The Turner movement began just after Napoleon’s humiliating defeat of the Prussian army in 1806. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, its founder born in 1778, started preaching that an independent Germany could result only through the unification of German lands, democratic reforms, and young Germans trained in vigorous physical exercise, patriotic ideals, and love of liberty.
The movement grew in 1811 after Jahn set up in Berlin a Turnplatz (athletic field) called the Hasenheide, where he embarked on the training of young men, both physically and mentally, for the liberation and unification of Germany under a reformed government. Answering the call, 500 young men took part in gymnastic exercises under his direction. Within a few months, Turner societies spread throughout German lands, and Jahn’s form of gymnastics launched a course of physical training that was to spread throughout 19th century Europe.
After the defeat of Napoleon, the Turner movement was associated with the Burschenshaften, student fraternities active in pushing for democratic reforms. Unfortunately for the Turner movement, however, a student fraternity member and Turner, Carl Sand, assassinated the reactionary writer August von Kotzebue in 1819, giving the German government the pretext for outlawing Turners. Thus, Jahn (who came to be called “Turnvater Jahn”) spent the next 20 years under police surveillance, although Turner activities, becoming even more popular, continued underground until 1842, when the restrictions were lifted.
The movement grew rapidly, with Turner competitions becoming a means of organizing for democratic reforms. Jahn’s nationalistic spirit contributed to his role as a promoter of “patriotic gymnastics,” recognized as a strong force in Prussia’s liberation. The gymnastic exercises that he introduced were intended to infuse his students with a patriotic love of freedom that would make them capable of bearing arms for their country in the name of war of liberation.
When the 1848 revolution broke out, the Turners divided into two camps: One was the conservative camp, favoring a constitutional monarchy as well as athletic and social programs, formed by the Deutscher Turnerbund. In the same year, the more radical Turners formed the Demokratischer Turnerbund, under Friedrich Hecker and Gustave Struve. These Turners fought alongside the democratic forces in Baden. Many members of the Demokratischer Turnerbund, after failure of the 1848 revolution, went into exile, largely by emigrating to the United States.
The movement in Germany came under the influence of conservatives, and the Deutscher Turnerbund became the leading athletic organization in the country. The German Turnerschaft, an umbrella organization for almost all Turnverein in Germany and Austria, was founded in Coburg, in 1860. In 1895, the Turnerschaft had a presence among 5312 clubs, with 529,925 members. The official publication was the Deutsche Turnzeitung, founded in Leipzig, in 1856.
After the failure of the 1848 uprising, the Germans who emigrated to the United States, called the “Forty-Eighters,” carried with them the Turnverein culture. It is not entirely clear as to where the first Turnverein was established in the United States. The Cincinnati Turnverein, organized in 1848, may have been the first.
By 1855, 74 societies had been formed, with about 4,500 members. By 1860, there were perhaps 10,000 American Turners. Between 1847 and 1857, about one million Germans emigrated to the United States. The leadership during this period consisted of many former journalists, teachers, and other professionals educated in Germany. In the 1850’s, the Turners opposed the pro-slavery elements in America and showed themselves committed to equality and liberty. They came into conflict with anti-German gangs and even became the center of anti-German riots in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Columbus, Covington, and Hoboken.
They followed the teachings of “Vater Jahn,” not simply for the joy of physical activity, but rather as a means of defending the principles of liberty and equality—and thus they were found serving at times as security personnel for their political allies. It was the American Civil War, however, that brought Turners into a position of prominence. Throughout the Unites States, Turners were among the first to volunteer for military service. More than two-thirds of American Turners served in the Union Army, with many earning distinguished service records. The Forty-Eighters, who had received military training in Germany and become active in the American Turner movement, led troops that had a reputation for discipline and courage. Turner companies from Chicago and Washington served as bodyguards for President Lincoln at his first Inauguration.
The Turners’ devotion to gymnastics as a road to an active and productive life became even stronger after the Civil War. Besides offering gymnastic opportunities for young men, the programs were expanded to young boys and girls, older men (known as Bären, or Bears), and adult women. By the start of the 20th century, the athletic competitions, called Turnfests, were turning into grand social events, with receptions, musical and theatrical performances, and parades.
In the mid-1880s, the Turners’ facilities and membership numbers soared. In 1880 the national membership was about 13,000 and spread over 186 societies. Over the next decade, the Turnerbund more than tripled in size, reaching its high point of 42,000 in 1893. Most of the growth came in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when more than 300 Turnverein in America were associated with the American Turnerbund.
Despite the Turners’ strong support for the American military effort during World War I, they were put under extreme pressure by anti-German propaganda, with many Turner societies coming under surveillance by local, state, and federal authorities. Despite the war hysteria, however, the American Turners came through the war intact. Membership dropped only slightly from pre-war levels (39,000 in 1917 to 34,000 in 1920).
As the Turnveren membership gradually assimilated, the use of the English language increased. The newspaper, Amerikanische Turnzeitung, published convention proceedings in German well into the 1930s, but after 1921 also produced an English version. Some societies began publishing in English even before World War I.
It is easy to conclude that the most difficult times for the American Turners were World War I and its aftermath. Rather, it was during the depression period between 1929 and 1944 that Turners lost more than one-third of their membership and societies. Then with the Nazi rise to power in Germany, anti-German tensions returned. In 1938, the American Turnerbund changed its name to the “American Turners.”
During the 1940s and 1950s the membership improved, rising to 25,000 in 1950. The society placed a number of Turner-trained gymnasts on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. But by the 1960s, a decline was clear, and by the early 1990s, the total membership in the United States was down to about 13,000 in 60 societies.
May 28: Signatures are gathered to start a Turnverein in Sacramento
June 2: The signators meet at the home of H. Ehmann, on J Street between 5th and 6th streets.
June 9: A constitution is ratified, effective June 20.
June 20: Temporary officers are elected.
July 5: Membership is recorded at 36.
July 13: Fire, starting in a furniture shop between 3rd and 4th streets and J and K streets, spreads east on J Street and North to I Street, destroying 12 city blocks, including Turner Hall with all its gymnastic apparatus.
November 15: A singing society, the beginnings of the Turner Harmonie, is formed, with C. Wolleb as director.
December 9: After meeting at various locations following the fire, the members begin meeting at the “Zinc House” in the alley between 7th and 8th streets and J and K streets.
December 10: The Turn Verein constitution is revised.
December 20: Members vote to join the Socialistischer Turnerbund Nordamerikas.
June 18-19: The Turners celebrate their first anniversary, with 40 Turners arriving from San Francisco on the steamer “Senator” to join them. The delegation parades by torchlight through the Sacramento streets, accompanied by a city band, the Swiss Rifle Club, the Sacramento Turners, and the Harmonie. It is greeted at Columbus Hall on the American River by a salute of cannons. The women of the Turn Verein present a flag as “…a sign of friendship the women have for your Turn Verein. We feel that although young, this organization has a great future. In the name of the German women, we wish you “Gut Heil!”
February: A gunsmith member, Carl Böttger, designs a seal (for $10), consisting of a sword, a torch, and a crossed handshake, symbolizing bravery, liberty, and friendship.
April: The organization is officially incorporated as the “Sacramento Turn Verein.”
July: A marksman section is organized, but does not last very long. A Founder’s Day event is planned and to be held at a building on the corner of 6th and L streets.
September 20: The Turners hold a torchlight parade in honor of the opening of the undersea telegraph line between Europe and America.
October 2: The Turners move to a new Turnhalle, their last move into rented quarters.
February 12: The Turners decide to leave the North American Turners and join the Pacific turners. The “Turn jacket” is replaced with the “Turn coat.” Dues are raised from $1.00 to $2.00 per month. Although it is decided that the Turnfest will be held in Sacramento in 1858, the Turners of the Pacific Coast decide that the Sacramento event will be delayed until after the new Turner Hall on K Street is completed.
October 9-11: The Sacramento Turners hold their State Festival. Sacramento Turners meet the San Francisco Turners and several glee clubs at the steamer and escort them to their K Street Turnerhalle, to the accompaniment of a marching band. The first land route from San Francisco to Sacramento becomes a reality.
April 18: A new constitution is drawn and accepted.
June: The Pacific Turnfest is held in Stockton. In this year, the first messenger of the Pony Express leaves Sacramento, and the Sacramento Turn Verein establishes gymnastics in Sacramento schools and furnishes its first instructors.
June 14-16: The Pacific Turnfest is held in Sacramento for the first time and is the most extensive held so far. (The first was held in 1860 in Stockton, the next in 1861 in San Francisco, and in 1862 in San Jose.) The Turnfest presents a concert and a huge parade, escorted by the City Guards, the National Guard and the Sacramento Hussars.
The Turner Library is formed.
August 30, 31, and September 1: The 8th Annual Pacific Coast Turn Verein Union holds its Turnfest in Sacramento, with many delegates from San Francisco attending.
October 3: The Turners hold a fair to aid the wounded, the widows, and children during the time the German armies were in France representing a united Germany. The fair brings in $3,500.
February: A torchlight parade is held in Sacramento, supported by all its German-Americans, to celebrate German unification and the end of the Franco-Prussian war.
April 19: The West Coast Turners decide to join the Pacific Turnerbund again. The Turners send aid to the sufferers from fire damage in Chicago, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
May: For their 18th annual picnic, the Turners march from Turner Hall to the depot to board streetcars for Richmond Grove, a park located between 19th and 21st streets, extending from Q Street to the alley before R Street.
December 25: The women present to the Turners a beautiful $600 flag of red silk, embroidered in gold with the words, “Frisch, Frei, Stark, Treu.” The flag is now on display in the Turn Verein Library.
February 19: The Turn Verein’s Drama Society is formed, presenting a play and sponsoring a ball.
May 2: The Turners celebrate their 20th anniversary with a picnic, attended by at least 1500 people, at the new 30-acre East Park, located on the east side of 31st Street between E and H streets (now McKinley Park). Activities include the usual singing and dancing in the afternoon and exercises including calisthenics, foot races and swimming.
February: The Karneval celebration is a success, bringing in $550. Despite the admission for men of $2.00 and $1.00 for women, a massive crowd attends. (Three months later, it is decided to increase the admission to $5.00, with only a limited number of tickets to be sold).
March 28: The May festival brings in $454, leading to the decision to pay off the $500 mortgage.
April 3: The Drama section is reorganized and a committee is formed to organize the Marksmen’s section.
August 10: A celebration of the 100th year since the birth of “Vater Jahn” is held in Richmond Grove, including a ball, a theater event, and the presentation of busts of Jahn.
June 1-2: Foundation Day, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Turn Verein, includes a picnic in Richmond Grove and a dance in the Turner Hall.
August 27: The Harmonie is rejuvenated with the arrival of the new director of music, Otto Fleissner.
October: A new instructor, Gustav Lohse, arrives and is introduced “with three loud Gut Heils.” A graduate of the Gymnastic Seminary in Milwaukee, he is credited with bringing new life to the organization.
In the first half of the year, a Turn Sisters organization if formed.
November 17: The Turners’ beloved instructor Gustav Lohse dies of typhus, age 23.
January 17: Several German clubs join with the Turners and donate 800 Marks to aid the Silesian flood victims.
February: The Drama section, which was discontinued, is started up again. At the Turnfest in Oakland, Sacramento wins many prizes. The Turners are accompanied by music to the railroad depot and also when the arrive home. The Turner Harmonie wins the first prize at the Turnfest.
March 16: The Turn Verein purchases, for $150, a plot in the Sacramento City Cemetery, 20 by 44 feet in size.
October: The Turn Verein observes the 200th year since the first landing of Germans in America, where they founded Germantown.
Early May: Sacramento celebrates a historical occasion, the Floral Festival, to honor Margaret E. Crocker, who has donated the Crocker Art Gallery with all its treasures to the City of Sacramento. To honor her, a procession is formed in which all the townspeople participate, including 1800 school children, the Hussars, the Hussar Band and the Turner Harmonie. The floral tributes are dramatic. The Turn Verein’s floral display consists of a handsome shield, five feet high and four feet wide. Across the face of the shield, Mrs. Crocker’s name is woven in, as well as the name of the Turner organization. At the corners and sides are emblems and the words “Gut Heil.”
April 1: Members of the various Turn Verein groups consist of 165 children, 49 active Turners and 12 women.
March 3: A 12-woman group begins to meet twice a week.
January 1: The Harmonie reorganizes. The teaching of the German system of Turnen is threatened by tight budgets.
March 11: The Turn Verein suffers difficult times as German immigration slows.
December 4: To build membership, it is decided to accept members “free,” who are age 18 to 25.
February 4: The last living founder, George Schroth, dies.
June: The Turnfest is held in Oakland. It is decided to establish a new singing society, and 16 singers sign up.
January 1: Singer membership increases. The 10 actives, 12 children, 24 boys, 16 girls, 9 women and 5 elderly men (Bären) under instructor Chas. S. Knapp represent an increased membership. Captain Frank Ruhstaller is elected as the first speaker.
June 4-6: Sacramento’s 20th Turnfest takes place, with Captain Frank Ruhstaller presiding over the festivities of the Golden Anniversary.
May 14: A memorial celebration is held in Turner Hall in honor of the German poet Friederick Schiller, under the auspices of the United German Societies of Sacramento (12 societies, including three singing groups and Woodland).
April: Turner singers join the newly founded Pacific Sängerbund.
Six Turners attend the 11th German Turnfest in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Sacramento Turners compete with other singing clubs at the First Pacific Sängerbund Festival in San Francisco, bringing home the Austrian Wanderpreis, given by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. A formal picture of the Harmonie is sent to Kaiser Franz Joseph, who replies through his consulate in San Francisco.
A Drum Corps is added to the Turn Verein.
September: The gym classes, especially the youth groups, begin a period of rejuvenation following the hiring of Edwin Bercher of San Francisco as Turnlehrer. Bercher introduces the Youth Masquerade, to become an annual event. He also trains a large team of young men and women who perform at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition at San Francisco and receive many awards. (Bercher remains the Turnlehrer for 30 years, until his death in 1945.)
April: The Turn Verein holds a Shakespeare Feier and furnishes an elaborate float for the parade of the Spring Karneval.
The surplus of the Annual Masquerade Ball, some $4320, is turned over to the American Red Cross.
May: A resolution passed to the effect that henceforth Turn Verein business will be conducted in the English language instead of in German (including the minutes of the meetings as well as the bylaws).
The Turn Verein’s Handball-Paddleball Club is formed, later to be known as the Handball-Racquetball Club. Handball becomes a major Turn Verein sport from the 1930s through the 1950s. Racquets replace the paddles in the 1960s.
A large group of active Turners and a women’s team of 12 travel to Portland to participate in a three-day Turnfest of the Pacific District, including all Western states. At the same time, district headquarters are made in Sacramento. The principal aim is to revive the Stockton and San Jose Turnvereine. (Marysville ceased to exist at the outbreak of World War I.)
June 1-2: The Turn Verein’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrated.
Late June: The Turners find a young choral director in San Francisco, Anton H. Dorndorf, whom they engage to come once a week to Sacramento for rehearsal. As the new director, he settles in Sacramento and remains for 41 years until his death in 1970. Under him the singers participate at the third Grosses Pazifisches Sängerfest in San Francisco and win second prize.
April: The Drama Section, having reorganized, presents its first one-act play, “A Bargain is a Bargain,” followed by a German Musical Comedy presented by the Harmonie. Around this time the active Turners begin making annual trips into snow country—for example, trips to Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. Also, the Turn Verein keeps its young students busy by enlivening their dances with short vaudeville acts that demonstrate acrobatic abilities.
The Turnfest again takes place in Sacramento. This is the first time since 1904 that a competitive district meeting is held in Sacramento. More than 300 participants line up for the Mass Drill and 186 active Turners take part in the gym tournament.
May 5: An old traditional German festival, the Bockbierfest, is revived after 16 years, having been interrupted by passage of the Volstead Act in 1918. The event now becomes an annual event for the Turners.
November 3: The highlight of the 80th Anniversary program is the “Wagner-Weber Concert,” given by the combined groups of the Oakland and Sacramento Turner Singers, at Memorial Auditorium, with 200 voices, four soloists and an orchestra taking part.
December 10: The Harmonie undergoes a change, becoming a mixed chorus. Some 25 women join the group of men.
February: The Harmonie presents its first annual Mardi Gras, with a Queen’s contest and is seen as one of the most outstanding events planned in a long time by any Turner group.
July: Active Turners and women take part in the Turnfest in Oakland, performing the compulsory precision calisthenics drill. They not only take first place, but also are praised by the judges for receiving the highest scores of any such team in the records to date.
At the fourth Sängerfest of the Gross Pacific Sängerbund in San Francisco, the Harmonie wins first place in the mixed chorus class and receives the Beethoven Wanderpreis, given by the Reichs Musik Kammer, of Berlin, Germany. This prize is on display in the German-American Cultural Center—Library of the Turn Verein.
Turnlehrer Ed. Bercher, who served longer than any other instructor, dies.
The Actives organize a Turn Verein Boy Scout troop.
October: The Harmonie, having become the sponsor of an elaborate Goethe Festival, presents a concert and continues giving such performances annually, in German, at the Crocker Art Gallery.
January: The Harmonie presents a benefit concert in the Turner Hall, raising $1,500 for the Society of Crippled Children of Sacramento.
The Centennial celebration of the Sacramento Turn Verein is planned as a city-wide affair.
Through the efforts of its founder, Freddy Grosklos, the Sacramento Turn Verein Soccer Club is formed and joins the Central California Soccer League.
Racquets replace the paddles previously used in the popular sport enjoyed by the Turn Verein’s Handball-Paddleball Club, formed in 1927
Anton Dorndorf, director of the Turner Harmonie for 41 years, dies. Following him as director is Fedor A. Sinzig.
Dr. William J. Sullivan, Jr., as president of the Sacramento Turner Harmonie, begins his overseeing of numerous Harmonie performances in the Turner Hall as well as in many other locales. His guidance of the Harmonie continues until his untimely death in 2005.
May 30: Following the initiative of Hans Joachim Raschack, the Turn Verein Library, beautifully remodeled, becomes the focus of a grand opening, with city officials and the Consul General of the German Consulate in San Francisco participating. The opening of the Library leads to the formation of the Turn Verein’s newest section, the German-American Cultural Center—Library. The team of men who labored tirelessly from beginning to end on the project with Raschack were Franz Bröcker, Alfred Cummings, Günther Laudi and Uli Pelz. Monthly programs are presented in the Library, organized by the Cultural Center.
Fall: The Turn Verein for the first time in its history opens a German Language School, contracting with Irmgard Schlenker, who organizes day and evening German language classes for adults and Saturday classes for children.
December 4-5: The first Sacramento Turn Verein Christkindlmarkt, under the leadership of Thom Seliga, is organized and conducted by the Actives Section, resulting in an annual celebration during the Christmas season in Sacramento.
January: Mitteilungen, newsletter of the Turn Verein’s youngest section, the German-American Cultural Center—Library, is launched as a quarterly eight-page publication on German heritage, language, history, and culture. In 2009, Mitteilungen expands to a 12-page publication.
August 20: The Sacramento Turn Verein amends its bylaws to give membership status to qualified persons, regardless of gender. As a result, 21 women are installed as members between November 2003 and May 2004.
Many physical improvements are made in Turner Hall.
The Harmonie loses its longtime president Dr. William J. Sullivan, Jr., in 2005.
The Sacramento Turn Verein launches its Internet presence.
The first temporary officers are elected at the home of H. Ehmann, in the 500 block on J Street, at the “founding meeting.”
A fire that destroys much of Sacramento burns the Turner Hall and all the apparatus. For several months, meetings are held at various locations.
After gathering at different places following the fire, the members begin holding meetings at the “Zinkhaus,” in the alley between 7th and 8th streets, and J and K streets, constituting the members’ very first Turnhalle, rented for $12 per month.
The landlord of the Zinkhaus agrees to construct a new one-story building, 18 feet wide and 35 feet deep on the same site and to rent it to the Turners for $25 per month. On this date the new Turnhalle is dedicated. A new site is also found for the gymnastics grounds, on the south side of L Street between 7th and 8th streets.
The upper story of “Dr. McDonald’s building” is rented as a Turner Hall.
A committee is appointed to plan for the building of the Sacramento Turners’ own Turner Hall.
With 28 members present, $1,100 is collected for the building of a new hall. A site is purchased on K Street between 9th and 10th streets for $2,200. (Dues are raised from $1 to $2 per month.)
The cornerstone of the new Turner Hall on K Street is laid, with great celebration. Participating are the Mason Club, the Sutter Rifle, a military lodge and the Sacramento Union Brass Band. Included in the cornerstone are items such as American coins, Turn Verein statistics, the constitution of the Sacramento Turn Verein and German and American newspapers. Many Sacramentans attend the dedication ball, including Turners from San Francisco, Stockton, and Marysville. (With the financial help of the members, citizens, and a loan, the new Turner Hall is built for $16,000.)
Floods in Sacramento severely damage the Turner Hall.
The decision is made to build a second story on the Turner Hall, supported by a mortgage of $14,725. The advantages of such an addition include a roomy dance hall on the second floor, changing the former activity hall into a meeting hall, an enlarged kitchen and pantry, and the moving of the “ladies’ room” to the second floor.
May, 1869: Bids are turned in for the enlargement of the hall. The new second floor is to be used for balls and concerts, and the floor footage to be increased from 54 by 60 feet to 54 by 91 feet, with a ceiling height of 26 feet. It is to be completed with a stage at one end and a 30 by 54 foot gallery at the other end. On the first floor, the “Old” main hall is to serve as the gymnasium and dining room on special occasions while the old dining room is to be used for meetings.
October 7, 1869: An Inaugural Ball and dinner are held to dedicate the newly remodeled Turner Hall.
The May festival brings a profit of $454, and thus it is decided to pay $500 on the mortgage.
It decided to pay $350 for fresco paintings in the new hall. Some of the members, preparing to become city policemen, get their training there.
The cornerstone of the new Turner Hall at 3349 J Street is laid.
The new Turner Hall is dedicated.
Two courts are added to the rear of the building following the formation of the Handball-Paddleball Club.
The Turners pay off their mortgage by selling a real estate holding, the Argus Hotel. The hall is then debt-free. To make the hall self-supporting, two more meeting rooms are added upstairs.
Air conditioning is added to the Turner Hall.
Following three years of work remodeling the old library room in Turner Hall, as well as the sorting of thousands of letters, photos, and other memorabilia, the grand opening of the new Library is held, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony, at which a representative of the German Consulate in San Francisco participated.
Air conditioning is installed in the Library and the “Tavern.”
Building improvements made during the year include an elevator that runs between the basement and the second floor, a new roof, dry-rot and stucco repairs, painting of the interior and exterior, and the construction of a retaining wall.
Additional improvements made to the building and grounds include resurfacing of the parking lot, as well as the addition of trees and lighting, refinishing the gym floor, installing new curtains for the Banquet Hall and gym hall, and remodeling of the “multi-purpose trophy room” in the basement (the former club room).