Small Town Germans: The Germans of Lawrence, Kansas, from 1854 to 1918
by Katja Rampelmann
Masters Thesis, University of Kansas
© Copyright 1993
This Site Supported by a Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Abstract | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Conclusion | Appendix | Bibliography

Chapter Three

A Place like Home: The Lawrence Turnverein


Turner MovementHistory of TurnvereinRole of Turnverein


A: The Turner Movement in Germany and the United States

      Anybody who flips through the magazine Sports Illustrated will find images of athletes competing against each other in the high jump or the 400-meter-run. Every four years at the summer Olympics, we admire young women who artfully perform the triple flip on the balance beam in the gymnastic competition, or men presenting breathtaking acrobatics on the double bars. In German, these exercises are called turnen and a person performing them is a Turner. The development of turn-exercises go back to the early nineteenth century when Friedrich Ludwig Jahn founded the Turner movement as a political movement in Germany in 1811.

       Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the so-called father of gymnastics, was born on August 11, 1778 in Lanz, a village between Hamburg and Berlin. His father was a Lutheran minister, from whom he received his first education. At thirteen, he entered the higher grammar school (Gymnasium), and later entered the universities of Halle, Jena and Greifswald to study theology and philosophy. In 1806, Napoleon defeated the Prussian army, and Prussia lost half its territory. During that time, Jahn had started to write a book which he called Deutsches Volkstum (German Nationality) in which he expressed his thoughts about a united Germany.| #1 | He envisioned his home country as a strong nation which would be able to free itself again from its French invaders.

       In the meantime, Jahn had become a school teacher in Berlin. Spending a lot of time with his pupils outside the classroom, Jahn developed short physical exercises for the boys. His activities became popular among the youth which led to the opening of the first open-air-exercise area called Turnplatz in Berlin in 1811. Jahn developed gymnastic exercises and started to design gymnastic equipment.| #2 | In 1816, he and a friend published an exercise book called Die Deutsche Turnkunst (German Gymnastics).| #3 |

       Jahn travelled all over Germany lecturing his ideas about physical exercises and his teachings led to the opening of Turnplaetze throughout the country. The main focus of his lectures was his idea of restoring the spirit of his countrymen by the development of their physical and moral power through the practice of gymnastics. He assumed that people with a "sound body" would also have a "sound mind."

       Jahn's nationalistic and democratic ideas aroused the suspicion of the government. The assassination of August von Kotzebue, a German dramatist who attacked the Turner philosophy in his writings, by one of Jahn's followers, led to Jahn's arrest in July 1819. Immediately, all Turnplaetze in Prussia were ordered closed. Other states followed the Prussian decision to ban Turner societies in their territories. Jahn was kept in prison and under guard until 1825. After that, he was forbidden to live in Berlin or in any other city which had a university or a secondary school for boys. In 1840, the restrictions were finally lifted. A cabinet order in 1846 recognized gymnastics "as a necessary and indispensable part of male education and received into the circle of means for popular education." Jahn died in October 1852.| #4 |

       During the 1848 Revolution, radical Forty-eighters revived Jahn's nationalistic ideas again, and new societies sprang up. At the end of the revolution, many radical Turners had to leave the country, and, therefore, immigrated to the United States. In Germany, Turner societies abondoned their political interests, and have survived as non-political societies.

       Jahn's gymnastic teachings had reached the United States in the 1820s when three of his fellow revolutionaries escaped prosecution and immigrated to North America. Charles Follen, Francis Lieber and Carl Beck were all employed by New England schools where they introduced Jahn's gymnastics program. Charles Follen became the first superintendent of gymnastic classes at Harvard University in 1825. Lieber and Beck also established physical education programs in New England.

       The great number of 1848 revolutionists who entered the United States in the 1850s introduced the Turner movement into the New World. With their arrival, Turnvereine sprang up wherever these people settled. The first Turnverein in the United States was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1848. On New Years Day, 1850, the club dedicated the first Turner Hall. Meanwhile, other Turnvereine had been established in other parts of the country. On October 5, 1850, Die Vereinigten Turnvereine Nordamerikas, or the Turnerbund, the union of gymnastic societies, was formed in Philadelphia. The rapidly growing movement soon published a newspaper, Die Turnzeitung, and established a Turnlehrerseminar, a program for the training of gymnastic teachers in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1866.| #5 |

       In the United States, the Turnvereine focused on physical education as well as social activities. The teaching of gymnastic classes was still the main purpose of each Turnverein but women's clubs, choirs, libraries, and other cultural activities became also important parts of each club. Since most Turner members in the nineteenth century were German immigrants, Turnvereine turned into local German social centers.

       Each Turnverein was connected to a well-organized network throughout the United States. According to Emma Palmer, American Turners were

divided into Regions and Districts. A region of the American Turners is a group of Districts located within a geographical area, established for the orderly conduct of national Turner activities. A District is composed of several Turner Societies located near one another. The highest legislative body in the District of the American Turners is the District Convention composed of delegates from the Societies comprising the District.| #6 |

      Each club elected its managing committee and sent representatives to Bezirk and District meetings. These monthly and quarterly meetings provided an exchange of news and ideas among the societies. Regular gymnastic competitions among societies on the state and national level were further parts of Turner activities.

B: The History of the Lawrence Turnverein

       The Turnverein in Lawrence, Kansas, was started as early as 1857.| #7 | Henry Biebusch, the owner of the local German boarding-house, was probably the driving force behind the "founding fathers." It is not certain whether Biebusch had been a member of a Turnverein in Germany or got acquainted with the organization in the United States. Nevertheless, the members met in Biebusch's garden until they built their first wooden structure on the south west corner of present day Tenth and New York Street in 1857. In 1860, the club already had forty-six members.| #8 |

       At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jahn's democratic ideas were still alive, and many Turner through the United States felt an obligation to join the Union army to fight for liberty and freedom. Therefore, Lawrence's Turner joined other Turner members in the country to serve the Union. In 1862, forty-four out of forty-eight members enlisted in the army (see, Chapter I: Germans in the Civil War). The club was disbanded and the building was sold to the German Methodist Episcopal Church.| #9 | After the war, the old Turner members returned to Lawrence. They were joined by new ones who were brought in by the great number of German immigrants to Kansas.

       In 1866, a new Lawrence Turnverein was founded. On June 28, 1869, a charter was granted to the Turnverein by the state of Kansas which was signed by twenty-five members of the organization.| #10 | In 1868, the Turnverein bought a lot on the south-east corner of present day Ninth Street and Rhode Island and erected a stone building at a cost of $5,000. In 1872, a frame addition was made to the building. In the same year, the club purchased a lot on Delaware Street (lot No.3), close by the river. In 1893, they also bought the next two lots south of theirs on Delaware Street (lots No. 5 and 7). It is not clear what the Turners used the three lots for, but it is possible that the space was used as an athletic field or Turnplatz. In 1899, all three lots were sold. A few years later, in 1909, the lot and the brick house south of Turner Hall were acquired by the club which was rented to the Turnverein-manager as living quarters.| #11 |

       For a number of years, the Turners offered their hall to the German St. Pauls Lutheran Church as a meeting place for Sunday services until the church built its own building in 1889 (See, Chapter Four, German Lutheran Church).

Top: Turner Hall on the corner of Ninth Street and Rhode Island St. Bottom: Plate over the entrance door of the hall.

The Turner Hall itself was a two-story brick building. The first floor housed a full gymnasium. Among the items of gymnastic equipment were mats, double bars, clubs, rings, and a balance beam. Furthermore, there was a stage with a grand piano on the east side of the building for dramatic productions. A balcony on the west side of the house offered spectators the opportunity to watch competitions and events from a higher level. In the basement, the visitor found a bar extending from the north to the south side. Here, adults could purchase beer on tap from the Walruff brewery, the local brewery in town owned by John Walruff, a member of the club. Soft drinks and food were also served. Furthermore, walnut card tables provided members with an opportunity for an occasional game of cards, and two bowling alleys were used to train members for bowling competitions. A cook stove next to the bar allowed the preparation of food. At the east side of the building, a door led into a beer garden which was fenced in to protect the Turners from outside spectators.| #12 |

       One purpose of the club was to ensure physical fitness of its members. Members from 18 to 30 years of age, were obliged to participate in the gymnastic classes which were led by instructors who were all graduates of the National School for Turners at Indianapolis, Indiana. The instructors usually also held a position as gymnastic teacher at a local school. Classes were organized according to age groups. Youth classes were for boys and girls from the age five to fifteen. A further division were the young-men's and young-women's classes, and the last class was the middle-aged-men's classes.| #13 | Children's classes usually took place in the afternoon after school whereas the adult classes were scheduled for the early evenings.

       According to the annual records of the Nord Amerikanische Turner Bund, the gymnastic classes were poorly visited. In 1879-80, for example, only 8 of the 30 members participated in the weekly gymnastic classes. A few years later, in 1888-89, only 4 of the 75 members were listed as active Turners. The number of children participating in the exercises, on the other hand, was very high. This is partly due to the fact that also children of non-members were allowed to take part in the classes. It was, therefore, also possible for American children to join German children in the exercises (see, Appendix II, Statistics on the Lawrence Turnverein). From 1898-99, the tables also list gymnastic pupils of non-germanic background in a separate collumn. In that year, the Lawrence club had 8 children in their classes who did not have German parents.

       The weekends were reserved for competitions with other Turnvereine in the area. Lawrence first belonged to the Missouri-Valley Turn-Bezirk (Missouri-Valley Turn-District) which first included the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. Later, the states became independent districts. Therefore, the Lawrence Turnverein changed to the Kansas Turn-Bezirk in 1888-89. In 1904-05, it changed again to the Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska Turn Bezirk in which it was a member until it closed. The Societies of each Bezirk had their annual conventions or Turnfeste which rotated their location each year. These celebrations usually lasted an entire weekend. All classes participated in the competition in disciplines such as, high jumping, rope climbing, and running. On June 5, 1883, the seventh annual convention of the Missouri-Valley Turn-Bezirk was held at Bismarck Grove in Lawrence. The Topeka Commonwealth reported the following about the event:

The annual turnfest was opened yesterday, at Bismarck Grove. Special trains arrived from Kansas City and Leavenworth, bringing with them a large number of delegates from St. Joseph, Missouri, Omaha, Nebraska, Atchison, Leavenworth and Kansas City. The forenoon was occupied by giving the different societies the opportunity to present their positions in the tabernacle, after which refreshments were served on the grounds. In the afternoon, a part of the program consisting of gymnastics games, was inaugurated, consisting first of an exhibition by the youth's classes of turning, club swinging, dumb-bell exercises, running, long and high jumps and rope climbing. After the exercises were finished, supper was served upon the grounds.| #14 |

       Every four years, the Bezirke sent their delegates and teams to the National Festival for American Turners, which also rotated its locations throughout the United States. Furthermore, Lawrence Turners joined their Turnbrueder (Turner brothers) for other events. In July 1879, for example, the reader of the Lawrence Daily Journal found an article on the Lawrence Turners which described their meeting with the Topeka Turnverein for the dedication of the Topeka Turner Hall. In his article, a Lawrence journalist proclaims: "The Turners of this city are all going to Topeka to-day. The German band will accompany them." Two days later, the event was again briefly mentioned in the paper when the writer reported:

Arrived at Topeka they were met by the Topeka Band and escorted to the grove, where the Topeka Turners have just completed a fine hall, the dedication of which was the occasion for the gathering. The afternoon and evening was spent with music and dancing and about 10 o'clock the Lawrence company started home feeling that they had a pleasant day and that the bond of friendship between them and their Topeka brethren had been rendered stronger by this brief meeting.| #15 |

       The Turner societies of each Bezirk were usually only rivals in their gymnastic competition. Otherwise, they were on good terms with each other. They visited back and forth, and for special events, each club would usually issue an invitation to other clubs. On other occasions, Turnvereine would ask advice or support from each other. In March 1896, for example, the Lawrence Turnverein wrote a letter to the Atchison Verein to ask if they had a Vorturner (Gymnastic instructor) who would like the job for $25.00 a month in Lawrence.| #16 |

       But membership in a Turnverein promised more than just gymnastic classes. Along with the physical exercise, the Turners developed a mutual society. If a member got sick and could not work, the Lawrence Turnverein would pay that family $3.00 per week out of the sick fund. The club would also furnish nurses as needed. Furthermore, membership included insurance so that in case of death, widows and orphans would be cared for and necessary funeral expenses would be paid for. The money was secured by annual membership dues which consisted of a $4.00 admission fee and a $0.50 monthly fee, and entrance fees for public events.

       Additionally, the club offered cultural education for its members. In his program, Jahn had called for a "sound mind" as well as a "sound body." The cultural instruction of the Turner members was, therefore, as so important as the physical. In their Principles and Statutes, the American Turnerbund stated:

The American Turnerbund is a federation of turner societies in the United States of America organized to promote physical Education and disseminate rational ideas, in order to advance the health, happiness, prosperity, and progress of mankind. It is the principal duty of our societies to promote their intellectual growth and moral character through special schools, instructive lectures, and stimulative debates.| #17 |

Depending on the size of the club, the Turnvereine offered vocal music and orchestral music groups, theater groups, ceramic and sculpture classes, handicrafts, essay writing, needlework, painting, photography, play writing, and poetry classes. It is obvious that bigger clubs had more money to offer more activities to their members than smaller clubs. Smaller Turnvereine were limited in what they could offer to their members.

       The Lawrence Turnverein offered its members a theater group, a men's choir, a brass band, dancing classes, and a women's club, as well as a library. The theater group was directed by a stage manager, usually a member of the club who thought himself talented enough to pick and direct plays in the German language. These plays were usually performed in front of all Turner members on a special theater night or presented as short entertainments at dances and other celebrations. Costumes and stage decorations were generally made by the theater group itself. Theater events were announced in Die Germania, the German-language newspaper in town. On April 4,1889, for example, an article reported about a comedy performed by the Turner theater-group:

Das letzten Montag Abend aufgefuehrte Theaterstueck "Der Schimmel", Lustspiel in einem Act, wurde zur Zufriedenheit bei gut besuchtem Hause gespielt. Es wird das letzte Spiel dieser Saison sein.| #18 |

Since all plays were in German, they must have been directed towards a German audience rather than the general public.

       The Turner also fostered an instrumental music group. In 1878, John Buch founded the Buch's Military Band which he also directed. Buch was a teacher of wagon-making at the Haskell Institute for native-Americans, now Haskell Junior College. The band started with ten members, all members of the Turnverein, and consisted of two drums and eight brass instruments. These members played together until 1884.| #19 | Thereafter, the band expanded until it had grown to twenty-eight members in 1900. The band played at all events in Turner Hall. With the expansion of the band, it left the familiar circles of friends and played for the public. At the turn of the century, the band gave concerts during the summer months in the city's parks. According to Elfriede Fischer Rowe, the band played "the first concert of each summer ... in South Park on a Friday evening, usually around the first of June, and the concerts were alternated between South Park and Central Park."| #20 | Certainly, the band's concerts added to the cultural entertainment of Lawrence's citizens. Listening to the music was very much a social event during the summer. Rowe further recalls that, "homeowners living near the parks always had friends sitting on their porches, steps, and porch railings, to listen to the concerts."| #21 |

Buch's Brass Band. Left to right: Schneider, Buch, Lesch, Griggs, Lesch, Griggs, Yeager, Biebusch, Thinehammer, Bell. Cortesy of the Kansas Collection, University of Kansas Libraries.
Top: Buch's bandstand in South Park, Lawrence, Kansas Bottom: Dedication plate on the west side of the stand

To mark their permanent place in Lawrence's music scene, Buch's Military Band erected a bandstand in South Park in May 1906. The structure is still standing today - 1992 -, and is still used for musical performances including weekly concerts during June and July and weddings.

       The Turnverein's Frauenverein (women's club) met once a week in Turner Hall. They engaged in handicraft activities which were sold once a year at a bazaar to make money for the club. One woman usually read from German books while the rest were working.| #22 |

       The German library was kept in Turner Hall and was cared for by a librarian who was an elected officer of the club. In the early twentieth century the library included over 250 volumes of German-language books.| #23 | Some of the still existing books were printed in the 1860s and 1870s in Germany which suggests that they were brought over with the immigrants. Others were printed in the United States by German publishing houses in Philadelphia and Boston.


Lawrence Turnverein's Frauenverein. Bottom row left to right: Mrs. L. Preisach Dingelstedt, Miss. Minnie Walter, Mrs. Edith Achning Noll. Second row left to right: Mrs. Sophia Lahrmann Wilder, Mrs. Martilda Betts Thudium, Mrs. Jenny Waluff Sutorius, Mrs. Clara Biebusch Wietzencorn. Top row left to right: Mrs. Alice Preisach Learning, Miss. Louise Broeker, Miss. Minnie Preisach, Mrs. Edith Fischer Freienmuth, Miss. Anna Fischer, Mrs. Bertha Apitz Krause. Cortesy of the Kansas Collection, University of Kansas Libraries.

       It can be assumed that the Lawrence's Turnverein had an annual library fund to buy books. A number of German books were also donated to the club by some members. On July 10, 1880, John Walruff, for example, gave at least six books to the library.

       The library collection ranged from literature to science topics. Several volumes and editions of major German writers, such as the complete works of Goethe, Schiller, Heine and Lessing, can be found among the books. Only two British authors, Shakespeare and Dickens in German translations, were represented in the Turner library. From 1869 to 1876, the Turnverein subscribed to the Deutsche Roman-Zeitung, a quarterly magazine which published novels. Since it was printed in Berlin, it must have been sent over from Germany. An nineteen-volume-encyclopedia, Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon, gave members an excellent German reference book.

       Furthermore, the collection included books on history and science. Among the historical works were several volumes of Struve's Weltgeschichte, as well as Zimmermann's Illustrierte Geschichte des deutschen Volkes, or Seidensticker's Die Erste Deutsche Einwanderung in Amerika und die Gruendung von Germantown im Jahre 1683. Scientific books focused on the questions of the universe and the relationship between human beings and nature. Turners had the opportunity to check out Ule's Wunder der Sternenwelt, or Willkomm's Die Wunder des Mikroskops oder die Welt im kleinsten Raume to satisfy their hunger for scientific knowledge.

       The works of Karl Heinzen one of the most radical thinkers among the Forty-eighters were also part of the collection. In his works Heinzen called for dramatic political changes in Germany and the United States. He attacked American Puritainism, Sabbath observance and the practice of slavery in the south. Heinzen worked as a journalist in New England. In 1850, he started a weekly paper, Der Volksfreund, in New York. Most of his books were published by his own publishing company. He was also the founder of the Boston Turnverein.

       Furthermore, the library included exercise books for gymnastic classes, and hymn books for men's choirs. These were probably used by the different activity groups.

       Main events of the Lawrence Turnverein were the annual Stiftungsfest (anniversary), the Christmas party and the New Year's celebration. Each year, the Stiftungsfest was on the January 28, regardless if it fell on a weekday or weekend. The celebration was usually advertised well in advance in Die Germania. During the evening, guests were entertained by musical performances of individual members and the choir, a theater play and humorous speeches which were followed by a dance. In her family history, Louise Albert Mueller remembered that: "on 'Stiftungsfest' they always had a big dance and lots of good food at Turner Hall."| #24 |

       The annual Christmas party was another main family event. A huge tree was usually set up in the hall and was decorated with ornaments and presents. For the celebration, the families would meet in the hall to eat and listen to Buch's band playing Christmas carols. The main event for the night would be the drawing of Christmas presents. As reported in the newspapers of the day and by Elfriede Fischer Rowe:

"tickets were sold for 25 cents for a drawing present from the tree. The gifts were donated by the merchants. Your ticket bore a number to be matched with one on the tree. A tree reaching to the top of the ceiling was on the floor close to the stage. While Tannenbaum was sung, Santa would appear in an opening in the ceiling above the stage and came down hand over hand on a rope to dispense more gifts from the tree. It was no chore for Santa to come down in that fashion, All men were experienced gymnasts."| #25 |

       The New Year's celebration was also a well received event. As usual, the event included entertainment and music. According to Scott Emory, "it was an all night event.... . Dances all started with the Grand March and two steps were popular."| #26 | The morning after the party, breakfast was served to everybody.

       But dances and times of joy were not only restricted to the Stiftungsfest, or the Christmas and New Year's party. The German newspaper is filled with Turner events nearly every month, such as masked balls, Maifeste (May celebrations), summer festivals and so forth. The following article in Die Germania indicates that most events were family events. The article describes a masked ball which had taken place on a Monday night:

Der auf den letzten Montag festgelegten Maskenball des hiesigen Turnvereins hatte die meisten Mitglieder mit Kind und Kegel nach der Halle gelockt, welche sich um 1/210 Uhr zu fuellen begann. ... Um halb zwoelf wurden die Masken herunter genommen und ueberall wurden Rufe des Erstaunens und der Ueberraschung laut. Die Festgenossen blieben noch nach der Demaskierung noch lange vereint, so dass der Schluss des Vergnuegens erst in den Morgenstunden stattfand.| #27 |

Louise Young wrote in a letter to Elfriede Fischer Rowe, "I learned to dance at Turner Hall. My papa danced with me and later the boys. How those Germans could dance and what fun they had."| #28 | Others remember that children were always present and took part in all events. If younger children got tired, they were put on gymnastic mats or chairs to sleep until their parents were ready to go home.

       By the outbreak of World War I, many first-generation Germans had died. But gymnastic classes were still being taught to second-generation German-Americans who saw their club more as a "fitness club" than a social center. Growing anti-German feeling, nevertheless, scared most members and many families withdrew their membership. Furthermore, the club faced the problem it had encountered during the Civil War when 90 percent joined the army. In 1917, at least fourteen Turners enlisted in the armed services. After the war, it continued to exist but never regained its popularity. After 1918, no new members were admitted to the Turnverein. In 1938, it still had twenty-three members, but since the remaining members were old, the club sold its properties to one of its members.| #29 |

C: The Role of the Lawrence Turnverein

       The Lawrence Turnverein was an institution which played an important role in the lives of its members and the German community. Its obvious purpose was the physical and cultural education of its members as suggested by Jahn. Weekly gymnastic classes provided Turners with physical exercise, and theater groups, dancing groups, and the library furnished Turners with social knowledge. But the position of the Turnverein in Lawrence was more complex.

       The club had the dual task of aiding its members with the Americanization process, on the one hand, and preserving German culture on the other. At first glance, these two goals seem to contradict each other. But a closer look will reveal that they actually complemented each other. In Turner Hall, German families had the opportunity to meet with each other and converse in their native tongue. German celebrations, theater plays and food provided a familiar atmosphere, generally known to all Germans. The customary way of celebrating Sundays around card tables and in beer gardens further emphasised that Turner Hall was "a place like home." The building on the corner of Ninth Street and Rhode Island Street was an oasis in a different world. After a hard working day, it offered the opportunity to be with people who shared the same language and simular values. To become a member of the club, one had to be a citizen of the United States, or provide proof that the first citzenship papers had been taken out. After 1903, all members were United States citizens. But although one might have been a United States citizen on paper, the familiar atmosphere in Turner Hall made it possible to slowly adjust to new situations. In that way, it presented a cultural enclave of the German way of life in the American society.

       Society members shared similar interests with each other. Turners shared a good deal of their spare-time with each other, and were not strangers but friends. Gymnastic exercises ensured physical fitness, but they were also used as a vehicle to extend the circle of friends. Competitions within the Bezirk or on the national level were combined with travel. The shared time and experience created a close bond between club members and also gave members a chance to talk to and meet other Turners.

       Children were included in all events. That insured that the second-generation German-Americans bonded by sharing their childhood with each other. The Turner Hall was also an institution where these children were introduced to German values and celebrations outside their home. Being with their parents and other German adults, they learned German dances and tasted German food. Furthermore, it was a place where the language was spoken and taught. Children could witness and experience German life.

       But Turner Hall was not an exact reflection of German life but a new creation of it. Since Lawrence Germans came from all regions of Germany, such as Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and so forth, they created a national rather than a regional German conciseness. People with different German dialects and costumes, as well as religions and political attitudes came together to represent German interests rather than geographical ones. The Lawrence Turnverein represented a united Germany long before Germany was united historically.

       It has been stated by local historians that the club was not political. This statement needs revision. It is true that Lawrence Turners did not vote for one ticket since members belonged to the Republican as well as Democratic party. But they certainly expressed their opinions about general political ideas; otherwise they would not have called themselves Turners. The Turner organizations in Germany and the United States were generally political organizations. According to LaVern Rippley,

liberal in the extreme, the Turners propagandized for socialism. ... . They shunned the mention of God, lauded the force of reason, and advocated radical reform programs. They championed welfare legislation, tax reforms, the direct election and recall of publicly elected officials, and the expanded use of referenda in deciding issues. Along with their activism in social matters went anticlericalism, anti-nativism, and opposition to prohibition.| #30 |

The Lawrence Turner cannot be seen as radical as Rippley suggests. They tended to follow the general Turner political ideas but adapted them to their situation in a small town. They were certainly liberal but not extremely so. In general, Turners were Freidenker (Freethinker) who did not belief in the guidance of their lives by church officials. Their rational ideas conflicted with religious teachings. Therefore, freethinkers were usually not connected to church organizations. The Lawrence Turners did not shun "the mention of God" since many of them were churchgoers. In a small town like Lawrence in the nineteenth century where the church was still the center of family life, there was not much room for radical ideas. Church life was very much part of community life, and was an important center where network systems were established. Especially the German business men could not take the risk of being pointed out as strange and radical. Therefore, Turner members merged their own interests with community interests.

       The Turner library can be taken as a departing point for a further analysis of the Lawrence Turners. Corvin's Die Goldene Legende: Christliche Martyrer der ersten Jahrhunderte, is a book which should not have been in the Turner library if the Turners had adhered strictely to their anticlerical ideas. Thus, the presence of the book further emphasizes that the Lawrence Turners were not as radical as many other clubs which were located in metropolitan areas. Furthermore, the Turners offered their church building to the German Lutheran church for services until the congregation built their own structure. This also indicates that Lawrence Turners were not extremely radical, but tolorated, and even helped the Lutheran church.

       On the other hand, the collection of works by Heinzen, one of the leading radicals among the movement, suggests that members were familiar and aware of the radical ideas which circulated among Turners. Their love for rational teaching is reflected in scientific books which centered around the position of human beings in the universe. The library suggests that the Lawrence Turner followed the general guidelines of the American Turnerbund to promote rational ideas but also reflects that Lawrence's "small town Germans" expanded their library to include Christian works.

       In their establishment of a sick fund, Lawrence's Turner also followed the national idea of a welfare system. Certainly, this must have been another attraction for German immigrants to join the club. Single immigrants or small kinship groups did not have the support of an extended family when they entered Lawrence. Therefore, if someone got sick, nuclear families had to deal with the situation by themselves rather then being financially and emotionally supported by father, mother, sister, brother, or any other relatives. The Turnverein, therefore, took on the role of an extended family. It helped out financially with $ 3.00 per week to ensure that there was still food on the table in case the bread-earner could not work due to his illness. The family character of the club is also reflected in the terminology Turnbruder (Turn-brother) and Turnschwester (Turn-sister).

       In her book, Immigrant Milwaukee, Kathleen Conzen describes the diverse German societies in Milwaukee in the 1840s and 1850s. She states:

There were music groups and drama societies, mutual benefit associations, debating clubs and carnival clubs, church societies, old fraternity assemblies, political pressure groups, tavern circles, chess clubs, professional organizations, ... sewing circles, benevolent associations, and parties and balls of all sorts. During the 1840s and 1850s the Germans of Milwaukee had developed a wide range of organizations and institutions to meet the social needs of almost any group member.| #31 |

Conzen describes a typical metropolitan phenomenon. Big towns with a large German population offered a wide range of activities for German families to choose from. This variety of clubs provided more opportunities but also promoted more divisions among Germans. Families who were members in a choir or a drama society did not necessarily meet and socialize with families who were members of a carnival club or a Turnverein.

       In small towns like Lawrence, on the other hand, German families had only a very limited range of German cultural activities. The Turnverein, therefore, was an institution which tried to combine and offer as many activities as possible. Since it was the major German-cultural meeting point, apart from the German-speaking churches, it united the German families in town. Even if someone were be a member of the dance group and someone else joined the theater group, they would still see each other in their gymnastic classes and at the parties. Germans in Lawrence did not have the opportunity to join other clubs which offered a German environment; therefore, the Lawrence Turnverein became a center and symbol for German life in Lawrence.

       Furthermore, it was a place where kinship ties were developed and nourished. Elfriede Fischer Rowe reports that the Turnverein:

also served as an employment center. Every Saturday, one would find many newcomers from the Fatherland on the steps of the Hall waiting for people to come and offer them jobs. The men were hired for their craftsmanship and the women were placed in homes as maids or housekeepers.| #32 |

Since most of the members were merchants or craftsmen, Turner Hall was certainly the place to be to get hired by a German employer. But Turner Hall was not the place for just anybody. It was an exclusive place for highly respected, middle-class German families, a German Rotary or Lion's club. There were no day laborers or transients who just stopped by to work in Lawrence for a few months among the members. Lawrence Turners not only shared their German consciousness with each other, but also their middle-class consciousness and attitudes. Lawrence Turners were people who had been in town for a number of years, had a business or a steady income, a family, and usually owned property in Lawrence.

       The self containing attitudes of the Turners is also evident in their admission procedures. New members had to be recommended to an admission committee by old members. After an examination of the "moral character" of the new person, he was admitted into the society.| #33 | It is evident that the club members controlled who became a member and who did not.

       A memory about the Frauenverein (women's club) recalls a story which further illustrates that Lawrence Turner members belonged to he middle-class. The women's club met once a week in the hall. "The member who arrived first had to start the fire in the stove. One day, a member came early and simply could not get the fire to burn, she complained 'I have never made a fire in my life.' "| #34 | This is not surprising since Turner members were likely to employ domestic servants in their homes, probably those whom they found on the steps of Turner Hall waiting for them. Theater groups, dancing classes, women's clubs and libraries certainly required leisure time. Middle-class women certainly had time for these pleasures whereas their domestic servants did not.

       As second-generation German-Americans grew up, they enjoyed the gymnastic and social activities of the club. Although many of them rejected their ethnic backgrounds and were determined to become "real Americans," they were still connected by their class consciousness. This may account for the survival of the club until after World War I. The club might have been able to survive until today, had they not stopped accepting new members during World War I. Thus, it became only a question of time until the old members died and the Turnverein had to close its doors.



Turner MovementHistory of TurnvereinRole of Turnverein


Abstract | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Conclusion | Appendix | Bibliography