Die Sozial-Demokratische Turngemeide was founded in 1849 in Baltimore Maryland. Among several German organizations in mid-18th century Baltimore, the club served as a social outlet for German emigrants who lived in the city. Known as the “American Turners,” the organization served as an athletic, social, and political association.
Throughout the early 1850s, the American Turners became more and more politically active with various causes echoing at the forefront of U.S. social-conscience. Of the most notable struggles that the club became involved with, the Turners grew to become strong proponents of Abolition and Temperance.
By 1855 the club’s resolve became so strong towards Abolition and the eradication of U.S. Slavery that at their annual convention that year, the club made the pursuit one of their key principles.
By the dawn of the Civil War, shortly after the bombardment of Fort Sumpter, an entire company of Baltimore Turners made haste and traveled to Washington to offer their support. In unison with the Georgetown (DC) and Washington (DC) Turners, the group became one of the first Corps of volunteers to enter the war on behalf of the North.
Within a year into the Civil War, there were so many Turners involved in the fighting that many Union regiments were entirely comprised of Turners. By 1860 the Baltimore Chapter of the Turners became the organization’s official headquarters — or ‘Vorwort.’
Soon thereafter the Baltimore Vorward kicked off their next campaign, declaring the Republican Presidential Candidate their choice for President — namely Abraham Lincoln.
With so many Turners involved in the Civil War and abolition movement, many members became casualties of the cause.
Baltimore, being a city on the cusp of both the North and South, hosted proponents of both sides. Not surprising, in April 1861 the headquarters of the Turners Union was mobbed by Southern sympathizers. Offices, equipment, and facilities were destroyed by the rioters.
After the outcome of the Civil War, the political activity of the union lessened significantly. Beset by membership losses as casualties of the war, general public apathy, and increased German assimilation into American society, demand for the club waned.
Below please find a Die Sozial-Demokratische Turngemeide token circa 1850-1861. Struck in brass, Rulau catalogs the specimen as Md-530.
The specimen grades at Choice Extra Fine, and features on its obverse a beautiful owl device perched amidst a crossed sword and a torch.
Notes and Sources
History of Baltimore City and County, John Thomas Scharf, Everts, 1881
Baltimore: Its Past and Present A Souvenir, A Von Degen, The Baltimore Brewers and Malters’ Association
Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
Wood’s Baltimore City Directory 1880
The Turners, GermanMarylanders.org
The Library of Congress Digital Archives