American Turners Local Societies, 1866-2006

Mss 38
  9.2 c.f (7 cartons and 4 flat boxes)
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Many Germans immigrated to the United States following the failure of an 1848 revolution designed to introduce democratic reforms into the governments of the German states. Among these immigrants were members of the Turners, an athletic and political organization founded in Germany during the second decade of the nineteenth century. Turners quickly established societies (known as Turnverein or Turngemeinde) in the American cities in which they settled. These societies served as athletic, political, and social centers for German communities in the United States. The Turners= most important contribution to American life in their communities has been their advocacy of physical education and fitness. Turners successfully lobbied local school boards in many cities for the inclusion of physical education classes in the curriculum, and Turner instructors served as the directors of physical education programs in many school systems in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The American Turners Local Societies Collection includes constitutions and bylaws, anniversary publications, brief histories, event programs, newspaper clippings, and photographs from approximately 162 of the Turner societies that have existed in the United States.


This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) govern the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.


Cite as: American Turners Local Societies Collection,1866-1997, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.


Presented by the American Turners and individual members of the American Turners, May 1987-October 1994.
A89-12, A90-22, A90-30, A90-33, A90-35, A91-11, A91-23, A91-40, A91-45, A93-15, A93-20, A93-21, A93-33, A93-34, A93-60, A94-9, A94-12, A94-13, A94-17, A94-23, A94-31, A94-32, A94-65, A94-66, A94-67, A94-68, A94-69, A94-70, A94-72, A94-73, A94-74, A94-75, A94-77, A94-78, A94-79, A94-80, A94-81, A94-82, A94-84, A94-102, A94-103, A94-104, A94-114, A94-115, A94-116, A94-117, A94-118, A2000/01-024.

Processed by Gregory H. Mobley, April 2002.


The Turner movement began in Germany during the second decade of the nineteenth century. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852), a teacher in Berlin, began conducting outdoor physical education classes in 1811. Jahn developed a system of gymnastics that emphasized the use of apparatus like the parallel bars, the rings, the balance beam, the horse, and the horizontal bar (all invented by Jahn). His goals were to promote both physical fitness and German nationalism. Over the next three decades gymnastic societies that followed Jahn’s principles of physical fitness opened in many German cities. The societies were called “Turnverein”(gymnastic societies) and their members were known as “Turners” (the German word for “gymnasts”). These societies served not only as centers for exercise but as gathering places for people who advocated democratic reforms in the governments of the German states. When the 1848 revolution began, many Turners actively supported it. Fearing for their freedom or even their lives when the revolution failed, many of these Turners fled to the United States.

The immigrant Turners quickly established gymnastic societies in their new country. The Cincinnati Turngemeinde, organized on November 21, 1848, is generally credited with being the first Turner society organized in the United States. By 1850 Turner societies were operating in Baltimore, Boston, Louisville, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and St. Louis. In that year delegates from Turner societies met in Philadelphia and founded a national organization, the Vereinigte Turnvereins Nordamerika (United Turner Societies of North America, now known as the American Turners). The number of Turner societies continued to grow during the 1850s. The majority of the societies were located in an area stretching from southern New England southward to the Middle Atlantic states, then westward through the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes region to the northern portions of the Mississippi River Valley and the Great Plains.

The 1850s were a time of challenge for Turner societies. The influx of immigrants from Ireland and Germany during the 1840s and 1850s sparked the rise of a nativist movement concerned about the growing numbers of Catholic and German-speaking peoples in the United States. The movement spawned the American or “Know-Nothing” Party (so-called because members would respond “I know nothing” when asked about their activities). The party’s political agenda included a limit on the number of immigrants allowed into the United States and a denial of voting rights to foreign-born residents. Turner societies worked against the Know-Nothing Party, and violent clashes between members of the Know-Nothing Party and German immigrants (including members of Turner societies) occurred in many cities, especially during elections. By the late 1850s the Know-Nothing Party had waned in influence and the violence ended.

Turners participated in the Civil War in large numbers. Many northern societies became inactive or even disbanded because so many of their members were serving in the army. After the war the Turners experienced a period of sustained growth. In 1871 the Turners had a total of 10,200 members in 148 societies. By 1880 the numbers had risen to 13,000 members in 186 societies. 1893 was the highwater mark; membership stood at nearly 42,000 in 316 societies. The Turners drew new members both from recently arrived immigrants who had belonged to Turner societies in Germany and from the descendants of Turners who had arrived in the United States in the 1840s and 1850s.

The Turners’ emphasis on physical fitness extended beyond the gymnasiums of the Turnhall. The Turners’ 1880 national convention passed a resolution calling on its members to work for the introduction of physical education into the curriculum of the nation’s public school systems. The Turners took up the issue with enthusiasm and over the next twenty years enjoyed many successes. Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and St. Louis were among the cities where Turners’ lobbying helped convince school boards to add physical education classes. Turner instructors served as directors of physical education programs in many school systems.

The twentieth century was generally a period of decline for Turner societies. Many factors contributed to this situation, including anti-German sentiment during the world wars, lost income due to Prohibition and the Great Depression, the movement of Turner members into the suburbs, increased competition from other athletic and physical fitness facilities, and a reduced sense of German ethnic identity. Many societies closed as a shrinking membership base and financial problems left them unable to support their operations. Some of the societies that have survived gave up their athletic programs and became primarily social organizations. By 1999 only 59 Turner societies that were part of the American Turners remained active.


Metzner, Henry. History of the American Turners. 4th rev. ed. Louisville, KY: National Council of the American Turners, 1989.

Pumroy, Eric L., and Katja Rampelmann, comps. Research Guide to the Turner Movement in the United States. Bibliographies and Indexes in American History, no. 33. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.


American Turners Records, 1855-1999, Mss 030, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Athenaeum Turners Records, 1851-1994, Mss 032, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Indianapolis South Side Turners Records, 1893-1956, Mss 045, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Pumroy, Eric L., and Katja Rampelmann, comps. Research Guide to the Turner Movement in the United States. Bibliographies and Indexes in American History, no. 33. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.


The collection provides historical information about 163 Turner societies, both active and disbanded, in the United States. The societies come from 26 states and the District of Columbia, with the states of Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Missouri, New Jersey, and Iowa being the most heavily represented. The societies are organized alphabetically by state, then alphabetically by city, and then (when necessary) alphabetically by society name within city. The collection is of limited use for genealogical research.

Items found in the collections include constitutions and bylaws, anniversary publications, newsletters, histories, event programs, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Most of the material is written or printed in English, but many of the items from the period before 1918 are in German. The amount of material for each society varies greatly. Some societies have only one or two items in the collection, while the material from other societies fills several folders. Three societies in particular are well-documented in the collection: the Louisville Turners, the American Turners Detroit, and the Concordia Turners of St. Louis. The files for each society include several anniversary publications, event programs, newspaper clippings, and extensive runs of their newsletters. These records offer a detailed description of the histories, activities, and individuals involved with the three societies.

The book Research Guide to the Turner Movement in the United States, compiled by Eric L. Pumroy and Katja Rampelmann, can partially serve as a guide to this collection. Chapter 3 of the book contains a listing of records and publications from many individual Turner societies found in various repositories in the United States. Those items with the location code InIU will be in this collection. The book thus provides more detailed information about the materials available in this collection for each society.

A photograph inventory is located at the end of the series list. While the inventory does not give a description of individual photographs, it does list each society that has photographs in the collection. The photographs are also noted with their societies in the Local Societies box listing.


Local Societies  
  Various California Turner Societies, 1913-199411
  Los Angeles Turners, 1910-197112
   Photographs, 1946-1955101
  Oakland Turn Verein, 193513
   Photographs, ca. 1940s102
  Sacramento Turn Verein, 1904-197914
  San Diego Turners, 1937-195115
  San Francisco Gymnastic Club, 192716
  Turn Verein Eintracht (San Francisco), 190617
  Denver Turnverein, 1901-197018
   Photographs, 1939-1953103
  Bridgeport Turner Association, 195819
  Hartford Turnerbund, 1912-1928110
  Meriden Turner Society, 1898-1966111
   Photographs, ca. 1920s104
  New Britain Turn Verein, 1912-1913112
  Rockville Turn Verein, 1907113
 District of Columbia  
  Columbia Turnverein, 1911114
   Photographs, n.d.105
   Photographs, 1886111
  Wilmington Turners, 1914-1965115
  Turn Verein Frisch Auf (Aurora), 1922-1982116
   Photographs, ca. 1949106
  Belleville Turners, 1908-1952117
  Bloomington Turnverein, 1966118
  American Turners Northwest Chicago, 1955-1985119-20
   Photographs, 1956-1963107
  Aurora Turnverein (Chicago), 1907121
   Photographs, 1914108
   Photographs, 1872112
  Central Turners (Chicago), n.d.109
  Chicago Turners, 1869-1952122-24
  Chicago Turners, 189891
   Photographs, 1880-19491010
   Photographs, 1914-1926113-6
  Turn Verein Eiche (Chicago), 1931-1990125
   Photographs, 1911-19521011
  Forward Turners (Chicago), 1917-1956126
   Photographs, 1886117
  Grand Crossing Turn Verein (Chicago), n.d.118
  Lincoln Turners (Chicago), 1935-1985127
   Photographs, 19491012
  Social Turners (Chicago), 1916-1945128-29
   Photographs, 19531013
   Photographs, 1905119
  Swiss Turners (Chicago), 1925-1956130
  Voran Turners (Chicago), ca. 19001014
  Columbia Turnverein, 1896131
  Decatur Turnverein, 1893132
  Elgin Turners, 1958-1983133
  Turnverein Highland, 1893134
  Moline Turners, 1866-1984135-36
   Photographs, n.d.1015
  Mt. Olive Gymnastic Society, 1927137
  Peoria Turnverein, n.d.138
  Smithton Turner Society, 1967-1992139
   Photographs, 19921016
  Central Turners (Evansville), 1951-1982140
   Photographs, n.d.1017
  Fort Wayne Turners, 1911-1993141
   Photographs, 1954-19691018
  South Bend Turners, 1863-198321
   Photographs, 1948-19531019
  Tell City Turners, 1871-199322
  Clinton Turners, 1937-195523
   Photographs, n.d.1020
  Central Turners (Davenport), 1858-199424
   Photographs, 19471021
  East Davenport Turner Society, 1932-194925
  Northwest Davenport Turner Society, 1938-197126
   Photographs, n.d.1022
  Durant Turnverein, 191227
  Eldridge Turnverein, 189328
  Garnaville Sozialer Turnverein, 189529
  Holstein Turners, 1982210
  Keystone Turners, 1937-1948211
   Photographs, n.d.1023
  Muscatine Turnverein Vorwarts, n.d.212
  Postville Turnverein, 1873213
  Leavenworth Turnverein, 1884-1971214
  Seneca Turnverein, 1897215
  Topeka Turn Verein, 1953-1971216
  Covington Turner Society, 1947-1994217
  Louisville Turners, 1917-1991218-50
   1994-2006637-47, 49-51
   Photographs, ca. 1950s1024
  Newport Gymnastic Association, 1927318
  American Turners-Baltimore, 1939-1974319
   Photographs, n.d.1025
  Turnverein Vorwaerts (Baltimore), 1892-1934320
  Adams Turners, 1906-1950321
  Boston Turnverein, 1886-1949322
  Clinton Turn Verein, 1942-1994323-25
   Photographs, ca. 1950s1026
  Fitchburg Turners, 1936-1983326
   Photographs, 19561027
  Holyoke Turn Verein, 1921-1971327
  Springdale Turners (Holyoke), 1945328
  Lawrence Turn Verein, 1931-1965329
  Malden Turn Verein, 1916330
  Springfield Turnverein, 1918-1974331
  American Turners Detroit, 1920-1983332-38
   Photographs, 1870-19701028-33
   Photographs, 1937-19401110-12
  St. Anthony Turners (Minneapolis), 1916-1932410
  New Ulm Turners, 1899-1996411
  St. Paul Turners, 1924-1985412
  Kansas City Turners, 1908-1987413-14
   Photographs, 1951-19581034
  St. Louis Turnvereins, n.d.415
  Concordia Turners (St. Louis), 1925-1974416-29
  Corondelet Germania Turnverein (St. Louis), 1916430
  LaSalle Turn Verein (St. Louis), 1994431
  North St. Louis Turners, 1920-1985432
   Photographs, 1945-1950s1035
  St. Louis Turnverein, 1893433
  Schiller Turners (St. Louis), 1956-1981434
   Photographs, 1949-19511036
  Southwest Turners (St. Louis), 1912-1950435
   Photographs, 19381037
  Tower Grove Gymnastic Society (St. Louis), 1937-1957436
  West St. Louis Turnverein, 1904437
  Warrensburg Turners, 1989-1997438
  Washington Turnverein, 2002439
  South Side Turners (Omaha), 1901-1993440
 New Hampshire  
  Manchester Turn Verein, 1945-1992441
 New Jersey  
  Carlstadt Turnverein, 1957-1982442
  Turn Verein Vorwaerts (Elizabeth), 1921-1947443
  Hoboken Turn Verein, 1907444
  Hudson City Turnverein, ca. 1880s1038
  Greenville Turn Verein (Jersey City), 1949445
  New Brunswick Turners, 1948-1952446
  Newark Turnverein, 1894-1906447
   1911-1918, 193782-3
   Photographs, n.d.1039
  Union Hill Turners (North Bergen), 1952-1956448
  Passaic Turners, 1892-1945449
   Photographs, n.d.1040
  Riverside Turners, 1940-1972450
  Trenton Turnerbund, 1932451
 New York  
  Buffalo Turners, 1895-198651-2
   Photographs, 19521041
  Corona Turnverein, 190253
  Long Island Turners (Long Island City), 1975-199454
  Mount Vernon Turners, 1891-199155
   Photographs, 19541042
  American Turners Bronx (New York City), 1949-195156
   Photographs, ca. 19521043
  American Turners Brooklyn (New York City), 1883-198357-11
   Photographs, 1925-19521044
   Photographs, 1928-19371113-14
  American Turners New York (New York City), 1857-1986512-14
   Photographs, 1948-19491045
  Brooklyn Eastern District Turn Verein, 1920-1922648
  Central Turn-Verein (New York City), 1927515
  Deutscher Arbeiter Turnverein (New York City), 1941516
  Newburgh Turnverein, 1894517
  Rochester Turners, 1927-1994518
   Photographs, 1926-19551046
  Schenectady Turnverein, 1904-1991519
  Syracuse Turners, 1949-1994520
   Photographs, ca. 1950s1047
  Troy Turnverein, 1904-1990521
  Utica Turn-Verein, 1904-1913522
  Akron Turner Club, 1910-1993523
   Photographs, 19541048
  Cincinnati Central Turners, 1932-1998524
   Photographs, n.d.1049
  North Cincinnati Turnverein, 1910525
  Cleveland Turner societies, 1950526
  American Turners S.T.V. (Cleveland), 1904-1968527-28
   Photographs, 1943-19631050
  Cleveland East Side Turners, 1890-1968529
   Photographs, n.d.1051
  Heights Maennerchor (Cleveland), 1948530
  Dayton Turners Association, 1919-1957531
  American Turners-Toledo, 1858-1981532
   Photographs, 1866-19561052
  Portland Socialer Turnverein, 1899-1908533
  Harmonie Maennerchor, Gesang and Turn Verein (Ambridge), 194561
   Photographs, 1912-ca. 19481053
   Photographs, 1939-19461114-15
  Beaver Falls Turners, 1884-196862
   Photographs, ca.1930s-1950s1054
  Charleroi Turn Verein, 1932-193563
   Photographs, n.d.1055
  East Erie Turners, 198064
  Eintracht Music and Turn Hall Association (Homestead), 1921-195065
   Photographs, 19501056
  Johnstown Turners, 1923-198866
   Photographs, n.d.1057
  McKeesport Turners, 1921-198867
  Monaca Turners, 1948-198268
  Monessen Turners, 1947-195569
   Photographs, n.d.1058
  Monongahela Turners, 1927-1989610
  Philadelphia Turngemeinde, 1900-1954611
   Photographs, ca. 1930s-19641059
  Roxborough Turners (Philadelphia), n.d.612
  West Philadelphia Turn- und Schul-Verein, 1904613
  Allegheny Turn-Verein (Pittsburgh), 1911614
  East Pittsburgh Turn Verein, 1910615
  Central Turn-Verein (Rochester), 1941-1956616
   Photographs, 19541060
 Rhode Island  
  Pawtucket Turners, n.d.617
  Providence Turners, 1889-1985618
   Photographs, n.d.1061
 South Carolina  
  Charleston Turnverein, 1996619
  Chattanooga Turners, 1946-1966620
   Photographs, 19651062
  Gruenau Turn and Schuetzen Verein, n.d.621
  Fredericksburg Social Turn Verein, 1910-1990622
  Sahalie Ski Club (seattle), n.d.1063
  Seattle Turn Verein, 1910623
  Spokane Turn-Verein, 1897624
 West Virginia  
  Turnverein Concordia (Morgantown), 1904625
  Appleton Turnverein, 1932626
  Farmington Turn Verein, 1962627
  Green Bay Turn Verein, 1918628
  Madison Turners, 1937-1980629
   Photographs, 19541064
  Turn Verein Mayville, n.d.1065
  Milwaukee Turner Foundation, 1927-1994630-31
   Photographs, 19881066
   Photographs, n.d.1117
  Turnvereines des Nordseite (Milwaukee), 1890632
  Monroe Turners, 1898633
  Oconto Turners, 1969634
  Sheboygan Turners, 1925-2004635
   Photographs, 19501067
  Two Rivers Turn Verein, 1981636
  Watertown Turnverein, n.d.1068
  Waukegan Turners, n.d.1069
Photograph [available online]10-11 
Updated Jan 28, 2016 by Webmaster