Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Wardhaugh, Robert


This dissertation examines how German-American and German-Canadian Lutherans in St. Louis, Missouri, and Waterloo County, Ontario, constructed their ethnic identities from the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 to 1970. Did German Lutherans understand their ethnicity as an identity to overcome, or as an identity worth preserving? What role did religion and race play in how they constructed their ethnic identities? It argues that German Lutherans in the Missouri and Canada Synods constructed a hybrid identity that sought to balance their competing ethnic, religious, racial, and national identities. It charts their experiences negotiating discrimination during the Second World War, their efforts to bring German immigrants to North America through lobbying for immigration policy changes, and their struggles to resist pressures to assimilate throughout the postwar period. Contrary to popular assumptions, German Lutherans did not abandon their ethnic identities during the twentieth century, but rather continued to practice a German ethnic identity within the ethnic boundary zones of their churches. They continued to justify speaking German as a theological necessity, formed alliances with new German refugees and displaced persons to continue their ethnic traditions, and resisted exclusionary mainstream Anglo-Canadian and American nationalisms by advocating for a pluralistic understanding of their past through cultural and commemorative events.

By drawing on developments in critical race theory and whiteness studies, this dissertation argues that “whiteness” or a white racial identity is essential for understanding how German Lutherans constructed an ethnic identity. While it was controversial during and after the Second World War to openly identify as German, German Lutherans successfully mitigated these stigmas through their white privilege and ability to form political alliances with white government officials. Moreover, German Lutherans maintained an ethnic identity because they excluded other immigrants and racialized North Americans from attending their congregations by supporting Jim Crow segregation. By keeping their churches white, they were also able to keep their churches “German.” This study urges immigration historians to look more closely at how whiteness and ethnicity in the twentieth century reinforce, rather than replace, one another.