American Turners Northwest Chicago

The American Turners, a federation of Turner Societies in the United States and Canada, is organized to promote health and physical education, cultural education and rational thinking, in order to advance the, happiness and progress of mankind.

• Liberty against all oppression
• Tolerance against all fanaticism
• Reason against all superstition
• Justice against all exploitation


Free speech, free press, free assembly for discussion of all questions so that men and women may think unfettered and order their lives by the dictates of their conscience - such is our ideal which we strive to attain through 'a sound mind in a sound body'.
These are our principles-a large order in today's society.The American Turners, while still operating under the basic principles and programs of their German founders, are completely Americanized. People of many different nationality backgrounds now hold offices in the national body and in most of the Societies. The basic emphasis now is on developing the young children and adolescents in the fundamentals and intermediate skills of gymnastics and other physical and cultural activities. With few exceptions, advanced instructions are left to the well-qualified staffs of the high schools and universities throughout the Country.The Turner programs today, as always, are directed to all members of the family, not just the gifted few. We are proud of our heritage and that our forefathers were responsible for initiating the fine advanced physical education programs now conducted in the high schools and universities.The Turner movement was founded in Germany in 1811 by Fredrich Ludwig Jahn, who perfected a system of physical education in public outdoor gymnasiums. Turnerism was introduced into the United States by immigrant disciples of Father Jahn. New societies were formed throughout the country, including the south. In 1855 the American Turners took a decided stand against slavery and entered the field of practical policies. The Turners manifested the courage of their convictions in the press and in public discussion. Over 75% of all Turners in the United States were in active service during the Civil War, forming entire regiments for many states, including service as body guards to President Lincoln. In 1866 the Turners adopted the following resolution for presentation to the Congress of the United States:'It is the duty of this organization to support all attempts to raise the intellectual standard of the people and promote the non-sectarian education of youth by establishing and furthering good schools.'The Normal School of Physical Education was opened in 1866. In 1941, as the Normal College of the American Gymnastic Union, it became a department of Indiana University.Physical Education was introduced to schools throughout the USA due to the Turner Convention at Normal College in 1880.In 1867, 26 men formed the Turnverein Vorwarts and became affiliated with the Illinois District and the National Organization. They first met at a hall at Meagher and Canal Streets, erected their first hall at Roosevelt Road and Union Street in 1868; in 1896 they moved to a new Hall on Roosevelt Road near Western Avenue. In 1878 the ladies section was formed. Turnverein Vorwarts played an important part in introducing public playgrounds and gymnastics in the Chicago Public program. Their action lead to the first public playground and natatorium in Douglas Park in 1896.Turner George Sonnenleiter Sr. was municipal playground director and served for 30 years. Turner Ted Gross was superintendent of the municipal playground and the playground at 2708 Lawrence Avenue is dedicated to his honor.During World War II, the society changed its name to the Forward Turners. In 1945 the Forwards sold their building on Roosevelt Road and used this money plus other donations to purchase the property on the SW corner of Belmont and Natoma Avenue - our location for 49 years. After the consolidation in 1956 the property on the SE corner was purchased.In 1886 a group of Lincoln members resigned their memberships for political reasons, to form Turnverein Socialer. Land at Belmont and Paulina Avenues was purchased for $5,000 and in 1889 the new building was dedicated. A Ladies Auxiliary was organized in 1888. This new Turner Hall became a social, physical training and cultural center for the town of Lake View.In 1889 Socialer and Lincoln sponsored a district Turnfest at the site of Riverview Park, including a wand drill staged by 600 active men.
In 1891 the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps was formed.
In 1892 the first edition of 'The Turner' appeared.
In 1921 Social sponsored the 32nd National Turnfest in Chicago at Riverview Park.
In 1939 the American Turnerbund became the American Turners and Turnverein Socialer became the Social Turners.
In the postwar years it became necessary to replace the worn-out Turner Halls (other societies in Chicago had passed out of existence). In 1948 the first amalgamation committee meeting was held. Meetings continued for five years but the amalgamation of five societies was defeated the first two times the issue was voted upon. In 1954 it was learned that the city of Chicago intended to condemn and buy for a parking lot the site of the Social Turner Hall. In 1955 Social Turner Society was 68 years old.In 1889 the Schweizer Turnverein was born. It joined the North American Turner Bund and the Chicago Turner Bezirk. The Schweizer Turnverein is an outgrowth of the Sons of Helvatia, Schweizer Club of Chicago. In 1890 the Society won the first Laurel wreath at the Bezirk's Turnfest. In 1893 it won first place honors at the National Turnfest in Milwaukee. In 1908 a team of 12 participated in the Swiss National Turnfest at Lausaune, Switzerland.In 1912 a group of Sudseite Turner-Schatz members affiliated with the Swiss and in 1923 the Helvatian and the Schweizer Turnvereins amalgamated. In 1927 the society purchased the Kretlow Hall at 635 Webster Avenue. In 1939 the name officially became the Swiss Turners of ChicagoIn 1954 at the Illinois District Convention a resolution for a consolidating committee to reconvene was passed.The first meeting was attended by Forward, Social, Swiss, Lincoln, and Chicago. Lincoln and Chicago dropped out and Turner William Meyer, Forward, was elected Chairman of the consolidation group. On February 12, 1956, the articles of merger were accepted and consolidation resulted. The American Turners-Northwest Chicago was born and the three merging societies passed out of existence.A program based upon the creation of the Belmont Turner Building Corporation was adopted in February 1958; set up to finance, build, and operate the new building. In April, 1959, the ground was broken and in May the cornerstone was dedicated. In December, 1959, the building construction was completed and we moved into the new building in time to celebrate New Year's Eve 1960.Now 50 years later we have an active society, a great Illinois District Turner Camp at Algonquin, Illinois; an up-to-date gym program, auxiliary activities for all members of the family. We continue to adhere to the principle of 'A Sound Mind in a Sound Body'.AMERICAN TURNERS REVISED PRINCIPLES-1974The American Turners, a federation of Turner Societies in the United States and Canada, is organized to promote health and physical education, cultural education, and rational thinking, in order to advance the health, happiness, and progress of mankind.It is the principal duty of our Society to provide schools in health and physical education for youth and adults and to promote their intellectual and cultural growth and moral character through special classes under qualified and competent instructors.The American Turners, having, since 1848, endured untold hardships and paid the supreme sacrifice to preserve the Union of these united States as a democracy in a republic, established upon the principles of freedom and equality and dedicated to justice and humanity, it is the purpose of the American Turners to preserve and perfect this democracy.We recognize the family group upon which the greatness of our country has been built and the harmonious education of the body and mind as the most important factors to preserve and perfect this democracy.The American Turners endeavor to accomplish their purposes and promote their ideals through:1. A planned program of health and physical education for the development of a sound body;
2. A planned program of cultural education for the development of a sound mind;
3. A planned recreational and social program for all members of the family group; and
4. Participation in all worthy civic projects, both Local and National.
The American Turners is not a political or sectarian body obligating its members to any definite demands except United States or Canadian citizenship, but urges its members to exercise the right of independent thought and action through the ballot and to follow the dictates of their conscience in religious matters.The American Turners strive to attain the preceding objectives as incorporated in these their principles, by staunch adherence to its motto 'A Sound Mind in A Sound Body'.A Brief History
of the
American Turners
Many who are unfamiliar with the Turners and its principles have a tendency to look on our organization as a purely athletic club. Little do they know of the rich heritage and ideals behind the Turner movement. This is a way of life dedicated to good health, clear thinking, and good citizenship.The origin of the Turners was political and nationalistic in nature which came as a result of Napoleon's conquest of central Europe. It began in Germany, but Germany was not a United country. It was made up of a number of small kingdoms and principalities, the largest being the Kingdom of Prussia.In 1806 Napoleon defeated Prussia at the battle of Jena and occupied the German states much like Germany occupied France in World War II. This was a period of deep humiliation for Germany.Some of the German princes were in service of Napoleon and waged war against their countrymen in order to gain clemency of the French emperor and gain some land as a reward.At this time there lived in Berlin in the Kingdom of Prussia a German schoolmaster by the name of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn who deplored the conditions of his country and whose strong nationalistic spirit urged him to do something to liberate his country from the French occupation. He wrote a book 'Deutsches Volksthum' (German Nationality) which called for the unity of Germany. He introduced gymnastic exercises among his students and infused them with a patriotic love of freedom to make them capable of bearing arms for their oppressed country and to prepare them for the imminent war of liberation.In 1811 Jahn opened the first public playground at the Hasenheide in Berlin. Five hundred young men answered his call and indulged in gymnastic exercises under his direction.In a few months Turner societies spread to every city and town in the country.Jahn and his Turners were the first to respond to the call to arms issued in 1813 by the King of Prussia. They served with distinction in the liberation of their country and Jahn became sort of a national hero and was rewarded with an annual pension for his services by a grateful government.After the war the leaders of the government did not redeem their promise of a constitution which was to be given to the people. Jahn was quite outspoken on this issue and in 1819 was arrested for high treason. He was held without trial for five years and conducted his own defense and won his freedom. His Turner societies were forced to disband while he was in prison.When he was released he was placed under surveillance and was not allowed to live in Berlin. In consideration for his previous serve to his country he was paid his annual salary as a professor of history but not allowed to teach history or Turnerism.A new king in 1840 completely freed him from his restriction and the interdict on Turning was removed. Immediately Turner societies were resumed throughout Germany. In the revolutionary outbreaks of 1848 Jahn was again thrust into public life as an elected representative to the German Parliament. He was out of step with the times and even his Turners did not sympathize with his attitude in Parliament. He retired to Freiburg, where he died in 1852.While Jahn was in prison three of his followers, Carl Beck, Carl Follen and Francis Lieber fled to this country where they became outstanding professors and educators at Harvard and other eastern colleges. They were instrumental in introducing Jahns system of physical training in the United States.Turnerism in the United States is an offspring of the German Revolution of 1848. When this revolution was crushed many desirable immigrants came to this country. Among them were Frederick Hecker, the leader of the revolution; Franz Sigel, the military leader of the revolutionary forces; Carl Schurz and many others. These men made names for themselves in American history. Hecker and Sigel became Union generals in the Civil War and Schurz later became Secretary of the Interior.The first Turner Society in the U.S. was organized in November of 1848 when Frederick Hecker suggested its formation to his friends who were former Turners in Germany. This example was emulated by other cities where Turners had settled and soon a number of organizations had formed along with a National body. Although the Turner societies were a haven for German emigrants they were thoroughly American and completely independent of any ties to the Turners in Germany.When the Civil War came the Turners forgot all else to serve their adopted country. In St. Louis, the Turners took it upon themselves to storm and capture Camp Jackson with the arsenal. This episode helped save Missouri for the Union. The Turners formed part of the body guard of Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration.In some cities companies and even regiments were formed made up of Turners. Seventy-five percent of all Turners in the U.S. were in active service during the Civil War. The Turners have served our country in every encounter since the Civil War and continue to do so to the present day.The Turners gave to America a system of gymnastics which laid the foundation for today's great nationwide programs of athletics. A survey determined that gymnastics were introduced into the schools of at least fifty-two cities by the direct efforts of the Turners. They also aided in the development of playgrounds.In their own right the Turners organized in 1866 a Normal College which is the oldest American institution for the education of teachers of physical training. Over the years this college was located in various cities. It is now an extension of Indiana University and is located in Indianapolis, Indiana.Over the years the Turners like all clubs and lodges have suffered through changing times the loss of societies. Now there seems to be a new spirit in the Turners in many cities. Many societies have picked themselves up by their own bootstraps and moved out of declining areas to new locations and built new buildings or remodeled old ones so that this rich heritage we Turners have will carry on into the future.