German Turnverein Clubs - Their Positive Effect in Communities
The Turnverein Club in which my great-grandparents were members many years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had it's origins in Germany. Many people from Germany had emigrated and settled in Milwaukee during the 19th century.
When it was brought over to the United States it began as an athletic and gymnastic society but it also had social, intellectual and benevolent goals. The Turnverein clubs contributed much to the life of their communities creating parks, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, theaters, ballrooms and the like.
The people who joined these clubs really believed in combining sound minds with fit bodies and these German clubs offered places for like minded individuals to meet and play while accomplishing all of their goals. Good and long lasting friendships were forged.
There are still Turnverein clubs in existence today including ones in Milwaukee, Madison and other places in Wisconsin as well as around the nation but now they are mostly referred to as the Turners.
Location of Milwaukee and Okauchee in Wisconsin
My great-grandparents were members and primarily did all of their exercising and socializing with the rest of their club members in Milwaukee those many years ago.
But at least once during each summer many of the men and a few of the women in their club would come out to my great-grandparents cottage on Okauchee Lake for a country outing.
My mother was a young child but still vividly remembered all of the jovial German songs being sung in harmony as the sounds reverberated across the lake. Some of the people would swim while others played horseshoes.
My great-grandparents had a couple of long wooden tables outside of their cottage. These tables held the picnic fare along with the glasses of beer and other libations. Much laughter ensued and many stories and songs were shared among the participants.
Some of the women sent food along with their menfolk and my grandmother who lived next door at their summer cottage always contributed by making a large bowl of her homemade potato salad to help feed the crowd.
This annual country outing was primarily for the men in the club. And what fun they had!
In the city the camaraderie continued all throughout the year. Fencing was an activity enjoyed by many of the club participants. Handball was another. Anything to keep people engaged and exercising while also doing things to improve themselves and the community in general was the objective.
There was always singing.
Although my grandparents were not members of the Turnverein club the active lifestyle was certainly imparted to the next generation and beyond. My grandparents and my mother and her siblings grew up doing fun and active things like the following:
- Ice skating
- Sledding and tobogganing
- Ping pong
Some of the family members were better at some of these activities than others but they all participated to a greater or lesser extent. My grandfather did regularly play handball for additional exercise.
Lasting Legacy of Good Accomplishments
- The Turnverein club members not only believed in a sound mind and body for themselves but were a prime force in getting gymnastics and calisthenics introduced into schools for the lasting benefit of children.
- Turnverein clubs across the nation contributed to many good causes.
They held numerous social gatherings collecting money and the members supported well founded crusades whether for crippled children in this country or also campaigns in countries an ocean away.
- In the 19th century the clubs filled many a recreational need as well as helping to provide venues for social occasions in towns and cities all across our nation.
That is their lasting legacy.
During World War 1 with anti German sentiments running high plus the effects of the Great Depression membership in these clubs waned. While memberships may not be as large there are still clubs that exist today with third and even fourth generations from the same families involved in these Turner clubs.
Those summer lakeside outings still reverberated in my mother's mind as she watched the gaiety as a little girl. The many German songs were passed along to her parents and their friends and she and her siblings grew up hearing the robust singing of German songs at family gatherings.
Even though my great-grandparents have long since passed on to the next life their part in this interesting history of the Milwaukee Turnverein club is secured for posterity.
Looks Like Fun!
Have you ever heard of Turn Verein or Turner Clubs?
Fun to Watch This Video!
© 2009 Peggy Woods