15 July 2017

Saturday's Society : Albany's Deutsch Vereine

German-American's from Albany years ago created well over 100 clubs and societies. As time past, the majority of these groups disbanded or faded away from the scene. A brief history of these societies will be presented over the next few weeks.

The Germans outdid all of the immigrant nationalities in the number of Vereine or societies, clubs, and organizations that their respective ethnicities established. Socially, there were two subdivisions of Germans. Individuals whose bonds with German culture centered in secular societies are identified as Vereindeutschen or club Germans. Club Germans were oriented towards secular values and attitudes. They created their own agencies: schools, benevolent institutions, singing societies, and auxiliary organizations.

Joining a Verein or society/club gave its members a sense of cultural unity through the offering of social support in the struggle of their members to advance economically in society. Most of these societies enjoyed picnics and outings to the various parks and groves of the day. The majority of Vereine drew heavily for their membership from the ranks of the lower middle class: skilled craftsmen, factory workers, clerks, and petty merchants.[1] 

The secular organizations included singing societies, shooting clubs, card clubs, fire companies, and Vereine for veterans of the German army.[2] Also, included were UnterstĂĽtzungvereine, or benevolent aid societies, that aided the poor and recent immigrants. German-speaking lodges were established that were affiliated with national organizations such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or IOOF. The Sons of Hermann or OdHS and the German Order of Harugari or DOH were strictly German. Comically, it is said that if you “put three Germans together, in five minutes you’ll have four clubs.”[3]

Albany’s largest ethnic group- the Irish, were more sedate than the Germans. Their organizations were mainly concerned with collecting funds to help Ireland’s starving poor and to sustain its legislature in its struggle for Irish freedom in the British parliament.[4] Some of Albany’s Irish associations included the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, established in 1806, and the Hibernian Provident Society, incorporated in 1833. The United Irishmen of America was organized in 1873 and appeared in city directories between 1878 and 1893. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, or AOH, was organized in 1858. By 1901 the AOH included four divisions: Division No. 2, Division No. 4, Division No. 5, and Division No. 7. Around 1889 the Parnell Irish National League, No. 858 was cited until after 1892. In 1908 the Gaelic Literary Club appeared in the city directories for one year. 

Conversely, many German immigrants formed associations that were committed to a pan-German Kultur as a superior and enjoyable mode of life. Simply, they were idealists who desired an effective fusion of European ideals and American opportunities.[5] They attempted to realize this through the preservation and retention of the German language through the creation of German social institutions.

The second subdivision of Germans was the Kirchendeutschen, or church Germans.  Their common value was their strong commitment to religious principles.  They paid little attention to secular affairs occurring in their community.  The church was the center of their social lives.  Not only did the church isolate the immigrant from the forces of Americanization by organizing German schools, clubs, social affairs, and cultural events; it also crystallized the social relationship that its members desired to retain from their European heritage.[6]

As long as German-Americans had their own language or dialect, their social structure could hold like iron.  Amalgamation with American social life would be impossible.  Language retention was the cornerstone of all efforts to maintain ethnic solidarity.[7] But with the older generation dying off and with fewer new German immigrants to replenish the dwindling numbers, the inclination for English usage was inevitable.

[1] Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty, pp. 43-44.
[2] Ibid., p. 42.
[3] Hofmeister, The Germans of Chicago, p. 114.
[4] Reimer, “Ethnicity in Albany, N. Y., 1888-1908,” p. 91.
[5] Yox, “Bonds of Community: Buffalo’s German Element,” New York History 66(2): 142.
[6] Lapham, “The German-Americans of New York City,” p. 85.
[7] Yox, “Decline of the German-American Community in Buffalo,” p. 108. Marcus L. Hansen, “The History of American Immigration as a Field for Research,” The American Historical Review 32(3): 509.