Philadelphia Turngemeinde collection
Held at: German Society of Pennsylvania: Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library [Contact Us]611 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19123
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the German Society of Pennsylvania: Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Philadelphia Turngemeinde was one of the oldest German-American 'Turner,' or gymnastics clubs in the United States, founded 15 May 1849, preceded only by similar societies founded in Cincinnati and New York, both in 1848. Beginning around the late 1930s the club often used the anglicized form of its name: the Philadelphia Turners.
The name 'Turner' came from the German verb 'turnen,' meaning 'to perform gymnastics exercises,' a term invented in Germany by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who established an open-air gymnasium, or athletic field (Turnplatz), in Berlin, in 1811, in the period following Prussia's defeat in the Napoleonic wars. Jahn ultimately inspired a German movement of physical education that was also a vehicle for nationalist aspirations. Turner clubs (Turnvereine) cultivated ideals of the education and free development of the entire person, both the body and the mind, in the context of community. The Turner, or gymnastics movement in the United States grew rapidly with the arrival of a new wave of German immigrants in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848/1849. Drawing on the teachings of Jahn, the motto used in the American Turner movement was "a sound mind in a sound body."
The founding of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde took place at 48 N. 4th Street near Cherry Street. The club's first Turnplatz was on Vine Street between 7th and 8th (later the location of Miller's Winter Garden) . During the course of its early history, the Turngemeinde used a number of different venues. In 1858 it moved into a hall at 444 N. 3rd Street (Willow and 3rd), where it remained until 1881.
On 4 and 5 October 1850 a convention of five or six Turner societies was held at the home of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde, including societies of New York, Boston, and Baltimore, and they joined to form an alliance called the Turner-Bund. On 29 and 30 September 1851 the first common gymnastics festival, the Bundes-Turnfest, was held in Philadelphia on Lemon Hill (later part of Fairmount Park). These events marked the beginning of the national organization that later became known as the Nordamerikanischer Turnerbund (North American Gymnastic Union), the forerunner of the American Turners of today.
In 1854, on 2 to 6 September, the fourth national Turnfest was held in Philadelphia, again on Lemon Hill. The otherwise successful festival was marred by fighting caused by gangs of 'rowdies,' motivated by nativist, or anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Philadelphia Turngemeinde was incorporated in 1861. In a historical sketch of the club, published in a program for a charity event in 1916, the writer highlighted the following clause in the charter as most aptly expressing the club's purpose: "The object of the said corporation shall be the intellectual and physical improvement of the members by forming and keeping up a library, by establishing schools and by furnishing instructions in gymnastic exercises" .
Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, the club formed a battalion from its shooting section to fight in the Union Army. In total over 120 members served in the army during the war .
Philadelphia again hosted national Turnfests in 1879 and 1900.
A women's auxiliary of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde, called the Damen-Verein (later, the Ladies Society of the Philadelphia Turners) was founded on the 5 September 1877, and remained in existence until at least the late 1950s .
In 1886 the Turngemeinde held its first gymnastics exhibition at the Academy of Music. It held such exhibitions in many subsequent years. In connection with these events, it advocated for the establishment of physical education as a part of the public school curriculum, a goal that was also pursued by other Turner clubs across the country .
Philadelphia Turngemeinde official directories dating 1890 to 1900 show that it had sections for singing (Turner Gesang-Sektion) and shooting (Turner Schützen-Sektion, or Rifle Company), and mutual-aid groups for burial and sickness (Turner Sterbe-Kasse; Turner Kranken-Kasse No. 1 and No. 2). Its school, which was apparently founded around the time of incorporation, taught gymnastics, fencing, singing, drawing, writing (i.e. German language), and ladies' needlework (the latter under the auspices of the Damen-Verein). The Turngemeinde also held social events, including an annual ball (the first one was on 1 October 1849), and maintained a lending library.
After selling its hall at 444 N. 3rd Street in 1881, the Turngemeinde formed a building association and raised funds to build its own specially equipped hall, which opened at 433-435 N. 6th Street, in 1883 (the address became 429-435 N. 6th Street after expansions in 1894 and 1896).
Later, the Turngemeinde again had a new hall built, which opened in 1911, on the northeast corner of Broad Street and Columbia Avenue (today, Cecil B. Moore Avenue), where it remained for more than 30 years. In 1946 the Turngemeinde sold that building to Temple University, and by the early 1950s it was occupying temporary quarters at 8401 Frankford Avenue. In 1955 it moved into new permanent quarters at 6128 Germantown Avenue.
In 1902 the Turngemeinde had 950 members, plus 100 junior members, aged 16 to 21; and approximately 500 students at its school . It had nearly 1,000 members in 1935, but by 1940 membership had dropped to only 300 members; it probably had several hundred members during the 1950s . After 1960 the Turngemeinde continued for a number of years as a small social club .
 Ereignisse der Turngemeinde (1902), p. 1.  "A brief history of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde," p. 12.  Pumroy and Rampelmann (1996), p. 224.  See the Records of the Ladies Society of the Philadelphia Turners (Ms. Coll. 49).  The "Brief history" of 1916 provides details about club members who contributed to the establishment of a physical education program in Philadelphia's public schools (p. 12).  Ereignisse der Turngemeinde, (1902), p. 8  Pumroy and Rampelmann (1996), p. 224.  According to Pumroy and Rampelmann (1996), the club definitively disbanded in 1982 (p. 224).
"A brief history of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde" (p. 12-13). In: Grand concert and gymnastic exhibition under the auspices of the United Singers of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Turngemeinde, in aid of the families of the Pennsylvania National Guard ordered to the front. [Philadelphia, 1916]. (GAC Pamphlet AE 2036)
"History of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde," in: The Turners' Bulletin (published by the Philadelphia Turngemeinde), circa 1937 to 1940s, in installments, by various authors, including Charles F. Daum. (GAC Oversize AZ 884+)
Metzner, Henry. History of the American Turners (3rd rev. ed.). Rochester, N.Y. : National Council of the American Turners, 1974. (GAC Pamphlet AE 1260.7)
Philadelphia Turngemeinde. Official directory of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde for 1890, 1891/1892, 1893/1894 (Troelsch & Pfizenmayer), and Official directory list of members for 1900 (Thos. Pfizenmayer). (GAC Pamphlets AE 1250 and AE 1257).
Philadelphia Turngemeinde. Ereignisse der Turngemeinde -- Turnhalle, 444 Nord Dritte Strasse -- Entstehung und Entwickelung der Turnhalle, 429-435 Nord Sechste Strasse, aus dem Notizenbuch von L. Hillebrand, 1849-1902. [Philadelphia, 1902]. (GAC Pamphlet AE 1255)
"Philadelphia Turngemeinde" [historical sketch] (p. 94). In: Souvenir programme of the grand musical and dramatic festival in aid of the Police Pension Fund Association. [Philadelphia, 1893]. (GAC Oversize Pamphlet AG 190.2)
Pumroy, Eric L., and Katja Rampelmann (compilers). Research Guide to the Turner movement in the United States (Bibliographies and indexes in American history, no. 33). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Includes: "Historical overview of the Turner movement in the United States," p. xvii-xxx; entry on the Philadelphia Turners, p. 223-226.
"Turner endowment." In: American Turner topics, vol. 17, no. 11 (December 1955/January 1956), p. 14. Tells about the new headquarters of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde at 6128 Germantown Avenue.
Collection of miscellaneous records as well as ephemera of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde (also known as the Philadelphia Turners), one of the oldest German-American Turner, or gymnastics clubs in the United States, founded in 1849. The records include a letter dated 1900 from Turngemeinde vice president Louis F. Schuck to the Academy of Music; an original manuscript (4 leaves), dated 1911, by member Casper Fischer, telling the history of the organization from the founding until 1899; and a guest register for events of the club from 1956 to1958. The guest register contains names and addresses of attendees of anniversary celebrations; spring and fall festivals; and parties. One of the events was a birthday party for gymnast Roberta Ranck-Bonniwell, on 6 April 1957.
The earliest dated ephemera are invitation letters, program and admission ticket to the dedication ceremony of the new Turngemeinde hall in 1883; and the first two leaves of the Philadelphia newspaper Vereins und Logen Zeitung for 20 May 1899 containing the report of the Turngemeinde's 50th anniversary celebration. The remaining ephemera date from 1909 to approximately the 1930s, including: program for the 60th anniversary in 1909; membership brochure, circa 1919; picture postcard of the Philadelphia Turngemeinde Country Club in Eddington, Pa., circa 1930s; program for a musical and gymnastic event honoring the senior gymnast squad, the Bären-Riege, in 1935; and undated fliers telling the story of the Turner flag in the Civil War.
Collection assembled by staff from various donations, including: an original manuscript by Casper Fischer, gift of the author, circa 1911; Louis F. Schuck letter (1900), gift of Ernie Mabrey, 2011; picture postcard of Philadelphia Turngemeinde Country Club, gift of Eileen A. Lynch, 2011.
- German Society of Pennsylvania: Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Violet Lutz
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from the Max Kade Foundation, as part of the grant project "Retrieval and Cataloging of the German-American Experience, 1918-1960."
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This collection is open for research.
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Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the German Society of Pennsylvania with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
1 leaf. In English. Typed, signed by Louis F. Schuck, vice president. Concerns an appeal to the Academy to reconsider its decision to cancel the Turngemeinde's lease for 30 April 1900. Schuck refers to the Turngemeinde's repeated and continuing use of the Academy for purposes of gymnastic exhibitions and its hard work in persuading the North American Gymnastic Union to have the 28th Great National Gymnastic Festival in Philadephia, with an exhibition scheduled at the Academy in June 1900, for which the April event would be prepatory
4 leaves. In German. Typed. Original text by a member of the Turngemeinde, speaking in the first person. Fischer joined the Turngemeinde in 1851, and gives an overview of the organization's history up to 1899. Evidently written (or dictated) as a contribution to the German American Archive of the German Society of Pennsylvania
Bound volume, 76 pages (+ many blank pages at back). Guest entries (names, addresses) for various social events, including anniversary events (with the anniversaries of both the Turngemeinde and the Ladies Society noted); spring and fall festivals; and New Year's Eve and Halloween parties. One of the events was a birthday party for gymnast Roberta Ranck-Bonniwell, on 6 April 1957
In German. Cover reads: 60. Stiftungsfest, Philadelphia Turngemeinde, Sonntag, den 16. Mai 1909. Includes the menu for the event; the text of a poem by Lotta L. Leser (Frau Dr. Victor Leser), "Prolog zur 60jaehrigen Jubelfeier der Philadelphia Turngemeinde," which was recited; and a list of 40 members who received 25-year diplomas. One of the featured speakers was Turngemeinde member Charles H. Hexamer, president of the National German-American Alliance
4 pages. In German and English. Contains application form and description of facilities, with sketch of the clubhouse at Broad Street and Columbia Avenue. Printed date of the 1910s, with 1919 pencilled in
"Philadelphia Turngemeinde Country Club, Eddington, Pennsylvania." Postmarked 6 August 1934; correspondence of members Paul J. and Ruth Bieble
2 items, 2 leaves. A German and an English version