If you dig into the history of any state across the country, you're bound to find some pretty strange old laws. Believe it or not, some are still on the books and active, but many of them have been repealed over the years thanks to lawmakers catching up with the times. One of those hard-to-believe laws that once existed was the firm outlawing of teaching and speaking French in schools in Maine.

Maine's Response to a National Trend

Empty Classroom
Gilles Glod

According to Francomainestories.net, a law was passed on April 1st of 1919 that prohibited any teaching or speaking of the French language in any school across the state of Maine. The law was passed as a response to a growing belief in 'Americanism' after World War I. English was considered the language of the United States, and the teaching and speaking of any language other than English was seen as un-American.


Were There Penalties for Disobeying?

Absolutely. Many northern Maine communities still used the French language as their primary language in the early 1900s. Students who were caught conversing in French in school could be penalized in a variety of ways, included detention, suspension, or public humiliation. If an educator was found to be speaking or teaching French against the law, they could face much more severe penalties including fines, suspension, or termination of their job.

Close-up of Wooden gavel with golden scales of justice and books on background

The Law Stuck Around for a Long Time

For more than four decades, the English-only in schools law stayed in place for schools in Maine. It was finally repealed in the 1960s, and eventually, French language returned to being taught in some schools across the state. But the law had substantial effect to Franco-American families. Generations of those families lost their fluent understanding and speaking of the French language.


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