Turners (German: Turner) are members of German-American gymnastic clubs called Turnerverein. They promoted German culture, physical culture, liberal politics, and supportive Union war effort during the American Civil War. Turners, especially Francis Lieber, 1798–1872, were the leading sponsors of gymnastics as an American sport and the field of academic study.
In Germany a major gymnastic movement was started by Turnvater ("father of gymnastics") Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in the early 19th century when Germany was occupied by Napoleon. The Turnvereine ("gymnastic unions"; from German turnen meaning “to practice gymnastics,” and Verein meaning “club, union”) were not only athletic, but also political, reflecting their origin in similar "nationalistic gymnastic" organizations in Europe. The Turner movement in Germany was generally liberal in nature, and many Turners took part in the Revolution of 1848.
After its defeat, the movement was suppressed and many Turners left Germany, some emigrating to the United States, especially to the Ohio Valley region. Several of these Forty-Eighters went on to become Union soldiers, and some became Republican politicians. Besides serving as physical education, social, political and cultural organizations for German immigrants, Turners were also active in public education and the labor movements. They were leaving promoters of gymnastics in the United States as a sport, and as a school subject. In the United States, the movement declined after 1900, and especially after 1917.
History in the United States
The Turnvereine made a contribution to the integration of German-Americans into their new home. The organizations continue to exist in areas of heavy German immigration, such as Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Syracuse, NY, Kentucky, New York City, and Los Angeles.
About 1000 were Northern soldiers during the Civil War. Anti-slavery was a common element, as typified by Carl Schurz, In many Republican leaders in German communities were members. However most German-Americans probably were Democrats in the 19th century. They provided the bodyguard at his Abraham Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, and at his funeral in April 1865. In the Camp Jackson Affair, a large force of German volunteers helped prevent Confederate forces from seizing the government arsenal in St. Louis just prior to the beginning of the war. After the Civil War the national organization took a new name, NordAmerikanischer Turnerbund" and supported German language teaching in the public high schools, As well as gymnastics. Women's auxiliaries were formed in the 1850s and 1860s. The pig membership came in 1894, with 317 societies and about 40,000 Adult male members, along with 25,000 children and 3000 women.
Like other German-American groups the Turners experienced suspicion during World War I, Even though by this time they had very little contact with Germany. The German language Teaching ended in many schools and universities, and The federal government impose severe restrictions on German language Publications. The younger generation generally demanded the switch to exclusive use of the English language in society affairs, allowing many Turner societies continued to function.
Cultural assimilation and the two World Wars with Germany took a gradual toll on membership, with some halls closing and others becoming regular dance halls, bars or bowling alleys. Fifty-four Turner societies still existed around the U.S. as of 2011. The current headquarters of the American Turners is in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1948, the U.S. Post Office issued a 3-cent commemorative stamp marking the 100th anniversary of the movement in the United States.
The Sacramento, California Turnverein, founded in 1854, claims to be the oldest still in existence in the United States. The Turnverein Vorwaerts of Fort Wayne, Indiana, owned the Hugh McCulloch House from 1906 until 1966.:2 It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Vintage photos of the Milwaukee Turnverein
Other Wisconsin Turners in 1915
Jahn Monument in Berlin with memorial plaques from American Turnvereine
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- "Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD)" (Searchable database). Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Retrieved July 1, 2015. Note: This includes Karen Anderson (November 1979). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Hugh McCulloch House" (PDF). Retrieved July 1, 2015. and Accompanying photographs.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
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- Barney, Robert Knight. "America's First Turnverein: Commentary in Favor of Louisville, Kentucky." Journal of Sport History 11.1 (1984): 134-137. online
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- Metzner, Henry. A brief history of the American Turnerbund (1924) online>
- Pfister, Gertrud. "The Role of German Turners in American Physical Education," International Journal of the History of Sport 26 (no. 13, 2009) 1893-925
- Pumroy, Eric, and Katja Rampelmann. Research guide to the Turner movement in the United States (Greenwood, 1996).
- Website of the American Turners
- Archives of the American Turners
- American Turner Topics newsletter
- Website of the Los Angeles Turners with history, photos, newsletters, and links to other Turners Organizations
- The American Turners, Wilmington Records and the Roxborough Turners Records, including by-laws, correspondence, minutes and photographs, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.