American Turners share a common history. Founded in the United States by German immigrants in 1848, it was the most important secular German American organization in the nineteenth century. Its members played a significant role during the Civil War as members volunteered to serve in the Union cause. After the war ended in 1865, Turners pressed for the introduction of physical education in schools. Faced with challenges following WWI, then the rise of Hitler in Germany, the Nordamerikanische Turnerbund changed its name to American Turners in 1938. After World War II, the membership numbers climbed to 25,000, organized in approximately eighty societies.
Our history also includes the stories of those societies — local organizations that have promoted our mission of a sound mind in a sound body through competition, educational programs, and fun experiences.
Our core archives are held at the Ruth Lilly Special Collections & Archives,Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. This is a treasure trove of records, photographs, and publications that are available online.
We hope that you’ll come back often to learn more about our heritage.
Daniel J. Hoisington, National Historian
The photograph, from a private collection, is of New York Turners in the late 1920s. Turner Frank Wedl wrote, “There is a strong probability that those ladies were enrolled in the dance section (class). I recognize the lady at the left end of the line as being Olga First, wife of Turner Milton First, who was First Speaker/President of our society for many years.” Turner Hans Sammer added that he thinks the third lady from the left may be Wilhelmina Mey.