Forty-Eighters and the Rise of
the Turnverein Movement in
Robert Knight Barney
One of the most fascinating aspects of American culture is a societal penchant for sport and physical exercise, a preoccupation that has grown enormously in the twentieth century. The resulting national exercise craze is one that reflects versatility, which is in harmony with a cultural identity often said to have evolved in "melting pot" fashion. The initiatives from which the phenomenon of organized physical activity evolved were enacted largely in nineteenth-century American history. Among the most important of those early American exercise initiatives was the German-American turnverein experience. 1 In fact, aside from the sports and games movement during the latter part of the nineteenth-century, few developments rivaled the contributions made by Turners to nineteenth-century physical education and exercise programs, contributions that demonstrated elaborate organization, intense zeal, and rigorous discipline, all cast in the unique spirit of Germanic thoroughness and efficiency.
The most intense period of German immigration to America began early in the Antebellum period (1850-1860) and included a group of individuals who were vigorous adherents of the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn-inspired tumverein movement in Germany. In America these immigrants were often referred to as Forty-Eighters. In effect, they were the defeated, exiled, and still inflamed products of the Republican uprisings in Germany during the years 1848 and 1849. When Forty-Eighters immigrated to America, they carried with them, as part of their "cultural baggage," a distinct penchant for physical fitness gained through exercise based on Jahn's gymnastics principles. Their enthusiasm for physical fitness was complemented by energetic political pursuit of the unde