Turners (German: Turner), are members of German-American gymnastic clubs. A German gymnastic movement was started by Turnvater (turners' father) Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in the early 19th century when Germany was occupied by Napoleon. The Turnvereine ("gymnastic unions") 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. Several of these Forty-Eighters went on to become Civil War soldiers, the great majority in the Union Army, and American politicians. Besides serving as physical education, social, political and cultural organizations for German immigrants, Turners were also active in the American public education and the labor movements. Eventually the German Turner movement became involved in the process leading to German unification.
History in the USA
The Turnvereine made an important 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, Kentucky, New York City, and Los Angeles.
Together with Carl Schurz, the American Turners were supportive of the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States. They provided the bodyguard at his 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.
Like other German-American groups, the American Turners experienced discrimination during World War I. The German language was banned in schools and universities, and German language journals and newspapers were shut down, but the 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 exist around the U.S. as of 2011. The current headquarters of the American Turners is in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Claire E. Nolte. "The German Turnverein". Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Annette R. Hofmann (August 3, 1998). "150 years of Turnerism in the United States". Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Max Kade Center.
- John B. Jentz. "Turnvereins". Encyclopedia of Chicago.
- Mary Lou LeCompte. "TURNVEREIN MOVEMENT". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Scott Williams. "THE ROLE OF GERMAN IMMIGRANTS IN CIVIL WAR - MISSOURI". The Missouri Civil War Museum. Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- "Welcome to American Turners". American Turners. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Gertrud Pfister. "The Role of German Turners in American Physical Education," International Journal of the History of Sport 26 (no. 13, 2009) 1893-925
- Website of the American Turners
- History of the American Turners By Henry Metzner
- 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.