Husband and I attended a family wedding in Milwaukee, WI recently. The ceremony and reception were held in the ballroom at Turner Hall, a historic building constructed in 1882. It takes its name from the German word “turnen” which means gymnastics or physical fitness. It was built for the members of Milwaukee’s Turners, a German-American gymnastic and political association. The photo at the top is of actual Milwaukee Turners. The building was quite ornate, but under restoration, with murals and photographs all over the walls and stairwells. The hall boasts of a ballroom, beer hall, and theatre, as well as a gymnasium where gymnastics is still taught.
The Turners began in Germany in 1811 to train young men in physical fitness and to resist Napoleon and anti-democratic forms of government. It was a nationalistic gymnastic organization, usually quite liberal in philosophy. Men tumbled and planned revolutions. The Turners were very active in the revolution of 1848. They didn’t do so well in that revolution, and many fled to the US, with a great number serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Turners provided an honor guard at Abe Lincoln’s inauguration as well as at his funeral. There were Turner Halls all over the US in the 19th Century in areas where there were concentrations of German immigrants. The Milwaukee chapter was founded in 1853 with the name “Socialist Turnverein”. All three of Milwaukee’s Socialist mayors were Turners.
The Turners held gymnastic competitions and provided social, political, and cultural support to German immigrants. The Turners are the reason we have physical education in our schools. They supported women’s suffrage, and, by the 1920’s, girls were also getting gymnastic training at the Milwaukee hall. My sister in law’s 90 year old mother tumbled and did rings and uneven bars there, under the direction of a male coach who would wack her with a stick if she messed up. They often espoused the motto “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body”, but I really like the more explicit motto below:
Liberty against all oppression
Tolerance against all fanaticism
Reason against all superstition
Justice against all exploitation
If you started an organization, what would your motto be?