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.
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The Männerchor of Philadelphia, founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 15 December 1835, was the first German-American singing society in the United States. It was founded by musical director Philip Mathias Wolsieffer, together with 11 members of an existing German-American educational society called the Bildungsverein. The latter group, which organized lectures and discussions, had been founded in 1834 by Johann Georg Wesselhöft, and W. Schmöle. Wolsieffer was a music teacher who had emigrated from the Palatinate region of Germany in 1833, and came into contact with the group through Wesselhöft, who was a bookseller and editor of the weekly Philadelphia newspaper Die alte und neue Welt. In 1837, when Wolsieffer moved to Baltimore to become a teacher at the Zion School there, he helped to found the Baltimore Liederkranz. Wolsieffer served several terms as the director of the Männerchor, in 1835-1837, 1845-1857, and 1862-1866. During his first terms as director he also served simultaneously as president of the society, as was the custom at the time .
A women's chorus was first formed in 1836, but dissolved after two years. A second women's chorus, known as the Damenchor des Männerchor, was founded in December 1840 and remained in continuous existence into the 20th century, numbering over 100 members in 1935.
In 1844 the Männerchor joined with visiting singers of the Baltimore Liederkranz in a singing festival in Philadelphia, laying the groundwork for what would later become regularly held regional singing festivals. In 1850, five Philadelphia singing societies -- Männerchor, Liedertafel, Saengerbund, Eintracht, and Cäcilia -- joined together and arranged a great singing festival on 15-18 June, which drew the participation of 10 additional singing societies from other cities. P. M. Wolsieffer served as the festival's musical director. By the end of 1850, the Männerchor had 35 active members .
From out of the singing festival of 1850 a regional alliance of singing societies was formed that eventually became known as the Nordöstlicher Sängerbund (Northeastern Saengerbund), which continues in existence today. Twelve regional singing festivals were held between 1850 and 1871. In 1881, after a lull, Philadelphia societies, including Männerchor, joined together in a new umbrella association, the Vereinigte Sänger von Philadelphia (United Singers of Philadelphia). The latter group brought a return to the custom of organizing regional singing festivals approximately every three years, and, to that end, revived the Nordöstlicher Sängerbund.
After having occupied various locales in its earlier years, the Männerchor moved to a hall located at Franklin Street and Coates Avenue (late: Fairmount Avenue) in 1871, where it remained through at least the mid 1880s. The move drew new members and by year's end 1871 it had 45 singing and 480 passive members .
In 1885 the Männerchor celebrated its 50th anniversary with a three-day program of events, on 15-17 December, including a grand concert at the Academy of Music on the second evening, and a banquet at Industrial Hall on the last evening. Among the participants were delegates from singing societies of cities on the East coast, as well as Milwaukee, and St. Louis; and from a Viennese singing society, Wiener Männer-Gesangverein . The president of Männerchor at that time was Edmund Wolsieffer (son of P. M. Wolsieffer), and the musical director was Samuel L. Herrmann. In honor of the anniversary Oswald Seidensticker, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher of German-American history, published a detailed history of the Männerchor.
At the 16th National Saengerfest, in Newark, New Jersey, in July 1891, Philadelphia singing societies won the city prize, as well as first prize in all three competition divisions, with the Männerchor winning in the first-class division.
In October 1891 the Männerchor finally purchased its own hall at 551-553 N. 5th Street; after renovations it moved into that hall sometime in 1893 . In 1912 it moved to a hall at 1641-43 N. Broad Street, which it shared with the Harmonie Singing Society. After the Junger Männerchor joined them at that location, in September 1913, it became known as Deutsches Haus (German House). The three societies remained there until August 1915, at which point Harmonie moved together with Arion, at Arion Hall, located at 1402 W. Oxford Street, and Männerchor moved to 13th Street and Columbia Avenue. Not long afterward, the latter location was struck by a fire, in which the Männerchor's minute books and various keepsakes were destroyed .
Beginning in 1887 the Männerchor sponsored annual German-American Charity Balls, held at the Academy of Music. The last such ball was held in the 1916/1917 winter season; the custom came to an end with the entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917.
In 1920 Männerchor joined Harmonie and Arion at Arion Hall, 1402 W. Oxford Street. The three societies remained together at that location until 1934. Männerchor moved out on 15 October of that year, to a hall at 1217 N. 7th Street, where it joined Harmonie, Pfälzer Casino and other societies.
On 25 November 1935 the Männerchor celebrated its 100th anniversary with a banquet and ball at the Philadelphia Turngemeinde Hall (Broad Street and Columbia Avenue), at which time William B. Graf was president, and Johannes Kramers, musical director. According to the souvenir booklet for the event, the singers who performed on that occasion included 68 male members, and 57 female singers of the Damenchor. Also, an additional five members, including Kramers, were listed as lifelong members of the Männerchor; 32 as honorary members; and 154 as passive members.
According to Herbert Schmidt, in a brief history published in honor of the Männerchor's 150th anniversary in 1985 , both the men's and the women's chorus stopped singing in 1970 due to lack of singers. A small group of remaining members celebrated the 150th anniversary with a banquet at the Vereinigung Erzbegirge, in Warminster, Pennsylvania, 22 November 1985, on which occasion the society was officially dissolved.
 That custom held until 1849; beginning in 1850 president became a separate office. For a complete list of the group's presidents and musical directors from the founding through 1935, see the 100th anniversary souvenir program ( The one hundredth anniversary celebration of the Maennerchor of the city of Philadelphia; GAC Pamphlet AG 152.2). Seidentsticker's 1885 history includes a list of presidents and musical directors, as a well as a comprehensive membership list, through 1885.
 Seidensticker, p. 38.
 Seidensticker, p. 73-74.
 Heinrici's history of the Männerchor in the souvenir program of 1935 gives a detailed account of the 50th anniversary events in 1885.
 More details are given in "Maennerchor," Souvenir programme of the grand musical and dramatic festival ... (1893), p. 33.
 The fire and the loss of the records are reported by Heinrici, but he does not specify the year.
 See announcement/historical sketch by Herbert Schmidt, May 1985, Folder 3.
Heinrici, Max. "Geschichte des Männerchors der Stadt Philadelphia." In: The one hundredth anniversary celebration of the Maennerchor of the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Graf & Breuninger, 1935. (GAC Pamphlet AG 152.2)
"Maennerchor" (p. 33). In: Souvenir programme of the grand musical and dramatic festival in aid of the Police Pension Fund Association, under the auspices of the United Singers of Philadelphia. 1893. (GAC Oversize Pamphlet AG 190.2)
The one hundredth anniversary celebration of the Maennerchor of the city of Philadelphia [souvenir booklet]. Philadelphia: Graf & Breuninger, 1935. (GAC Pamphlet AG 152.2)
Seidensticker, Oswald. Geschichte des Männerchors in Philadelphia: 1835-1885. Philadelphia: Verlag des Männerchors, 1885. (GAC AG 50)
The collection comprises a bound volume containing a constitution and by-laws (circa 1908), a charter, two photographs, songbooks from festivals, and a few items of ephemera and memorabilia, related to the Männerchor, the first German-American singing society in the United States, founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 15 December 1835. The charter is the original handwritten version, signed by 13 members, and certified by the City of Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, 19 March 1868, and later signed and sealed by the office for recording deeds, 3 March 1880. The other items include a banner dedicated to the society in 1925 from the women's chorus (Damenchor); a program and menu for the 100th anniversary banquet and ball, in November 1935, along with a miniature souvenir banner dedicated to the Männerchor on that occasion by the Vereinigten Sänger von Baltimore (United Singers of Baltimore); and two photographs taken at the 150th anniversary celebration, in 1985, at which time the society was officially dissolved, according to a note on the verso of one of the photographs, signed by Herbert Schmidt, one of the last active members.
Gift of Herbert R. Schmidt, circa 1985, and additional gift (charter) of Albert Schmidt, 2009. One item (program, 1887), gift of Charles F. Gerhard, 1966. One item (Otto Beier Ehren-Diplom), gift of Marlene Stocks (daughter of Ernst and Doris Knott), 2020.
- Choral societies
- German American women
- German Americans
- German Americans--Music
- German Americans--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Music festivals
- Societies, etc
- German Society of Pennsylvania: Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Violet Lutz (2013.09), edited to add new items by Jehnna Lewis (2022.09)
- Finding Aid Date
- The initial 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." Additional processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, as part of the German Society of Pennsylvania's 2020 Historical and Archival Records Care Grant.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
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