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Turnverein Clubs: Positive Impact of Those Clubs in Communities

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

My great-grandparents on either side with friends in the center of this photo

My great-grandparents on either side with friends in the center of this photo

Turnverein Clubs

The Turnverein Club, in which my great-grandparents were members many years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had its origins in Germany. Many people from Germany had emigrated and settled in Milwaukee during the 19th century.

When brought 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. Because of their efforts, the creation of parks, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, theaters, ballrooms, and the like happened.

The people who joined these clubs 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. The forging of long-lasting friendships took place.

There are still Turnverein clubs that exist today. They include ones in Milwaukee, Madison, and other places in Wisconsin plus around the nation. Now they are mostly referred to as the Turners.

Country Outing

My great-grandparents were members and primarily did all of their exercises and socializing with the rest of their club members in Milwaukee those many years ago. At least once each summer, many of their club members would come out to my great-grandparent's cottage on Okauchee Lake for a country outing.

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 the participants told many stories and sang numerous songs. Some of the people would swim while others played horseshoes.

Some of the women sent food 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! My mother was a young child but still vividly remembered them singing German songs in harmony as the sounds reverberated across the lake. She enjoyed watching the merriment 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.

In the city, the camaraderie continued throughout the year. Fencing was an activity enjoyed by many of the club participants. Handball was another. The objective was to keep club members engaged and exercising while also doing things to improve themselves and the community.

Location of Milwaukee and Okauchee in Wisconsin

Active Lifestyle

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: swimming, sailing, water skiing, ice skating, sledding and tobogganing, bowling, bicycling, playing horseshoes, playing croquet, playing ping pong, and dancing.

Some 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

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 campaigns in countries an ocean away.

In the 19th century, the clubs filled many recreational needs while providing venues for social occasions in towns and cities all across our nation. That is their lasting legacy.

United States postage stamp commemorating the centenary of the American Turners. Date 1948

United States postage stamp commemorating the centenary of the American Turners. Date 1948

Turner Clubs Today

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 as in the past, there are still clubs existing today with third and even fourth generations from the same families involved in these Turner clubs.

Fun to Watch This Video!



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2021:

Hi Vidya,

Those are my great-grandparents in the photos. They did have fun with that group from the Turnverein club, and they did stay fit. I am glad you enjoyed learning about this philanthropic group that still exists in places today. Thanks for your comment.

VIDYA D SAGAR on April 13, 2021:

A very interesting article Peggy. The philosophy of Turnverein clubs of sound minds and fit bodies as also their philanthropic work and fun get togethers are all so wonderful. And your grand parents look so fit in the pics. It is so awe inspiring. Have a great day.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2021:

Hi Manatita,

The Turners do many philanthropic things in their communities. My husband was a member of a Rotary Club for many years. As you mentioned, they also do much to aid the communities where they are located.

You have certainly seen much of this world! 46 countries! That is amazing!

One of my husband's cousins is a doctor. He and his wife have traveled around the world with a Christian organization helping people. He has probably been to as many countries, or perhaps even more than you have. Often, these are very primitive places. They are to be commended.

manatita44 from london on April 12, 2021:

Never heard of them, but they seem to have a solid philosophy. I like that. They remind me of the Rotary Club, as they do a lot of similar things and their socials and philanthropy are very similar.

The Rotary Club were very instrumental in helping us in Tanzania. We took our World Harmony Torch and told them of our philosophy, which they liked and we were wined and dined at an expensive hotel. My travels around the world have been so beautiful!! I traveled about 300 times across 46 countries.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 12, 2021:

Hi Brenda,

It is excellent that you belong to an organization that helps other causes. The Turnverein clubs started with the idea of sound bodies and minds but were influential in many other community causes. They still do that today in places where they exist. Thanks for your comment.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 12, 2021:


I have never heard of this club, but it seems like your great grandparents enjoyed their time participating.

Things were different back in the day where people could gather like this & contribute to making the world a better place.

Your grandparents at least kept up the traditions of enjoying the activities even though they were not members.

In my little town we have The Fraternity of the Eagles.

I am a member. We do help with alot of causes and sometimes donate things to like a local community ballfield.

Thanks for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 12, 2021:

Hi Allan,

Turner or Turnverein Clubs still exist in many places. I am glad that you learned about them here. Thanks for your comment.

Allan on April 11, 2021:

Never heard of this organization that your ancestors enjoyed. Good for them.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 09, 2021:

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for your response to this article about the Turnverein clubs. My ancestors were participants and made many long-lasting friendships there.

Dennis on April 08, 2021:

Nice remembrance of days gone bye. Your ancestors look very happy enjoying their club outings.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2013:

Hi vertualit,

Nice to know that you enjoyed reading this enough to read it again. I did some much needed editing, so do hope you will come back. It is interesting learning about the influence that the Turnverein clubs have had in this country. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 25, 2013:

Hi Indian Chef,

Yes...many Germans immigrated to the U.S. even prior to World War I. Glad that you found this article enlightening. Thanks for your comment and the share.

Abdus Salam from Bangladesh on May 25, 2013:

Very interesting hub. Going to read again.. Thanks for sharing..

Indian Chef from New Delhi India on May 25, 2013:

Wow I didn't know about that Germans were there much before WW2 in USA. Also it was wonderful that your grand parents had nice circle and would have fun in the club. Sharing, voting up , awesome and interesting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 15, 2012:

Hi alocsin,

From what I know quite a few Germans settled in Texas. From the days of your great grandparents, do you still have family members living in Texas? Did any of them belong to Turn verein clubs? Thanks for your comment and votes.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 15, 2012:

Peggy, my great grandparents were also German, but they were from Giddings, Texas, which is not too far out of Austin. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 20, 2011:

Hello German Wisconsin,

Sorry for the late response. This went into the spam folder because of the link you left in the comment section and I just now found it. I am allowing it for those who may be interested. Thanks!

German Wisconsin on November 20, 2010:

Wie Gehts German-American Facebook users!

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about a great new page titled

“German Wisconsin” Please find the link below and if you like it, please click “Like” and learn about the wonderful German-American cultural activities going on in our beautiful state.

Please pass this on to your friends on facebook by clicking "Suggest to Friends" Let's keep German-American Heritage Alive. Vielen Dank für Ihre Unterstützung.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 25, 2009:

Hello Zollstock,

Good for you raising your children bi-lingual. My mother only knows some words but cannot converse, so we did not learn German. Good luck in finding some German dancing and singing partners! LOL Thanks for your comment.

Zollstock from Germany originally, now loving the Pacific NW on June 25, 2009:

I remember my father taking me to a Friedrich Jahn memorial when I was little. My dad, being a German PE teacher, was in awe of the man who started a wave of national exercise and body consciousness. While this "Turnvater" and his followers may have meddled with history at the time, I look at these clubs as a way to perpetuate German culture abroad. Living in WA State now, I am raising my kids bilingually and am always on the look-out for bits and pieces of German culture. I just might have to dust off my gymnastics suit and find some elderly German immigrants to waltz and sing drinking songs with ;-). Thanks for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hello Candie,

Yes, I am fortunate to know as much as I do about my grand-parents and even some about my great-grandparents. I wish I knew more, but there are no longer many people around that have the answers to my questions. My mother is my remaining source of information and for that, I am grateful. Thanks for commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hi Kiran, I'll take that as a "unusual and interesting" hubs. LOL I'm waiting for a new one from you!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hi Melody,

My mother is my main source of information as she actually experienced seeing the fun the club members had at the cottage each summer.

She also told me that the singing of German songs halted during the World least openly. In fact, she remembers arguments among her relatives (during World War 2) relating to ones that ABSOLUTELY did not BELIEVE that the good German people could have had a hand in anything so atrocious as the killing of so many people in concentration camps.

Of course it was the biggest shock for them to find out that it HAD in fact happened. They undoubtedly went to their graves shaking their heads in sorrow and bewilderment.

There are some people today that would like to erase this history. Hopefully they will never succeed because such inhumanity to man must be shown and kept alive so that it is never repeated.

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on June 20, 2009:

What an amazing legacy! You are so lucky to know these things about your family. Many don't know beyond their parents! Thanks for sharing them with us!

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on June 19, 2009:

You come up with the most unusual and interesting articles , thanks a lot :)

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on June 19, 2009:

It must have been fun and cool.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2009:

Hi Mighty Mom,

Yes, dancing is good exercise! Sounds like you have had some fun with this. Thanks for the great comment.

Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on June 19, 2009:

It's fascinating to read about the original purpose and practices of these social clubs. My only exposure to a Turn Verein here in Sacramento is the annual Oktoberfest. It is a 2-night festival of all things German -- giant tables are set up in the main auditorium, a polka band plays, the beer flows, and people have a grand old time. I love watching the people in their traditional German costumes (leiderhosen, dirndls). Had a delightful experience one year when my boyfriend went to the men's room I was approached by a little old German gentleman. He waltzed me around the floor so expertly I swear my feet didn't even touch the ground!

That's where I learned to dance The Chicken Dance, too.

Good times at the Turn Verein! I guess you could call all the dancing good exercise:-)! Thanks for the fun hub, Peggy! MM

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

You are correct, in that people are people. Circumstances change and some people have inherited more from which to experience and expand upon, but the underlying jobs of raising (hopefully) healthy and happy families are universal.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 19, 2009:

Its great remembering past generations. Times were so different but people much the same I guess.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2009:

Hi Pete,

Many people were in the "same boat." What brought them to America? Did they achieve their dreams after surviving the depression? Would be interesting to hear about it from your perspective.

Pete Maida on June 19, 2009:

My grandparents came from Italy and their main activity was keeping their kids fed during the depression.

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