October is National Newspaper Month and in years past I took advantage of the observance to promote newspapers and newspaper readership. I left the newspaper industry in 2007 but I still have ink in my blood.
The industry has change dramatically in recent years but I’m still an avid reader. I regularly read two dailies and three weeklies and more if I can get my hands on them.
Something many Iowans may not know is that more than a century ago numerous foreign language newspapers were published in our state.
There were a number of German-language newspapers in Iowa. Among them were Der Carroll Demokrat, Der Dubuque National-Demokrat, Sioux City Volksfreund, The Phoenix and Iowa Volksblatt in Waverly and Des Moines’ Die Iowa Post.
As immigrants from other nations came to Iowa newspapers in their languages popped up around the state. In 1874 Norwegian-born Brynild Anundsen founded a Norwegian language newspaper in Decorah. The Decorah-Posten was read by Scandinavian immigrants in several states.
Foreign language newspapers were common in Iowa until May 1916 when Governor William Harding proclaimed that English was the only language to be used in public. Thankfully, that rule was short-lived.
My German-born grandfather was a loyal reader of the longest running German newspaper in Iowa, Die Ostfriesische Nachrichten (The East Frisian News) which was published in Breda in Carroll County from 1882-1973.
Nettie Arends Klaver lived her entire life in the East Frisian community of Kamrar, Iowa, my ancestral hometown and where I spent my teen years. Nettie read and saved copies of the Nachrichten for many years and several months ago her grandson (and my cousin,) Keith Gelder, gave me a large manila envelope stuffed full of old, yellowed copies from Nettie’s collection.
My knowledge of standard German is minimal and all of the type in the Nachrichten is the Old German Gothic (Fraktur) style, making it even more difficult to read. However, a bit of knowledge, the Google translator a lot of patience helped me appreciate the old newspapers.
The content of the Nachrichten included news from East Friesland in northwest Germany and from East Frisian communities in America, primarily in the Midwest. The content included obituaries of immigrants, usually written by the decedent’s pastor who was often the most educated member of the community. Each issue also included a list of deaths in East Friesland.
In the March 1, 1900, issue of the Nachrichten I found a Kamrar dateline. The story began, “A sad death reported from here is that of the young wife of Mino Hemmen (nee Olthoff.) After a three-day illness she succumbed to blood poisoning…” The article continued with more details and an obituary.
In the same issue, a story from Manson, Iowa, read, “We have a really nice winter here and a little snow including a pretty blizzard. The farmers are bringing in a lot of oats and grains…” I had trouble with that translation; I can’t imagine a “pretty” blizzard.
By 1922 some of the East Frisian immigrants were becoming prosperous and the Nachrichten included ads for banks in Renville, Minn., as well as Parkersburg and George, Iowa. All three advertised their financial strength to the thrifty East Frisians.
Like their Dutch kin, many East Frisian immigrants wore wooden shoes which they called “holzsohlen.” An ad in an 1895 issue of the Nachricthen featured “Hollandische Holzsohlen,” Dutch wooden shoes, made in Freeport, Illinois.
In a 1902 issue one John B. DeNeui advertised, “A good farm for sale 5 miles from George Iowa.” No price was listed. George, in northwest Iowa, remains a strong East Frisian community to this day.
A small group of East Frisians settled in Texas in the 19th century. A 1902 Nachrichten story with a dateline of New Fountain, Texas, began, “Today Fritz Munnint was married to Anna Schuble…”
Die Ostfriesische Nachrichten published longer than any other German newspaper in Iowa. It was the newspaper East Frisians in America depended on.
(Arvid Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)