4C. THE TURNERS
In Cincinnati & Covington
One particularly prominent German-American organization, which originated in Germany in the early 1800s, was Turnerverein or Turngemeinde. The translation of Turnerverein is "a club to practice gymnastics." In addition to a focus on athletics, Turnerverein was also politically oriented and relatively liberal for its time. Many Germans who belonged to this organization, believing in democracy and human rights, participated in the revolution of 1848. After this revolution, this organization was essentially closed in Germany. Some "Forty-Eighters" as they were called (see 1. The Beginnings), belonged to Turnerverin and re-established it in America after emigrating. The first was organized in Cincinnati on November 21, 1848; they became known as The Turners. They were involved with physical education as well as social, political and cultural issues, and promoted gymnastics as a sport and as a school subject. They also supported the teaching of German in American schools. Membership in The Turners peaked in the early 1900s. Along with other German-American groups, they faced local suspicion during WWI and their membership declined.
The Covington Turners became organized in Covington, KY in 1855, shortly after the Cincinnati Turners were organized in the Over The Rhine (OTR) area. The Covington chapter had different locations, but ultimately Turner Hall was established in 1877 at 319 W. Pike Street. It was located less than a block from the Bavarian Brewery and still remains, but its address was changed to 447 W. Pike Street. William Riedlin was once President of the Covington Turners, while others at the brewery were members of the organization. Today, this building continues to be operated as the Covington Turners, and other Turner chapters remain in place throughout the country.
Covington Turner Hall c. 1900. This building remains and continues to be operated by The Turners. (Photo courtesy of Kenton Co. Library)
Even though The Covington Turners was originally a men's-only organization, they gradually allowed both women and children to join. An auxiliary group allowing women in the Covington Turners occurred in 1900. William Riedlin's wife, Emma, was one of the founding members of this group. The Turners also hosted various recreational activities, such as bowling, shooting competitions and hunting. Photographs thought to depict the Covington Turners near the turn of the 20th Century that reflect these activities, and that include William Riedlin, are printed below.
Sharpshooting and Bowling Groups, 1897.
In the first photo, William Riedlin is in the center slightly to the left of a keg of Bavarian Beer. Sharpshooting or target practice was a requirement in The Turners at the time the photo was taken. In the group of bowlers, most have empty beer mugs and some of the men have turned their mugs upside down, signaling they need more beer. However, William - on the far right - is trying to balance a mug on a bowling ball, as also shown in the enlarged photo on the side. The sport of bowling was rooted in very early Germany and popular at the Bavarian Brewing Co. for many years.
BACKLASH AGAINST GERMAN AMERICANS DUE TO WWI
The public attitude towards German-Americans changed dramatically due to WWI. A great amount of suspicion and even paranoia developed against German immigrants living in the U.S during this time. Even shortly after Great War broke out in Europe in 1914, some German-Americans, including William Riedlin, believed the U.S. should side with Germany and not England. Evidently, they believed they could be loyal to America while still having positive feelings toward Germany. However, the May 1915 sinking of a British passenger ship by the Germans, the Lusitania, began to galvanize American sentiment against Germany. America’s entry into WWI against Germany in 1917 greatly accelerated sentiment against German-Americans. Some pro-American groups would secretly listen to conversations among Germans and have them translated. Those Germans that expressed support for Germany in the war could be tried, condemned as traitors, and sentenced to jail. Anti-German sentiment also caused the German language to be outlawed in schools, German newspapers to go out of business, and most German-American organizations to became much smaller or dissolve. To avoid persecution, some German-Americans anglicized their names. Streets and public buildings with German names were also commonly changed. During WWI and shortly afterwards, it was a difficult time for many people with German heritage to live in America.
Before WWI began in Europe, nearly one-half of all taxes received by the Federal Government were paid by taxes on alcoholic beverages. Consequently, those companies that produced alcoholic beverages believed the Federal Government was too dependent upon taxes on their beverages for Prohibition to occur. However, in 1913, American individuals became subject to personal income tax. As a result, the government's need to obtain taxes from alcohol began to diminish and a major reason to prevent Prohibition began to dissolve.
Still, the brewing interests believed beer would be exempt, because it was far less intoxicating than liquors, and taxes on beer supplied a significant amount of revenue to the government. In addition, several states that had already prohibited alcoholic beverage production and consumption had previously made exceptions for beer brewers. WWI changed these trends by affecting the perception of Germans and German-American breweries during 1917 and 1918. To some extent the brewers and other associated companies that supported them - cooperage businesses and saloons that were mostly operated by those with German ancestry - became victims of their success. Many Americans resented the influence of these brewers, along with Germans more generally. According to Daniel Aherne in his thesis Trouble Brewing... preventing the making and selling of beer in Prohibition, thus closing German-American breweries, allowed Americans to formally pursue anti-German sentiment.
Holian, Timothy J., Over the Barrel, Volume I (1800-1919), Sudhaus Press, 2000.
Riedlin and Schott family items and information, including notations on photos by Lucia Riedlin.
Trousdale, C.B. History of Bavarian Brewery, 1954. pgs 27.
The background photo shows the Covington Turners enjoying bowling and beer in 1897.
The President of Bavarian Brewing Co., William Riedlin, is shown on the right trying to balance a stein on a bowling ball.