Every week, something fun is happening at the German Society of Pennsylvania. Lectures, Panel Discussions,
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The History of The German Society of Pennsylvania

The first German immigrants came to Philadelphia, led by Franz Daniel Pastorius, from Krefeld, Germany in 1683.  Subsequently, poor Germans, who could not afford ship fare to America, were induced to sign contracts (in English) to work 4-5 years after their arrival, or until their ship fare had been fully paid.  The immigrants were then sold into work after arrival. 

The German Society of Pennsylvania was founded to relieve these fellow countrymen and women who were being sold into a form of slavery.  The founding members of the Society preached humanity and the maintenance of German practices, moral standards, and charitable acts.

Officially founded on December 26, 1764, The German Society of Pennsylvania is the oldest German organization of its kind in the United States. 

The original home of the German Society (GSP) was the German Lutheran Schoolhouse on Cherry Street.  During that time, upon the presentation to the Society of six books in 1783, the Library was founded.  To this day, the most prized archival possession is the Christopher Sauer Bible – the first Bible to be printed in any European language in the United States.   

In 1887, the Spring Garden Street townhouse (the Society’s current home) was purchased.  During the relocation, the membership flourished, and by 1914, there were 624 members.  However, during the 1930s and 40s, the gain in new members was greatly exceeded by the loss of current members due to death following the Great Depression and the war.  By the end of World War II, the Society maintained only 350 members. 

The surge in membership around the turn of the century can also be attributed to the founding of the Women’s Auxiliary on May 22, 1900.  Started by twelve ladies, led by Antonie Ehrlich, the Women’s Auxiliary soared to 800 members after its official incorporation in 1908.

World War II was a difficult time for the Germans of the Society.  It was a deeply personal struggle to stand by while two countries they loved dearly were at war with each other.  At the end of the war, the GSP partnered with the “American Relief for Central Europe.”  The Women’s Auxiliary also banded together to process and ship 2,700,000 pounds of clothing to needy families in Europe.

In the 1960s, the Society began to take a further interest in students and the youth of the Philadelphia area.  The GSP and AATG (American Association of Teachers of German) began a German scholarship program – which still continues.  This decade also marked the beginning of dramatic German plays performed by area students – led by our own Frank Genieser.  A Youth Group was formed that held dances, cultural outings and lectures.

Since the 1960s, the Society has been able to hold its own.  The membership is now approximately 700.  The calendar is packed with all different types of events – lectures, dinners, movies, concerts, tastings, and much more.  The language program for adults and children is taught in a fun, relaxed, and affordable atmosphere.  The Library’s holdings are growing.  The halls are abuzz just about everyday with volunteers cooking, cleaning, and maintaining the building.

It is only through generous donations from our supporters that we will be able to further the understanding of German and German-American contributions to the growth of American history into the future.

Interesting facts:

In 1764, when the GSP was founded…

America would not yet become a nation for another 12 years.

The French Revolution was twenty-five years in the future.

Wolfgang von Goethe was beginning his travels for the University of Leipzig.

Friedrich Schiller was only five years old.

Mozart was writing his first symphony – at the age of eight.

Beethoven would be born six years later.

The French and Indian War had just come to a close.

The complete historical summary can be found in “A History of the German Society of Pennsylvania: Bicentenary Edition 1764-1964,” by Harry W. Pfund.

An historical summary (from 1764-present) can be found in the recently published "Ethnicity Matters: A History of the German Society of Pennsylvania" by Dr. Birte Pfleger.    



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German Society of Pennsylvania
611 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA  19123
(P) 215-627-2332
(F) 215-627-5297