By Greg Hoots
On April 6, 1917 at 1:11 pm, President Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration of war passed by both houses of the United States Congress, launching America into World War I against Imperial Germany. Later, that same day, Wilson announced a series of regulations defining and controlling “enemy aliens”, or non-naturalized immigrants, primarily targeting those of Germanic heritage. Non-naturalized Germans were barred from owning firearms, visiting Washington D.C., traveling to the nation’s beaches, operating a wireless radio or an airplane, changing residences, or speaking against the United States government.
A wave of nationalistic fervor swept across America, as those who had once been neighbors were suddenly viewed with suspicion and mistrust because of their national origin. On November 16, 1917, President Wilson continued to expand the restrictions on immigrants of German heritage, announcing the registration requirements for all “enemy alien” men of fourteen years of age or older. A month later, on December 11, 1917, immigrants of Austro-Hungarian heritage were required to register. On April 16, 1918, the requirement for registration was extended to women. In this regard, the law was nonsensical. Native-born American women who had chosen to marry a non-naturalized male were suddenly subject to all of the requirements of their “enemy alien” husband. Wilson’s edict prohibited all enemy aliens from attaining their citizenship from that point forward, ultimately, until after the end of the war.
By the time the registration deadline had arrived, more than a half-million United States residents were required to register under the Justice Department’s “enemy alien” regulations. In tiny Wabaunsee County, Kansas with a total population of slightly over 11,000 residents, 681 people were required to register under the enemy alien laws.
The enemy aliens were required to report to a government office, in some cases the police station, the United States Marshal’s office, or a United States Post Office in the area where they resided. There, they were required to answer a number of questions concerning their immigration to America, as well as the identity of any relatives of the enemy alien who were a member of the German armed forces. They were required to provide four “mugshot” photos, and the enemy alien was required to submit to fingerprinting.
Many of the enemy aliens would be considered “dreamers”, today. They immigrated to America with their parents at a very young age and had no memories of their life in Europe and were unable to provide details of their coming to America.
On November 11, 1918 the war came to an end, leaving the half-million enemy aliens in a state of limbo, as they were still bound by Wilson’s enemy alien edict. In an attempt to bring unity to the nation after the war, President Wilson nullified his earlier enemy alien regulations on December 25, 1918, and the stigma of the enemy of the state moniker was erased. Almost 6,000 Kansas residents were forced to register as enemy aliens during the year 1918.
Across the country, most of the enemy alien registration forms were destroyed or lost sometime after President Wilson’s edict was annulled. A handful of states’ records were saved, including all of the registration forms for Kansas. The National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri keeps those records, and all of the Kansas registration records can be accessed at the National Archives website.
In preparing this article, I randomly selected thirty enemy aliens from Wabaunsee County and copied their records from the National Archives. Those registration forms are displayed at the very end of this story. Of those thirty registrations, I selected six of the enemy aliens to profile their lives. Those individual stories follow.
Albert Dieball was born in 1842 in Germany and came to America with his parents in the fall of 1856, homesteading in Wabaunsee County, Kansas in 1857, four years before Kansas statehood. In 1859 Albert became a teamster, driving oxen teams to Salt Lake City, Utah and Santa Fe, New Mexico. In September of 1862, Albert enlisted in the 11th Kansas Cavalry, fighting in Civil War battles in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and he served with the 11th at the Platte River in Nebraska.
After his discharge in 1865, Albert returned to Wabaunsee County and settled on the West Branch of Mill Creek, just west of Alma. He married Rosa Miller in in 1871, and when she gave birth to Albert’s first son in 1872, Rosa died. Albert remarried Anna Thoes in 1873, and the couple had five more children. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have continued to operate the family farm in rural Wabaunsee County to this day.
When enemy alien, Albert Dieball registered on February 18, 1918, he was 75-years old, he had lived on the same farm for fifty-three years, had served his country in the protection of the Union, and his “left eye was almost blind”.
Insofar as Wabaunsee County had so many German immigrant residents, the regulations left some people embittered and outraged. The Alma Signal of February 21, 1918 made these observations, directed at the registration requirement for Dieball: “A number of our most worthy citizens have been compelled to register as alien enemies; a man who served this country and bared his breast to preserve the Union being one. it seemed to us that this requirement was altogether wrong–that a Union soldier should be required to now sign as an alien enemy”
Albert Stuewe was born on April 29, 1854 in Germany and immigrated to America with eleven members of the Stuewe family in 1871. The family originally homesteaded near Beloit, Kansas where they ranched and operated a stone quarry. In 1883 Albert and his brother, Ferdinand moved to Alma, founding the Stuewe Brothers Creamery on the northwest edge of town. The brothers began ranching, raising cattle, hogs, horses and mules, and Albert and his brothers, Ferdinand and John founded the Bank of Alma.
Albert married Bertha Strasen of Alma and the couple had five children, Edward “Butch”, Rudolph, Pauline, Arthur and William. Albert Stuewe became one of the most prominent and successful stockmen in Wabaunsee County, residing in Alma until his death in 1934.
As the deadline for registration for enemy alien males came, The Alma Enterprise of February 22, 1918 noted, “The (alien enemy) registration closed Wednesday. A lot of fellows who supposed they were good American citizens found out that they could not prove it when they began to hunt around for the proof. The only man who made anything out of it was Gus Meier, the photographer. It certainly caused business to pick up for him, as each registrant had to furnish four photos.”
In February of 1922, Albert Stuewe was granted citizenship in the United States in a ceremony performed in the Wabaunsee County District Court in Alma, Kansas.
Ruth Pennock Noller was born on January 21, 1892 in Alma, Kansas, the oldest of the three children of George Pennock, a Michigan native, and Martha Ketterman Pennock, of Lawrence, Kansas. Ruth attended the Alma, Kansas schools, and upon graduation, she became an operator for the telephone exchange in Alma.
Ruth met and married a local boy from Alma, Christ Noller. The Nollers were a well-respected family in Alma, operating a mercantile at 224 Missouri Street in the early 1900s, located next door to the telephone exchange. By 1920, the Nollers had opened their first car dealership in Alma.
When Ruth and Christ wed, neither had any expectation that they would soon be labeled enemies of the state and be required to register, much like common criminals or, perhaps, spies. In fact, the stigma of registration often followed those so labeled. Such was evident in the April 26, 1918 edition The Alma Enterprise which proclaimed in the headline, “A Law for Women Spies Now.” The story, dated April 20, declares, “President Wilson signed today the bill extending provisions of the Espionage Act to women and requiring registration of women enemy aliens.”
Ruth Pennock Noller, an American citizen who had never left Alma, Kansas, her place of birth, had been labeled an enemy of the state.
Martha Hauer Ringel, the daughter of Carl Wilhelm Hauer and Mary Wenzel Hauer, was born on September 29, 1891 at the Hauer’s rural Volland, Kansas farm. Martha was the middle child of seven kids born to the German immigrant couple. Martha spent her youth on the family farm located on Drovers Trail Road, just northwest of Volland, and she received her education at the Volland District 26 one-room school.
Ferdinand Ernest Ringel was born on May 4, 1879 in Germany, the son of Ferdinand and Caroline Krueger Ringel. When he was just four years old, his parents immigrated to the United States, coming directly to Wabaunsee County. The elder Ferdinand Ringel operated a restaurant in McFarland, Kansas with his brother, Herman in the 1910s. Ferdinand grew up in McFarland, a bustling railroad hub in Wabaunsee County.
On February 5, 1913 Ferdinand Ernest Ringel married Martha Sophia Hauer at St. John Lutheran Church in Alma. In November of 1917, the couple moved to Volland to attend to Martha’s widowed mother. The Ringels were residing at Volland when the enemy alien regulations were imposed. Martha’s mother passed away in 1918, and in early 1919 the Ringels moved to a farm on Hendricks Creek, northwest of Alma, Kansas. Ferdinand and Martha raised five sons on their Wabaunsee County farm where they lived for more than fifty years. Martha died on June 27, 1970 and Ferd passed away on October 2nd of the same year.
William Henry Weith was born on April 1, 1891 in Germany, the son of Karl and Johanna Weith. When William was only a year old, his parents immigrated to the United States, landing in Baltimore before moving to Paxico, Kansas to begin farming in 1892.
When the draft was enacted in May of 1917, William registered for the draft, as was required by law. Wabaunsee County had 1,018 eligible men who were in the draft pool, and William Weith was included in the first call-ups from Wabaunsee County. Weith was sent to Camp Pike, Arkansas an infantry training camp for the U.S. Army near Little Rock. After four and a half months in the Army, William Weith was notified that he was being discharged from the army because he was an enemy alien. Weith was sent immediately to the Little Rock Police Department where he was forced to complete his enemy alien registration complete with mugshots (in his U.S. Army uniform) and fingerprints, before returning to his home in rural Paxico, Kansas.
In February of 1922, William Henry Weith was granted citizenship in the United States of America in a ceremony performed in the Wabaunsee County District Court in Alma, Kansas.
While 4.7 million Americans served with honor in the United States armed forces during World War I, the actions of President Woodrow Wilson in declaring more than a half a million honest and loyal Americans as enemies of the state were disgraceful. The enemy alien registrations served absolutely no purpose and accomplished no goals, while the cost to liberty was high.
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