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Forty-Eighters and Nativists(Part2)

Establishing German Organizations in America

Some of the better-known leaders of the revolution, Friedrich Hecker most of all, found welcoming crowds in the United States. Most, however, landed obscurely among thousands of regular emigrants who fled in those years because the revolution, with its upheavals, had taken place, not because It had failed. The true Forty-Eighter did not fit any mold. Wild-eyed revolutionaries were in the minority. Most were not any more radical in spirit, nor less brave, than the Americans who had taken up arms in 1776 or had sat in the Continental Congress. A good man had a university education, but just as many were tailors, farmers, capmakers or plain laborers. Their ranks included Lutheran pastors, rabbis and Catholic priests, freethinkers and painters, musicians, actors and engineers, contractors, army officers, lawyers, journalists, printers and the only active woman fighter, Mathilde Glesier-Anneke, who bravely continued her fight for woman suffrage among the burdened immigrant women in America.

Friedrich Hecker

Mathilde Geisler-Anneke

As political emigres, most of the Forty-Eighters thought of America as a temporary asylum until they could renew the fight for a democraticReich. Those with skills that were readily marketable were the first to cut themselves adrift from the movement and, once familiar with the language of the country, stopped looking back. Intellectuals, journalists and teachers were much more dependent on the German language than craftsmen and artists. They flocked to the German centers where they could find an audience and employment. Most settled in cities, although a contingent of participants In the Schleswig-Holstein liberation struggle joined countrymen in rural Scott County, Iowa. New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee were their favorite destinations. A few came to a tragic end. There were cases of suicide and insanity, and for others a thorny road back to Germany. In due time, most emigres settled down to Work and came to terms with the defeat of their cause in Europe and with the realities confronting them in America.

The appearance of the Forty-Eighters on the American scene occured at an important juncture in the history of German immigration. Mid-nineteenth century arrivals could choose whether to plunge bravely into the American mainstream or to move principally or wholly within the narrower circle of an emerging German-America. Those who chose German-America found that recent social and intellectual developments in immigrant communities offered them a rich cultural milieu. One such development was the rise of numerous Clubs and societies, called Vereine. The earliest such organizations were singing societies. Beginning with the Philadelphia Männerchor of 1834 and the Liederkranz of Baltimore, glee clubs mushroomed, even in the smallest towns. At regular intervals they would meet for a regional and national competition, the Sängerfest.

In 1868, German Sängerfest societies gather
together in Chicago´s Wabash Avenue Ring
to hold a contest. Music was verz important to
Germans, and thez formed glee clubs and
choral groups wherever they settled.

Next came the Turnverein, the gymnastic society based on the same principles that Lieber and Beck had introduced in Boston. The real impetus for widespread organization of Turner groups came from some of the Forty-Eighters. On Friedrich Hecker's initiative, the first Turnverein was founded in Cincinnati in 1848. Others followed in rapid succession all over the Midwest as well as in the East, where active ones existed from Boston to Richmond in 1850. The membership was dedicated to "cultivation of rational training, both intellectual and physical in order that the members may become energetic, patriotic citizens of the Republic." The intellectual side was taken care of by lectures and by the establishment of Turner libraries. Immigrants combining interests in the native American craze for colorful militia formations and the Germanic Schützenverein, or rifle club, could don fanciful uniforms and join companies of German huzzars, fusileers and riflemen.

Other organizations too, beckoned the new arrivals from Central Europe. American fraternal organizations, notably the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows, chartered special German speaking lodges and immigrants started new orders of their own, the Sons of Hermann in 1840 and the German-Jewish B'nai B'rith in 1843. Large centers of immigrant population boasted German theatres, orchestras and literary societies. Recent arrivals could send their children to German-speaking schools at the local church, synagogue, or Turnverein. They could keep abreast of the news in the community by reading one of many German newspapers, many of them begun by Forty-Eighters. (The proliferation of the Vereine hardly would have been possible without such organs.) And they could find companionship, good singing and good beer at one of the saloons or beer gardens.

During the nineteenth century, a multitude of German-American
social organizations were founded, enabling the Immigrant to
maintain contacts with the old way of life. These clubs, known as
Vereine, fostered cooperation among older and newer residents.
This lunch club was founded in Hengstenberg, TX.

Except for employment and inevitable business contacts, it was possible for the immigrants to move entirely within a German world on American soil in the early 1850's. Many did precisely that. But no matter how German these neighborhoods looked to the native Americans, they impressed European visitors as quite American, with their diversity of freely expressed views and multifarious organizations. German-America, as a halfway house, eased the shock of transition for many and fulfilled a desirable function in Integrating the immigrant into American life.

SPAN200 by Klaus Wurst and Norbert Muehlen. Published in behalf of Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart

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