United States Origins

Three students of Jahn came to the U.S. in the 1820s and began to develop physical training programs in Massachusetts. Dr. Karl Beck established a Boys School in Northampton, also creating a gymnasium and writing an English language version of the Manual of Jahn's Turnerism. Dr. Karl Follen introduced gymnastics at Harvard. Dr. Franz Lieber established a swimming school in Boston and conducted physical training in the gymnasium established by Follen. By the late 1840s, other German immigrants to the United States were establishing Turn Verein societies in cities and towns where they settled. In addition to gymnastics, they fostered many athletic activities, eventually including ninepin bowling, which led to its ubiquitous presence throughout the country. They also embraced theater and music, general social interaction and civic involvement.

All of the societies in the United States are organized within the American Turners (formerly The American Turnerbund). Individual societies participate in regional Tournaments of American Turners and in an annual National Tournament. In a 1938 pamphlet describing the movement, the author states: “It is the principal duty of our Societies to provide courses in physical training for youth and adults, and also to promote their intellectual growth and moral character through special schools, instructive lectures and stimulative debates.” Elsewhere: “Believing in the United States as a democracy in a republic, established upon the principles of freedom and equality, dedicated to justice and humanity, we recognize in the harmonious education of body and mind the most important factor to preserve and perfect such a democracy.” The Turners believed that behavior should be based on reason and knowledge. They were adamant that religion and government should be absolutely separate. Of course, reflecting changing social expectations, the Turners also evolved to include girls and women and people of other ethnic groups and colors.


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Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.