies ‘finish off’ wounded soldiers. 32,000 of them were recently captured by the Italians.” Lake County Times, April 8, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles. Whether such atrocities were true or not, graphic depictions influenced American public opinion. 

Defense councils typically consisted of ten or fifteen men and one woman, though “Woman’s Sections” were established in many states and counties.  Indiana’s State Council of Defense in Indianapolis was headed by Senator Charles W. Fairbanks, who had been Theodore Roosevelt’s vice-president.  Other male members of the committee included Irish-born former Indianapolis mayor Thomas Taggart (known as a Progressive);  H.R. Kurrie, president of the Monon Railroad;  former IU football coach and U.S. Representative Evans Woolen; and the famous Will Hays, granddaddy of film censorship in America.  Among the officers of the Woman’s Section of the State Council was Anne Studebaker Carlisle of South Bend — daughter of Clement Studebaker of carriage- and auto-manufacturing fame — and Mrs. Samuel L. Ralston, wife of the future governor of Indiana, who also happened to be a Klan favorite in the 1920s.


Time Mag(The much-misunderstood Will H. Hays, from Sullivan, Indiana, served on the State Council of Defense during World War I.  Hays was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1918 to 1921, then served as U.S. Postmaster General, when he became known for his opposition to sending pornography by mail.  In 1934, he instituted the restrictive Hays Code to regulate the U.S. film industry, but the Hoosier native is also credited with helping the movie business get on its feet and provide truly quality films.  Time Magazine, September 13, 1926.)


The Indiana State Council of Defense was definitely interested in what Hoosiers were reading and took a strong interest in “education.”  In hindsight, its patriotism was part of an undisguised government program to promote optimism and a single view of the war.  In this sense, it was propaganda in the true meaning of the word, which comes from the Latin for “to spread” information — not necessarily the unbiased kind.

The Report of the Woman’s Section, published after the war was over in 1919, demonstrates the interest the Indiana council took in promoting pro-war perspectives and how it went about making sure the government’s view came out on top.  The primary target: pacifists and the “apathetic,” a word typically spelled “slacker” in war-hungry American newspapers like the Lake County Times.


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 2


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 3


Report of the Indiana Women's Council of Defense 5

(Excerpts from Report of the Woman’s Section of the Indiana State Council of Defense, Indianapolis, 1919.)


The fiercest opposition to American involvement in World War I hadn’t come from German-Americans or “hyphenated” Americans of any stripe, but from isolationists and Socialists.  Among the most outspoken critics was Indiana native son Eugene V. Debs, who went to prison for protesting the draft, and Wisconsin Senator Robert M. LaFollette.  In the debate over intervention vs. isolation, graphic newspaper illustrations served not only to vilify German militarists — who may have richly deserved such treatment — but also the American labor movement, which criticized the war as a distraction from problems at home.  Socialists and pacifists were labeled enemies and “slackers.”

Thus it comes as no surprise that a number of the books and pamphlets on the 1918 Indiana banned books list weren’t written by German militarists, but by American and British labor activists.


Seymour Daily Republica, Seymour, Indiana, January 30, 1918
Seymour Daily Republican, Seymour, Indiana, January 30, 1918.

One of these books was a pamphlet called Morocco and Armageddon, penned by British pacifist and anti-slavery crusader E.D. Morel.

Anti-slavery?  In 1917?  Morel’s work combating illegal slave trading in the Congo Free State — Belgium’s huge African colony — linked him to British consul Roger Casement.  Their investigations into the atrocities of Belgian King Leopold’s Congo, which shocked the world, figures into the background of Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece Heart of Darkness (1899).  Morel’s investigations into greed and murder were supported by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain, among many others.  The equally anti-imperialist Roger Casement was later executed by the British during World War I under allegations of being a German spy after he helped spark the 1916 Easter Rising of Irish Republicans in Dublin.  Casement’s fate was virtually sealed when the British government published excerpts from his diary that suggested he was a homosexual.

Labor leader Morel’s opposition to World War I, which he considered a distraction from the atrocities of colonialism — including Belgium’s, some of the worst — earned him a spot on the Indiana banned books list just about a year after Casement’s execution.  Morel was also severely critical of the harsh Treaty of Versailles, which many argue was an extension of the demonization of Germany and paved the way for the Second World War.


E.D. Morel
British pacifist E.D. Morel, hero of the investigations into King Leopold’s “Heart of Darkness” in the Congo, was one of the targets of the Indiana State Council of Defense.

Another major name on the list is the great anthropologist Franz Boas.  Born in Germany, Boas came to the U.S. and Canada in the 1880s to study the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic North.  His studies of linguistics and culture made him one of the fathers of modern anthropology and folklore studies.  Boas later taught at Columbia University.  Having famously insisted that the origins of racial inequality are social, not biological, he later clashed with Adolf Hitler.  The German-American anthropologist, who died in New York City in 1942, helped many German and Austrian scientists escape from the Nazis.


Franz Boas
Ethnologist Franz Boas, whose anti-war pamphlet was recommended for censorship in Indiana, demonstrates a “Hamatsa’a coming out of a secret room” ritual from Canada’s West Coast, circa 1895. He would have had to jump through other hoops to keep that book on the shelf.

Boas had a different view of World War I though.  His pamphlet “Nationalism and Europe,” printed by the Germanistic Society of Chicago in 1916 — spelled “Germanatic” in the Hammond, Indiana, newspaper — runs to fifteen pages. While he starts with a dispassionate criticism of Slavic nationalism — which threatened to break up the German domination of central Europe and was one of the main causes of the war — Boas rips into American reasons for getting involved, even specifically criticizing American hypocrisy when it came to “making the world safe for democracy.”  After mentioning the sinking of the USS Maine and the famously yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst that had propelled the U.S. into war against Spain back in 1898, Boas comments:

Boas clip
(From “Nationalism in Europe,” Franz Boas, 1916.)

One of the more disturbing figures to show up on the Indiana list was wrongly identified as “Edward Emerson.”  In fact, this is the controversial and little-known Edwin Emerson, Jr. (1869-1959).  No relation to the American philosopher Ralph Waldo, Edwin Emerson led a strange, complex life, much of it overseas.

Before the Civil War, Emerson’s father had written for Harper’s Magazine and worked with Noah Webster of dictionary fame.  During the war, Emerson, Sr., went to Europe as a secret envoy for Abraham Lincoln, where he tried to prevent England and France from recognizing the Confederacy.  Close to leaders like Otto von Bismarck and William Gladstone, “agent” Emerson was living in Dresden, Germany in 1869, when his son was born there.  Edwin, Jr., seems to have grown up entirely in Germany, but later came to the United States.  He graduated from Harvard in 1891, afterwards writing for the Boston Post and New York Evening Post and Sun as a foreign correspondent.

During the Spanish-American War — the war Franz Boas criticized for being an example of “How Americans Reason” — Emerson served in the Rough Riders with Theodore Roosevelt.  Due to his native fluency in German, however, he posed as a German newspaper correspondent in Puerto Rico.  Actually an American spy, Emerson acquired a critical map and helped spearhead the invasion of the Spanish island.  Colonel Emerson also served as Teddy Roosevelt’s regimental clerk in Cuba.  He then spent some time as a liaison in the Venezuelan army.

After the war, he went to Korea as a war correspondent and was imprisoned by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War.  Then in 1906, in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, Emerson got married in San Francisco — in the house of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (an Indianapolis native).  His new bride had actually declined his offer of marriage.  But he didn’t get her telegram. . . so she married him anyway.


Edwin Emerson, Jr.
Edwin Emerson, Jr., circa 1900. He was also hailed as “one of the world’s most noted fencers — in fact, an outstanding swordsman and international fencing authority.”

Emerson was one of just a handful of American journalists to report on the German side of the struggle during World War I, at a time when he wrote for the Chicago Daily News and other major papers.  In “The Destruction of Louvain,” the pro-German reporter downplayed the horrors of the Rape of Belgium.  As early as 1915, the New York Times had run an article on a speech Emerson was said to have given in Berlin.  The German press quoted him as saying that under similar circumstances, American soldiers would have committed the same outrages on civilians as German troops did at Louvain.  Understandably, this view did not win Emerson friends in America.  His pamphlet explaining his purportedly eyewitness perspective on the Belgian atrocities was banned in Indiana.


Destruction of Louvain


Just after the November 1918 armistice, the news correspondent was in Guatemala, where that country’s president accused him of being a German spy.  In the early 1920’s, he also got expelled from Austria and Switzerland as an undesirable alien and subversive.

Unfortunately, Edwin Emerson Jr.’s, politics soon took a turn for the worse.  By the early 1930’s, this friend of Germany had become one of the most outspoken advocates of Nazism.  In 1933 and 1934, on East 92nd Street in New York City, he helped found the Society of American Friends of Germany.  This group quickly merged with the Chicago-born Friends of the New Germany (Bund der Freunden des Neuen Deutschland), an organization of American Nazis also known as FONG.  The Friends later became the German American Bund, founded in Buffalo, which under police guard paraded through the streets of New York in 1937.  A pro-Aryan organization, forty percent of their membership was allegedly Irish.

The Dresden-born newspaperman, who now edited the first pro-Nazi newspaper in America — Amerikas Deutsches Post — met with the German Führer himself in February 1934.  The monthly paper had an English-language supplement, American Observer.  The German American Bund also published a bilingual weekly, Deutscher Weckruf und Beobachter (Wake-Up Call and Observer.)  In 1937, that paper became a youth magazine, but stopped publishing after Pearl Harbor.


Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (Milwaukee, WI), September 22, 1933
(Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, Milwaukee, Wis., September 22, 1933.) Emerson was placed on a list of suspected Nazi spies submitted to Congress in 1937 by Samuel Dickstein, a Jewish Congressman from New York. In 2000, Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, uncovered Soviet documents suggesting that Dickstein himself may have been a spy for the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police.

The homegrown National Socialist groups that Emerson supported held multiple rallies at Madison Square Garden, events estimated to have drawn crowds of up to 50,000.  Just like during the First World War, individuals who opposed entry into the Second had complicated reasons that often strayed far from mere pacifism.  The controversial and probably anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh, “fallen hero,” was among them.  Whether he deserved it or not, Lindbergh’s career was destroyed.

An author of books on Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Halley’s Comet and the Gutenberg Bible, Edwin Emerson, Jr., died in 1959 in San Francisco, California.  He was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery — under a Rough Rider’s tombstone.