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Gymnasts Holding Bar

German-American Gymnasts And Their Enduring Impact

Are you watching the Olympic games this summer?

If so, you might be interested to know the impact that 19th century German-American refugees had on the sport of gymnastics and on exercise in general.

If you ever took a presidential physical fitness test or gym class in school, you have the German-American Turners to thank for that. They were among the first to bring physical fitness education to the American public school system. In fact, the German word, turnen, means “to do gymnastics or exercise.”

The German Turnverein Associations

When the European revolutions of 1848-49 failed in German lands, those that had participated fled for their lives and thousands soon arrived in the New World. They brought their progressive ideals, fondness for beer, and social and cultural ways.

Many had been members of the German Turnverein associations, which were founded in 1811 by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. These associations helped prepare young men both physically and mentally to resist Napoleonic domination. They also incorporated gymnastics training and became powerful political and social organizations that helped launch the revolution to establish a unified, democratic republic of Germany.

Bringing the Turner Societies to the United States

When they landed in the United States, they established similar Turner societies as early as 1848, with the first two established in New York and Cincinnati. Many Turners fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War and they were one of the first German-American organizations to publicly denounce National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany.

Today, many of these societies still exist under the Turner motto, “Sound Mind in a Sound Body.” They still promote physical activity and social ideals such as tolerance, social justice, and reason through their civic engagement and cultural events.

As for the Turner gymnasts of the past, the Milwaukee Turners produced at least two Olympic gymnasts. And the Swiss Turners of West Allis, Wisconsin produced Paul and Morgan Hamm, both Olympic medalists.

Want to catapult from spectator to social innovator like the Turner gymnasts of the past? Enroll in the Social Impact Graduate Online Program at Claremont Lincoln University and learn why some of the most effective social leaders are tri-sector athletes. It’s never too late to develop a sound mind in a sound body through online education.

Photo credit: © Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime.com

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Guest Contributor

We invite featured guest contributors to write a submission for Engage. Learn about the featured guest contributor at the end of each individual blog post.

Want to be a guest contributor for Engage? We and our readers would love to read your submissions on driving positive social change. Contact us at info@claremontlincoln.edu.

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