Society

Madison Turners (Turnverein) is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1855 by German settlers. Although our founders were German today our membership is made up of a diverse group of people from all walks of life that believe in our motto “a sound mind in a sound body.”

We strive to:

  • Make possible the development of a sound mind. We sponsor lectures, debates, social functions, craft and hobby instructions and more. We also participate in community and other organizations activities when the purpose and aims are mutual.
  • Make possible the development of a sound body. We operate a school of gymnastics and offer volleyball and other sports and activities.
  • The school admits students of any race, color, gender, national and ethnic origin and does not discriminate for any reason. All our activities are open to members and non-members.

History of the American Turners

The Turners organization was founded in Germany in 1811 by German revolutionary and patriot Frederick Ludwig Jahn. Their purpose was to overthrow Napoleon, who had conquered Prussia, and have a unified Germany.

The Turners became very powerful both physically and politically and in 1848 helped spark a revolution to make Germany a republic. They were defeated, and over 600,000 Germans were exiled.

The first Turner society in the United States was organized in 1848 in Cincinnati, Ohio. These ’48ers, as they were called, created vigorous athletic, cultural and social societies throughout the country.

Once here in the United States, they faced the prejudice of such groups as the Know-Nothings, but prevailed and fought for their principles and their new country in the Civil War. At the outset of the Civil War, the Turners were among the first to respond the call to arms and enlist in the Union Army.

Turners have actively opposed all forms of oppression and have long been champions of equal rights. The Turners supported women’s suffrage, and it was from the Normal School at Milwaukee Turners that the first female physical education teacher graduated in 1875. The American Turners also developed much that is used today in Physical Education.

While German used to be the official language of the American Turners, membership and officer positions have long since been open to all Americans.

Although there were hundreds of Turner Societies in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, only about 65 still remain; most are east of the Mississippi. The active societies in Wisconsin are Sheboygan, Madison, Milwaukee and East Side Turners.