This engaging history of one of the largest ethnic groups in Illinois explores the influence and experiences of German immigrants and their descendants from their arrival in the middle of the nineteenth century to their heritage identity today. Coauthors Miranda E. Wilkerson and Heather Richmond examine the primary reasons that Germans came to Illinois and describe how they adapted to life and distinguished themselves through a variety of occupations and community roles.
The promise of cheap land and fertile soil in rural areas and emerging industries in cities attracted three major waves of German-speaking immigrants to Illinois in search of freedom and economic opportunities. Before long the state was dotted with German churches, schools, cultural institutions, and place names. German churches served not only as meeting places but also as a means of keeping language and culture alive. Names of Illinois cities and towns of German origin include New Baden, Darmstadt, Bismarck, and Hamburg. In Chicago, many streets, parks, and buildings bear German names, including Altgeld Street, Germania Place, Humboldt Park, and Goethe Elementary School. Some of the most lively and ubiquitous organizations, such as Sängerbunde, or singer societies, and the Turnverein, or Turner Society, also preserved a bit of the Fatherland.
Exploring the complex and ever-evolving German American identity in the growing diversity of Illinois’s linguistic and ethnic landscape, this book contextualizes their experiences and corrects widely held assumptions about assimilation and cultural identity. Federal census data, photographs, lively biographical sketches, and newly created maps bring the complex story of German immigration to life. The generously illustrated volume also features detailed notes, suggestions for further reading, and an annotated list of books, journal articles, and other sources of information.