Date of Award

Spring 2002

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

David Messenger

Second Advisor

Rev. Jeremiah Sullivan

Third Advisor

Louisa Frank

Abstract

American governments and industries advertised heavily in Germany to attract new immigrants. Conditions in Germany pushed emigrants out and the majority chose the United States as a place to settle. Germans were especially fascinated by the idea of America’s West. Many German immigrants followed their dreams of the West to Montana. They arrived with the Territory’s gold rush and kept coming until after the State’s homestead boom. German-Americans settled and stayed, becoming one of Montana’s largest non-English speaking ethnic groups. The United States' first ethnically German president was elected in the 1950s; Montana’s first ethnically German governor came before Montana was a state.3 Montana’s Germans were involved in nearly every level and organization in Montana as Catholics and Protestants, stockmen and farmers, miners and bankers, radicals and nonpartisans. Helena’s Germans were just as diverse and involved. In the period from 1864 to 1919, they came in two waves, first at the city's founding and then after the railroad made its way to Helena. Most of them had settled in the mid-west, before coming to Montana. Some of these immigrants came to the city wealthy; others came with very little and built up local businesses. Occupationally, the city's German-Americans were predominately service providers. Helena's German community was exceptional. They were successful not only economically, but also ethnically. German-Americans participated in nearly every local organization, but they also formed ethnic societies. These societies cultivated music, theater, education, art, architecture, and culture in Helena. The affection they showed to their ethnic community was not at odds with their devotion to Helena and the United States. Their German community blended seamlessly into Helena’s community, which joined in German cultural activities. German-American economic and community leadership helped secure and direct Helena from the city’s inception. Through emigrating Germans, conditions and policies in Europe directly affected Helena. In the early twentieth century, Europe’s actions and the United States' response, fundamentally changed Helena’s community once more. World War I started a tidal wave of anti-German paranoia that swept Montana and almost washed away Helena’s German community.

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