German Society of Pennsylvania

Founded by German immigrants in 1764, the German Society of Pennsylvania (GSP) is the oldest German organization of its kind in the United States, and moved to this site in 1888. Originally founded to offer charitable and practical assistance to newly arriving German immigrants, the German Society later evolved into a cultural organization, with a research library focused on German American history. The GPS’s founding mission is explicitly indicated by its formal name as stated in its 1781 act of incorporation: “the German Society contributing for the relief of distressed Germans in the State of Pennsylvania.”

Eighteenth-century German immigrants often faced deplorable conditions and exploitation both aboard the ships transporting them to America and upon arrival here. Ship owners would demand exorbitant payment for the passage—payments which newly arrived, poor Germans were incapable of paying except by working off their debt for years after their arrival. The founders of GSP worked to end this contracted servitude, and to improve the conditions of the struggling German immigrants by providing them with resources and assistance as they established themselves in their new circumstances. The German Society established a variety of programs aimed at helping newly arrived German immigrants adjust to life in the United States. An employment bureau, a legal aid committee, and English classes were among the organization's offerings. The library was established in 1817 to serve the reading interest and needs of the GSP membership, and the German American Archive was founded in 1867 specifically to collect materials documenting German American history.

By 1892, Philadelphia had more than 600 secular, non-political German organizations that ranged from singing societies to lodges and gymnastics clubs. German Philadelphia encompassed many diverse subcultures, including Lutherans, Catholics, socialists, and the working and middle classes; a sense of common German-ness was forged primarily through fraternal societies. The German Society aimed to provide a neutral ground for German Americans to meet, although in reality its membership was primarily middle-class. By the 20th century, the German Society’s mission had evolved from providing charitable assistance to immigrants into preserving German American history and culture. Today, the German Society offers its members German-language instruction, cultural programs, lectures, and a research and lending library dedicated to German American History. Housed in the recently-restored original 1888 reading room, the Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library contains 70,000 volumes, including over 50,000 German-language books.

References

  • Dankanis, Mary L., et al. Guide to Northern Liberties. Philadelphia: The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, 1982.
  • German Society of Pennsylvania. “History.” Available at http://www.germansociety.org/history.html
  • German Society of Pennsylvania. “The Horner Library and Reading Room.” Available at: http://www.germansociety.org/library.html
  • Kazal, Russell A. Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Lutz, Violet (German Society of Pennsylvania) to Melissa Mandell (Historical Society of Pennsylvania) via e-mail, January 7, 2010.
  • Pleger, Birte. Ethnicity matters: A History of the German Society of Pennsylvania.Washington, DC: German Historical Institute, 2006.

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611 Spring Garden Street

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Greater Northern Liberties/Lower North Philadelphia

Mt. Tabor African Methodist Church Marshall Street curb market Marshall Street pushcarts mural Emmanuel Full Gospel Temple sign Exterior G. A. Bisler Paper and Box Company factory Brown St above 4th St. St. Agnes-St. John's Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church Northwest Corner of Bodine and Fairmount Ave Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church North Second Street corridor Garden Looms façade Saint Michael’s and Northern Liberties Rec Center, Three Men Talking 423 Fairmount Avenue Philip Kearny School Concilio building Friends Neighborhood Guild building, 151 Fairmount Ave. Richard Allen Homes Guild House building, 1967 Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site Building of the German Society Wedding Party, Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Church Thomas Mifflin School Ortlieb’s Remains (Liberty Lands in Winter) Madison Court, 1988 Adams & Keen, Factory Kaplan’s Bakery Philadelphia Glass Works Orianna Hill Park Crane, Demolition of the Tannery Cigar Factory Loft exterior Becker Building Gretz Brewery Salvation Army and Historical Marker Crane Co. building sign Al-Aqsa Islamic Society building "A Full and Complete Account of the Late Awful Riots in Philadelphia": Burning of St. Michael's Church, on Wednesday afternoon, May 8 Don Quixote statue Schmidt's Brewery and Tower St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church Stetson Hat Company factory, Building 15 Stores on North 5th Street Taller Puertorriqueño Congreso de Latinos Unidos Casita North Mascher Street casita Tomasita Romero and Iris Brown Norris Square, Hancock and Diamond Streets Ukranian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church Bull's Head Tavern
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"A Full and Complete Account of the Late Awful Riots in Philadelphia": cover. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "A Full and Complete Account of the Late Awful Riots in Philadelphia": Soldier from 1844 Nativist Riots. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Address of the Catholic lay citizens of the city and county of Philadelphia". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Address of the Catholic lay citizens of the city and county of Philadelphia". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Address of the Catholic lay citizens of the city and county of Philadelphia". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Full Particulars of the Late Riots" cover, title page and preface. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Full Particulars of the Late Riots" cover, title page and preface. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Full Particulars of the Late Riots" cover, title page and preface. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Full Particulars of the Late Riots" cover, title page and preface. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Six Months Ago, or, the eventful Friday, and its consequences". Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania 1973 Puerto Rican Day parade. Image provided by Temple University Urban Archives 814 South 8th Street. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania 814 South 8th Street. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania A Glimpse of the Italian District. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania A Group of boys of the Guild. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Aims of the Friends Neighborhood Guild. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania B'nai Abraham synagogue. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania B'nai Abraham synagogue. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Back of Schmidt's Brewery. Image provided by Charles Veasey Banner for the Native American Association. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Blessing of the Italian Market. Image provided by Maria Petrone Casa Ravello Milk Station. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Casa Ravello, Model Italian Tenement. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Catholic Priests burning bibles at Champlain, N.Y., 1842. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Children dancing at 1980 Children's Festival Puerto Rican Week. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Children's group portrait at St. Agnes Church
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