Pledge of Allegiance Controversy
During World War I Volney G. Barnes, principal of Madison High School, addressed the student body at a school assembly on the subject of loyalty, then asked “every boy and girl who feels in their heart that he or she can support the government of the United States to please rise, salute the flag, and repeat the pledge to the flag.” All the students did.
George Kroncke, president of the school board, was a prominent German-American in a town with a large number of citizens of German descent. Two days after the school assembly, Kroncke called on Barnes, “paced up and down the room, rapped on the desk and said ‘that the thing must not be repeated, that he decidedly objected to it because it forced some to declare allegiance in contradiction to conviction or suffer embarrassment by refusal.’”
Barnes took his case to the newspapers. Petitions and editorials promptly appeared, calling for Kroncke’s resignation. Said the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal: “Anybody who would for one second question the propriety of the children of free-born Americans in the free schools of the capital of a great American commonwealth saluting the American flag is absolutely unfit to be on the governing board of American free schools.”
The Wisconsin State Journal placed a mail-in ballot in the paper, asking whether Kroncke should resign or keep his job. After the ballots were tabulated, there were 1,400 votes in favor of Kroncke’s resignation and nine against. The nine included Kroncke himself, one entire family, three anonymous individuals, two people from outside Madison, and ‘Kaiser Wilhelm.’
In an oral history tape transcribed by Lucille Miller, she recounted another series of incidents.
“I was in seventh grade (at Lincoln School) in World War I, and you know Mr. La Follette, his family was against World War I. We had Mrs. Eagan. She was the patriot. She had the kids doing everything. We bought stamps and we did all kinds of things. Red Cross and all. Well, I didn’t do any of it. I refused to do it because I wasn’t for the war. I maybe couldn’t explain it, but I wasn’t supporting war. Period. I didn’t do any of it. Well, when it came time to finish seventh grade, they said I hadn’t finished it. In the summertime we always went to the country. That meant every morning I had to get up and go to summer school. Then I went in eighth grade and when it came time to graduate they said I hadn’t finished (because I hadn’t done the war project). But Momma and Daddy decided I had. So they went to Mr. Dudgeon (the superintendent of schools). He studied it and he decided I had finished eighth grade.”