Beobachter Helped German Immigrants

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, March 1995

German Americans have long constituted one of the largest ethnic populations in the United States. Immigrants from the various German states flooded into America, especially during the 1830s-1850s. Substantial numbers stayed in eastern cities, while others went to the Midwest to farm or trade, creating large German-American communities in cities like St. Louis and Milwaukee. Thousands came to Utah as well, part of the influx of converts to the LDS church from northern Europe. From 1890 to 1935, and again briefly in 1955, the Salt Lake City Beobachter (“Observer”) served German language speakers as an important link with the old country as well as an instrument of acculturation to a new country and a new religious faith.

German Americans in Utah made great efforts to assimilate into American society. Unlike some other ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, Greeks, and Italians who mostly came to Utah as unskilled, poorly paid labor, many of the German immigrants came from the middle and upper socioeconomic levels, with a high rate of literacy. The Utah Germans tended to look to the Mormon hierarchy for direction, which encouraged acculturation.

The Beobachter followed a number of previous German-language newspapers, including the Intelligenz-Blatt, which it closely resembled. The first publisher, owner, and editor was Joseph Harvey Ward, a native-born American who had served an LDS mission to Germany. The first issue, August 9, 1890, set a pattern that the paper long followed. It called for tolerance of immigrants, attacked the Liberal (anti-Mormon) party, and featured many news stories and letters from Germany. The paper also carried articles about American history as well as LDS material, which would increase over time. Beginning about the time of the Boer War (1899-1902), the paper adopted a tough anti-British stance that continued into the World War I years.

When Ward died in 1905 the LDS church bought controlling interest in the Beobachter, and the paper continued much as it had before. Its editorial stance was generally Republican in politics, with strong support for woman suffrage and a general sympathy for the rights of labor versus capital. In July 1914 its masthead began carrying the words “German Organ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

World War I caused agonizing problems for German Americans, problems that were reflected in the Beobachter’s pages. The paper staunchly defended German motives, blaming the outbreak of war in 1914 on other nations and countering anti-German propaganda. With the US entry into the war against Germany in 1917, the Beobachter again reflected conflicting German-American loyalties. The paper’s editors swore loyalty to the US while calling on immigrants to remember and honor their ancestry. In 1918 they added this statement to the masthead: “American in Everything but the Language.”

The paper continued until 1935, covering Hitler’s rise without much editorial comment, although it condemned the Nazis’ anti-Semitism and what it called the “un-Christian” nature of the regime. The Beobachter steadily lost readership; the 1921 Immigration Act had stopped most Germans from immigrating, while the first and second generations in Utah lost their ties with the old country and gradually died out. In 1923 the LDS church established the Associated Newspapers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an umbrella organization for its foreign-language papers. Thereafter, all papers had the same content, except for news from the homeland, and shared a common executive editor. The Beobachter was discontinued when the church considered it no longer financially viable. The title was briefly revived in 1955 but failed after several issues.

Sources: Salt Lake Beobachter, microfilm, Utah State Historical Society Library; Thomas L. Broadbent, “The Salt Lake Beobachter: Mirror of an Immigration,” Utah Historical Quarterly 26 (1958): 329-52.