History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in: Languages in Conflict: Linguistic Acculturation on the Great Plains, ed. Paul Schach (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1980), pp. 1-19.


Copyright 1980 University of Nebraska.


A major effect of World War I on American social history was that it focused attention on the nation's apparent difficulty in assimilating the millions of immigrants and their children who had streamed to the United States during the preceding two decades. The national mood, darkened by fears and resentments of long standing and deepened by systematic wartime propaganda, favored the adoption of stringent laws limiting the use of foreign languages, especially in the schools. During the war itself, restrictions were usually extralegal and often the consequences of intense social pressure recklessly applied. After the war, however, many state legislatures enacted measures that were highly restrictive. The denouement of the movement came in 1923 when the United States Supreme Court declared one of these laws, Nebraska's Siman Act, to be unconstitutional.