This women's organization was founded by the Socialer Turnverein (Social
Athletic Club) in 1876 as the Indianapolis Turn-Schwestern Verein. It was
initially intended to support the activities of the Turnverein, and especially
to promote and oversee the girls' athletic classes, and to help enlarge and
preserve the Turner library. Within a few years the Turn "Sisters" became
known as the Damenverein (Women's Club) des Socialer Turnverein and began to
undertake broader responsibilities in the community. As with most German
societies, membership declined during World War I and use of the German
language was dropped. The organization revived with the merging of several
societies during the 1930s and becomes known as the Women's Auxiliary.
Membership increased again after World War II as their focus drifted away from
a wartime role as a service organization and more towards social activities.
The gradual decline of the Athenaeum Turners through the 1970s and 1980s also
affected the Women=s Auxiliary. In the 1990s the Damenverein name was restored
to recognize the earlier German connections, and in recent years the very
limited activities of the group have become more closely linked with their
German-American cultural identity.
The records consist of constitutions and by-laws, minutes, correspondence,
financial records, committee reports, membership lists and directories, event
advertisements and photographs.
This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of
the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of
photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.
Cite as: Cite as: Athenaeum Damenverein & Women's Auxiliary Records,
1876-2002, Mss 039, Special Collections and Archives, IUPUI University Library,
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
Presented by the Athenaeum Turners as part of the Atheneum Turners Collection,
and by individual members of the Women's Auxiliary, October 1978- June 2000.
A78-11, A88-5, A92-29, A94-58, A1999/00-015
Processed by Erik L. Lindseth and Gregory H. Mobley, November 2002.
After the merger of the Indianapolis Turner and the Socialer Turner (athletic)
groups in 1872, the united Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein developed into the
most important organization in the still growing German community. As the
Turnverein grew in stature it was proposed to create a subsidiary club for the
wives and daughters of the Turners that would support the varied activities of
the society. When George T. Probst, in his history of The Germans in
Indianapolis (1989), cites 1876 as the beginning of "the Hey-Day of German
Culture in Indianapolis", the foundation of the Turn-Schwester Verein of the
Indianapolis Socialer Turners in the same year is significant.
According to the first constitution, the Turn-Schwester Verein was initially
intended to support the activities of the Turnverein, promote and oversee the
girls= athletic classes, and to help enlarge and preserve the Turner library.
However it has been noted that this "Sister" club was one of the first women's
Turner groups established in the United States, and it quickly began to grow
beyond its original supporting role. It soon developed a much wider variety of
socially proactive activities than the founders envisioned. The contemporary
development of the Freidenker Verein (Freethinker Society) is worth mentioning
in this context since several of the Turners and Turn-Schwestern were active
During the 1870s and 1880s the Damenverein (or Women=s Club as it was known for
much of the next century) began to play a philanthropic role in society that
seems to parallel and even slightly precede the best known local philanthropic
group of the era, the Charity Organization Society founded by Oscar McCullough
in 1879, and the first settlement houses established in Indianapolis. For
example, early in 1878 discussions turned to the reestablishment of the
Suppenanstalt (soup kitchen) with the suggestion that a newspaper article be
published to invite all German women to meet at the turnhall for that purpose.
The minutes for September 1, 1878 then record the decision to found a school
for needlework where children, with specific mention of poor children, would be
taught knitting, sewing, crochet, and other skills, and that it also be
advertised in the German newspapers. It is worth noting that the same entry
then goes on to propose that "the rights of women" be discussed at their next
meeting, and that a later entry describes the Freethinkers as having "the same
spiritual interests", thus demonstrating the activist sympathies of the society
during these years.
In 1880, the Damenverein established a program, with subcommittees responsible
for Northern and Southern Indianapolis, that would help care for sick members
of the community, and assist women who were unable to cook or otherwise work
around the house. This Kranken Kommittee also assumed responsibility for
sending flowers to funerals and hospitalized members, and even after evolving
into a less directly involved Cheer Committee, it continued to provide
occasional financial assistance to disadvantaged families well into the next
The primary activity of the Women's Club had always been to provide assistance
with the picnics, parties, and various fund raising activities of the Turners
and other German-American groups, including one to raise money for the utopian
settlement of New Ulm in 1881. The events which eventually come to be most
closely associated with the Damenverein, however, are the regular picnics and
parties for the children's classes. Under the direction of the School
Committee until World War I and the Program or Entertainment Committee after that, these
parties for children continued in some form into the 1960s.
World War I had a significant impact on the Damenverein, as it did on the rest
of the German-American community in Indianapolis. In addition to a notable
decline in membership, there was also an awareness that German culture in
America was under attack. When the women finally voted in 1918 to use the
English language for the remainder of the war it was clearly with the intention
of returning to German at some later date. However, the changing of the name
of the "Deutches Haus" to the "Athenaeum" in 1917, and a corresponding change
for the Damenverein, are also probably indicative of a more general
acculturation of the German community. The permanence of this shift is
illustrated by the decision in June 1919 to translate the constitution into
Despite some interest and concern with the situation in Germany, reflected in
its support for the American Relief for German Children program during the
1920s, the Women's Club of the Indianapolis Turners began to become more social
and welcoming of non-German members after World War I. Indeed for the majority
of entries in the minutes, the monthly card parties and the holiday parties for
children organized by the School Committee are the main subjects of discussion.
It was during this period though that the Women's Club joined a newly formed
national Women's Auxiliary of the American Gymnastics Union (the successor to
the Nordamerikanische Turnerbund and predecessor of the American Turners), and
attempted to increase their occasional social interaction with the Louisville
Ladies Society and South Side Ladies Auxiliary.
Membership returned to prewar numbers during the 1920s and the Women's Club
held numerous fund raising events such as card parties, bazaars, and rummage
sales to support scholarships for female students to the Normal College and the
publication of the newly established Gym News newsletter. They also
contributed to the Riley Hospital Fund, and other philanthropic endeavors.
Despite the apparent strength and stability of the Women's Club however, the
1930s witnessed a general consolidation of the German societies as the
Depression began to have an impact. In January 1933, there is a brief mention
of the absorption of the Women's Club of the Athenaeum into the Women's Club of
the Indianapolis Turners. Notable during this period are the philanthropic
activities of the Christmas Basket program of the Cheer Committee, and the
Needlework Guild Committee.
In 1936 the Women's Club of the Indianapolis Turners withdrew from the national
organization for a few months but then rejoined, at which time the minutes
begin referring to the club as the Ladies Auxiliary. This coincides with the
inclusion of the Maennerchor under the Athenaeum umbrella and perhaps marks
some confusion as to organizational continuity. Towards the end of 1937 there
is a reversion to the use of Women's Club or Ladies Club in official records,
and in 1939 the use of Women's Auxiliary seems to become the regular form.
World War II served to focus and revitalize the philanthropic aspect of the
Auxiliary's activities with substantial effort and resources being devoted to
the Red Cross, Service Men's Club, and the Pantry Shelf. Other indications of
the war's effects on the Auxiliary are discussions they held on conservation,
rationing, and the purchase of War Bonds. Plans for a meeting with the
Louisville Turners were cancelled due to the "transportation situation", and
the third Sunday card parties were discontinued. There are also interesting
discussions concerning how the Auxiliary could attempt to assist women in the
After the war and during the 1950s the Women's Auxiliary shifted in another
direction and evolved into a women's social club with fashion shows, theme
parties, and card parties as the most prominent events. By 1959, the change
had become so noticeable that Athenaeum Board of Directors pointed out that "the Auxiliary seems to be a group that functions entirely by itself" with
limited association with the club and so far detached that a number of their
members were not members of the parent club. The Women's Auxiliary experienced
a short revival in the early 1960s, but then begins to lose membership and
decrease in activity.
The Athenaeum's financial crisis during the 1980s resulted in an attempt by the
women's group to disassociate themselves from possible financial obligations,
first by changing the name to the American Turners Auxiliary and then their
earlier name of the Damenverein. This group began to focus more on its German
origins during the 1990s. In 2007 the members voted to disband the Damenverein
as a formal organization and become an informally organized social group.
Moonen, Alida Joyce. The Missing Half: The experience of women in the
Indianapolis Athenaeum Turnverein Women's Auxiliary, 1876-1919. Ann Arbor, MI:
UMI Dissertation Services, 1993.
Athenaeum Turners Records, 1880-1999, Mss 032, Ruth Lilly Special Collections
and Archives, IUPUI University Library, Indiana University Purdue University
American Turners Records, 1855-1998, Mss 030, Ruth Lilly Special Collections
and Archives, IUPUI University Library, Indiana University Purdue University
Freidenker Verein Minutes, 1870-1884, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and
Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The collection consists of papers and photographs preserved by the Damenverein
of the Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein and the Women's Auxiliary of the
Atheneum Turners. These materials are organized according to the generating
body within the organization, usually at the committee level. Materials dating
before World War I are generally in German, and most minutes and reports are in
fraktur script, however the early minute books (1876-1888) have been
translated. This collection boasts what is perhaps the most complete run of
minutes from any German society in Indianapolis and provides insights to early
women's groups and German societies which are not available elsewhere.
The records are divided into 14 series: Constitution and Bylaws, Board of
Directors and Officers, Budget, Financial, History, Kranken/Sick/Cheer,
Membership, Program/Entertainment, Publicity, Drama, School, Needlework, and
Ways and Means Committees and Photographs. Photographs are listed both in the
appropriate series and searchable online.
Constitutions and By-laws Records, 1876-1987, contain printed copies of the
constitutions of the club from 1876 (in German), 1921, ca.1940, 1949, 1954,
1987 detailing the structure and organization of the women's society. There
are also typewritten revisions from c.1973 and 1986.
Board of Directors and Officers' Records, 1876-1992, contain the annual reports
of the club President from 1908, 1910-1919, 1930-1992, two lists of officers
and members of the standing committees ca.1961 and 1971, and complete run of
minutes from the foundation of the group in 1876 until 1961 and 1986. Also
included are the notes from a 1959 meeting with the Board of Directors of the
Athenaeum that discussed the relationship between the two groups at that time
and the annual reports of the recording secretary, 1910-1919.
Correspondence includes a letter from the director of the Athenaeum regarding
the use of German by German-American societies during World War I,
correspondence relating to a relief program for children in Germany in the
early 1920s, and exchanges of letters with the Women's Auxiliary of the
Louisville Turners, the Indianapolis Maennerchor Ladies' Society, and the
Indianapolis South Side Turners Ladies' Auxiliary during the 1930s. Notable
are unusual copper-sheet postcards and other letters from Else Danke in Arizona
that attempt to maintain a connection with the Women's Club in Indianapolis.
The series has correspondence between the Damenverein and the Women's Auxiliary
of the American Turners from the 1930s and 1950s that document the relationship
between the two groups and that help explain and the withdrawal of the
Damenverein from the Women's Auxiliary of the American Turners in 1954.
Budget Committee Records, 1959-1986, contain a short sample of proposed budgets
from 1960 to 1986. The Financial Committee Records are an important supplement
to this series.
Financial Committee Records, 1909-1987, contain annual reports of the Financial
Secretary and the Treasurer, records of receipts and disbursements, and
references to a number of philanthropic contributions. Also included is a
notecard recording the 1933 transfer of the Athenaeum Women's Club treasury to
the Socialer Turner Women's Club.
History Committee Records, 1926-1976, contain a description of the
responsibilities of the club historian, histories of the group composed circa
1929, 1946, and 1950, and speeches and correspondence relating to the annual
Founder's Day celebrations in 1946, 1955, 1960-1961.
Also included are programs from the 50th (1926), 60th (1936), 75th (1951),
Centennial, and 125th (1976) celebrations.
Kranken / Sick / Cheer Committee Records, 1911-1960, contain committee reports
from 1911-1913, and 1958, and several files of acknowledgments for flowers and
financial assistance to bereaved, ill, or poor members of the Indianapolis
Membership Committee Records, 1876-1986, contain membership rolls and dues
records, and yearbooks with directories listing members names and addresses.
There are also letters of resignation and membership transfer, membership
cards, lists of 25 and 50-year members, and some committee correspondence and
Program / Entertainment Committee Records, 1912-2002, contain a few annual
reports from the 1930s and 1940s, advertisements for events, and statements of
expenses for parties organized by the Damenverein in 1912-1916. See the
Athenaeum Turners Collection for newsletters and mailings which also include
the activities of the Women's Auxiliary.
Publicity Committee Records, 1921-1971, contain press releases sent to the
local media by the chair of the Publicity Committee and newspaper articles
about members of and events sponsored by the Damenverein.
Drama Committee Annual Reports, 1916-1919, contain annual reports from the
Dramatic section in 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1919. Reflecting the general
situation of the Turnverein and other German-American groups, these reports
reflect the transition from German to English in 1918 and a decline in activity.
School Committee Reports, 1911-1939, contain annual reports on the activities
of the group responsible for organizing picnics and parties for students from
the Turner classes. Initially there were four regular events; an annual picnic
at Turner Park, a Christmas Party, a costume party or masque ball, and an
Easter Party, though by 1939 this is reduced to three and note made that these
are to be open to all children of Atheneaum members.
Needlework Committee Records, 1933-1946, contain correspondence from this
committee, founded in 1932, which organized the sewing and collection of
garments for the Needlework Guild. Also included are correspondence related to
similar projects for Red Cross sewing programs during the 1940s.
Ways and Means Committee Records, 1910-1975, contain annual and monthly reports
on the main social activity of the group. Developing from a craze for card
games which swept the country around the turn of the century, these documents
discuss regular Pivot, Bunco, Progressive, Eucre, and Monte Carlo poker nights.
Typically nine "sections" were appointed to be responsible for organizing the
card parties - each for a particular month during the year, and the receipts
used to supplement the regular income from membership dues.. A new committee
was formed in March 1924 to formally "draft definite rules for the card
parties" and organized the sections. The committee seems to become responsible
for fund raising in general during the Depression Years when this seems to be
one of the few things making a profit. The fund raising characteristic of the
card parties establishes a connection to the later Ways and Means Committee
which had some tie to the ongoing card parties, but also sponsored an "L Shop"
at the Atheneaum in the 1970s which contributes some inventory lists to the
Photographs, 1884-1992, contain photographs of groups of Damenverein members,
scenes from the German children's homes that the Damenverein helped support in
the 1920s, photographs relating to the Damenverein's activities at the 1992
American Turners convention, events sponsored by the Program/Entertainment
Committees, and the "L" Shop.
Constitutions and Bylaws
Constitutions and bylaws, 1876-1987
Constitutions and bylaws, n.d.
Procedures and duties of officers, ca. 1973
Board of Directors and Officers' Records
Annual Report, 1910-1992
Annual Report, 1989-2002
Officers and Standing Committees, 1961, 1971
Officers and Standing Committees, 2004-2005
Minutes, 1919-1925, 1930-1960, 1986
Minutes of meeting with Atheneum Board, 1959
Installation Ceremony, n.d.
Budget Committee Records
Proposed budgets, 1959-1986
Financial Committee Records
Annual report, 1913-1987
Financial records, 1876-1900
Financial records, 1901-1926
Financial records, 1926-1958
Financial records, 1958-1959
Financial records, 1959-1985
Minutes and correspondence, 2006-2007
Tax Information, 2006
Consolidation of Women's
Club and Women's
Contributions to other organizations, 1913-1969
War contributions, 1918-1945
History Committee Records
Day celebrations, 1946-1961
Anniversary celebrations, 1926-1976
Kranken / Cheer Committee Records
Kranken/Cheer Committee reports, 1911-1958
Acknowledgments of gifts and assistance, 1907-1960
Membership Committee Records
Report to Athenaeum Board, 1944
Correspondence, 1961-ca. 1980s
Membership book with dues records, 1876-1883
Membership book with dues records, 1887-1907
Membership book with dues records, 1907-1949
Transfers from Southside Turners, 1913
Membership and dues cards, 1897-1962
Membership records, 1957-2007
Meeting attendance records, 1992-2007
List of 25 and 50 year members, 1958-1963
Lists of new members, 1951-1953
Lists of members, 1930, 1973-1986
List of members, 1994
Yearbooks and directories, 1940-1990
Yearbooks and directories, 1992-2007
Program / Entertainment / Publicity CommitteeRecords
The Athenaeum Damenverein is the women’s auxiliary of the Athenaeum Turners, one of the German-American organizations established in Indianapolis in the 1800s. Organized in 1876 to support the Turner society, the Damenverein expanded its activities to include philanthropic and social service work in the community and social and cultural events for their members. The Damenverein is still active. These photographs are part of the Athenaeum Damenverein Records held by the IUPUI University Library Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives.
This project was funded in part by the Hoyt-Reichmann Chair in German-American Studies.