Caroline C. Morris
“It iss much better to haf patches on de pants, than on de heart, vot?” In the fall of 1912, longtime La Crosse resident Marian Dorset received this postcard from a friend traveling in Moscow, Idaho. In the early twentieth century, ethnic caricatures were common in popular culture, and reflected a country that was coming to terms with its changing demography. In the 1910s, a large portion of Midwestern families had one or more members who were immigrants, and had brought the language and customs of the “Old Country” with them. Even families with multiple generations of American-born children observed ethnically distinct traditions. While ethnic caricatures were often deployed as insults intended to undermine the subject, there was also sometimes a hint of affection, as this postcard illustrates.
Postcards depicting child-like, round Dutch characters speaking in accented English were common in Iowa and Wisconsin in the 1910s. Although the Midwest had its share of Dutch immigrants, there were relatively few compared to the large numbers of German, Scandinavian, and Polish immigrants. While ethnic stereotypes of Norwegians and Germans abounded in early-twentieth-century America, perhaps the postcards’ printer felt safer caricaturing a smaller group. A caricature, after all, creates a division between “us” and “them,” which is the source of the humor, and the insult. By poking some fun at cartoonish Dutch characters, maybe the recent immigrants of the Midwest felt more like “us" and less like "them."
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.