“Turning” to Fitness in the New Year

Black and white photo of gymnasts
Photo collage from the 1960 75th Anniversary Album of the Lincoln Turners. Chicago and Lincoln Park Ephemera collection, Box 3.

It’s that time of year when many people dedicate or re-dedicate themselves to healthful living for a New Year’s resolution.  According to various reports on the internet, fitness clubs see a 12% to 50% increase in memberships in a typical January, though 50% of those new members will quit by June, and a “considerable” amount of new members stop going to the gym by March.

Advice abounds on how to make exercise a lasting habit, such as making it part of a routine, choosing convenience (like a lunch hour workout), and positive peer pressure (social media or active in-person friends). If those fail to motivate you, how about adding beer and politics to the mix?

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the German “father of gymnastics”, promoted the use of now-standard gymnastic equipment such as rings, parallel bars, and the high bar for training and competition in the early 1800s. Turnvereine (gymnastic associations or clubs) spread throughout Germany and were often aligned with the populist movement to unite German states. Many “Turners” were involved in the revolutions of 1848, and following their defeat, many emigrated to the United States.  These Forty-Eighters established new Turnvereine in American cities, large and small, though by 1890 Chicago boasted the greatest number of Turnervereine than any other U.S. City.

Architectural details for Lincoln Turner Hall
Lincoln Turner Hall, built in 1922. Photo taken by Wanda Harold in 2000. Available in the DePaul University Library Digital Collections.

One such Turnverein was here in Lincoln Park, at 1019 W. Diversey.  The Turnverein Lincoln was founded in February 1885 with 32 members and their families.  At the time of its founding, the Lincoln Turners offered a full schedule of gymnastics classes for men, women, boys and girls. By the end of 1885, a “singing session” and a “library consisting of hundreds of volumes of scientific and general arts subjects” were also in place, which helped attract new members. In addition, “summer outdoor activity, excursions, nature study courses, and a vacation school” were added to attract new members.

The building shown here was constructed in 1922, and its ground floor housed the Lincoln Turner Café, which offered diners a taste of German food from the old country.  And the beer? According to Heinz Broderson, longtime Turner member, the beer was in the “dungeon” (basement) and it was customary for Germans to get together, go to the gym, and “after the gym, you always had a beer and bragged about how well you did.”

Lincoln Turner Hall dining room.
Postcard of the cafe in the Turnverein Lincoln building Chicago and Lincoln Park Ephemera collection, Box 9. The club’s address spanned most of the block, from 1005 to 1023 W. Diversey.

We have the Turners to thank for successfully advocating for public parks and physical education in schools, and many fitness clubs now boast bars (juice bars) on site.  And if you need beer and politics to help you keep your fitness goals on track, Chicago still offers plenty of opportunities for both, post-workout.

To see postcards and anniversary albums from the Lincoln Turners in our Chicago and Lincoln Park Ephemera collection, visit DePaul Special Collections and Archives in room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library or contact us at libguides.depaul.edu/askspca.  The Chicago History Museum holds a more extensive collection on the Lincoln Turners.

Sanborn map
Sanborn map showing the extent of the Lincoln Turner Hall, spanning most of the block, with the cafe at the northeast corner (1005 W. Diversey). Chicago 1905-1951 vol. 9, 1923, Sheet 26.

Heinz Broderson was interviewed as part of the Lincoln Park Community Research Initiative’s Voices and Visions project.  The short documentary, Walls that Talk, focuses on the impact of German immigration on Lincoln Park, and the section on the Lincoln Turner Hall starts around minute 29. You can stream it free on vimeo.  



2 Replies to ““Turning” to Fitness in the New Year”

  1. Hi, Jamie. This was really informative, and it was fun to see such collections pulled together. Lovely to see the work going so well.

    1. Hello
      I enjoyed reading the contribution, I am a sport historian from Germany, my special research focus is the American Turner, I have published on this topic many books and articles in English and German.

      For further information you can contact me under nettehof@web,de. I can send you a literature list if interested in fourteen information on the turners.
      Annette Hofmann

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.