On April 6, 1917 the United States joined its allies and officially entered World War I. Patriotism was at an all time high and Americans furiously attacked any traces of German culture in the country. German place names were changed, German books and newspapers were burned in the streets, and sauerkraut was even renamed “Liberty Cabbage.” The growing opposition to German culture came to a head on October 30, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra took the stage in Providence, Rhode Island. The chief executive of the symphony, Henry Lee Higginson denied a request to include The Star-Spangled Banner in the program that evening stating that patriotic tunes had “no place in an art concert.” The refusal to play the national anthem eventually led to the ruin of the orchestra’s German-born conductor, Karl Muck. The opposition to Muck was part of a larger campaign in the United States to eliminate German music and musicians from the country. Several wealthy Americans were involved in this cause, but none of them were as passionate and determined as Lucie Oelrichs Jay.
Lucie Oelrichs Jay (1854-1931) was the wife of Colonel William Jay (1841-1915), John Jay’s great-grandson. Her father was Henry Oelrichs, a wealthy German immigrant who founded Oelrichs & Co. Steamship Company in Baltimore in the mid-19th century. Her father’s wealth allowed Lucie to study in Europe as a young woman and become friends with the New York elite.
Starting in late 1917, the widowed Mrs. Jay threw herself into the campaign against German music. Mrs. Jay was a subscriber to The Chronicle, a short-lived invitation-only magazine aimed at wealthy New Yorkers. Right after the Providence concert the November issue of The Chronicle was published. That issue included the first-ever published article by Mrs. Jay entitled, German Music and German Opera. Using her position as the only woman on the board of the New York Philharmonic as credential, Mrs. Jay asserted that German instrumental music was acceptable to American audiences but stated: “to give the German operas, particularly those by Wagner, at this time would be a great mistake. Given as they must be in the German language and depicting in many cases scenes of violence and conflict they must inevitably draw our minds back to the spirit of greed and barbarism which has led to so much suffering.”
On November 2nd the New York Times quoted Mrs. Jay’s article and reported that the Metropolitan Opera was discussing her demands. The following day the Met announced that it would suspend performances of German operas and German singers for the duration of the war.
The Chronicle continued to publish articles and opinion pieces about the need to remove German music from performance. In December 1917 it credited Mrs. Jay’s article as the sole reason the Met eliminated the German works from its performance schedule. In January 1918, it claimed that Wagner’s Ring Cycle was an allegory for current events and should not be played. And in February 1918 The Chronicle praised the resignation of both the president and treasurer of the Philharmonic board claiming they were both German pacifists. In truth, The Chronicle was nothing more then a propaganda publication. And since its subscribers were wealthy New Yorkers, many whom were patrons of the arts, it was the perfect vehicle for the attacking of German culture in America, most specifically music.
By March of 1918, Lucie Jay had become the face of the Anti-German music movement. After getting both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic to cancel German musical performances, she renewed calls for the ousting of Karl Muck in The Chronicle with “Doktor Muck Must Go.” She urged New Yorkers to boycott the upcoming performances of the Boston Symphony scheduled to take place at Carnegie Hall. The performances went on as scheduled but had to be performed under police guard due to protests.
On March 25, Karl Muck was arrested as an enemy alien. Muck had moved to Switzerland as a young boy and became a Swiss citizen at 21. But that didn’t matter; he was German by birth. Prior to his arrest, it was also discovered that Muck was having an affair with a 20-year-old woman. That allowed him to be portrayed as both subversive and immoral. Muck spent more than a year in an interment camp in Georgia, along with 29 other German- born members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Muck was deported in August 1919, never to return to the United States.
In December 1919, newspapers in Boston and New York published full accounts of Muck’s arrest. It was revealed that Muck had asked his mistress to burn letters he had written her, she did not, and they were discovered by police. The newspapers published excerpts revealing a mix of incriminating details that showed Muck to be both infatuated with the girl and still very much in love with Germany. “It will be only a very short time when our gracious Kaiser will act upon my request and recall me to Berlin,” he wrote. Once there, “our Kaiser will be prevailed upon to see the benefit to the Fatherland in my obtaining a divorce and making you my own.” In another letter Muck stated that he wanted to return to Germany sooner, but had agreed to stay in the United States at the request of Germany’s ambassador to America: “He insisted I am the fatherland’s most valuable servant in this country. In the name of our gracious Kaiser he begged me to remain here.” There is no evidence that Muck provided any information to the Germans or was working as an agent for the German government. Upon returning to Germany, Muck would have many more successful years as a conductor before dying in 1940.
Riding high off Muck’s arrest, Lucie Jay’s crusade was in full swing. By August 1918 she was openly campaigning against all German music and began asking her friends in Newport, Rhode Island not to include any music by German composers in their private home concerts. She protested publicly about the inclusion of German music in concerts in Newport, Bar Harbor, Maine and New York City. In April she formed the “Committee for the Severance of All Social and Professional Relations with Enemy Sympathizers,” whose public protests against an array of targets were reported on nationwide. The committee’s first campaign was launched against the Irish Progressive League which Mrs. Jay alleged was “for the purpose of stirring up trouble for England, and would, therefore, be pro-German in its results.”
Even after the Armistice, Lucie continued to protest German music. In March 1919 she founded the “Anti-German Music League.” The league believed that German music was such an insidious form of cultural poison that it should not be tolerated in any form, including instrumental. She stated, “I pledge myself to boycott all concerts, artists and institutions which continue the exploitation of German music and German kultur before the world is assured of Germany’s reformation and repentance.” In a protest against several planned concerts of German music that spring she accused the performers of attempting, “to inculcate the Germanic spirit in the souls of young persons of German extraction and also to prolong the Germanism of natives of the Fatherland.” Her threats and arguments did not produce the desired results. The concerts went on as planned and without incident.
After her failed attempts at halting the concerts, Lucie and the Anti-German Music League were silent for most of May and June. On June 28, 1919 Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles and Lucie released a statement to the press:
“Peace has come at last! Germany is on her knees before outraged but forgiving humanity. Since our entry into the World War I, I have stood firmly and consistently against the performances of German opera, German plays, and German music. The committee and league which I founded uncovered ample evidence that German propaganda lurked in these apparently harmless entertainments, while victory was in the laps of the gods, and a ‘soft’ peace was a remote and unfair possibility.
Now all is changed. No further protests against the German productions, whenever and wherever given in the United States will come from me, for I know that henceforth materialism will weigh too heavily against pro-German attitude, and I pray that the former friends of German Kultur will uphold the principles of freedom, honesty and justice, which they see triumphant and everlasting.” After twenty months of relentless campaigning and presenting an uncompromising opposition to all aspects of German culture, Lucie Jay ceased her campaign as quickly as it begun.
There are many unanswered questions about why Lucie Jay fought so fervently against German music and culture. Some researchers speculate that she may have been fearful of her status as the daughter of a German immigrant. Should her loyalty be questioned, it could have put her position in New York society at risk. Art and music were the predominate sphere for the women of high society in New York, so proving their patriotism through music is a natural fit. Walter Damrosch, the German born conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra was a target of Mrs. Jay and the members of her organizations. In 1923 Damrosch wrote: “There was in New York, a small but noisy group led by a few women who sought to demonstrate their ‘patriotism’ by hysterical outbursts and newspaper protests against the performance of all music composed by Germans, no matter how many years ago. Some of these women, through the curious psychosis of war, really thought they were serving their country by the protests.”
The post-war years saw a continuation of the strong anti-German sentiment in the country. Changes had already been made by operas and orchestras with more emphasis put on Italian and French performances and a withdrawal of German works. This trend continued, leaving a space for the emergence of American compositions. Music historian E. Douglas Bomberger argues that homegrown musical traditions benefitted from the wartime demonization of German music and musicians. 1917 saw the rapid rise of jazz, which had the credential of being 100% American. Jazz’s nationalist allure may help to explain why it became so popular amongst an otherwise racist white population. Bomberger writes, “The challenge to traditional musical authority may be seen as a symbol of the American military challenge to traditional European authority.”
Lucie Oelrichs Jay died on January 30, 1931 at the age of 76. Her obituary ran in the New York Times the next day. It read, “At the time of the World War, Mrs. Jay founded the New York City Anti-German Music League and led continuous campaign against German operas, German plays and all forms of German music. She was prominent in the opposition to Dr. Karl Muck, then conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.” In the end, Lucie’s work with the Anti-German cause turned out to be one of her life’s proudest achievements.