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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

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