The first Goethe Society was that in Vienna, Goethe Verein Wein, wich was founded in 1878 by Professor Karl Julius Schröder of the Vienna’s Technische Hochschule and then the Goethe Gesellschaft of Weimar in 1885. The Goethe Society of America, the first in the US was first founded in New York in 1927. This society struggled throughout its entire existence.
The establishment of the clubs had one common thread, to honor Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (8-28-1749 to 3-22-1832) who was a German writer and statesman. He was by all measures a literary genius. Goethe was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Carl August in 1782 after first taking up residence there in November 1775 following the success of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther.
The Goethe Society of Maryland and Washington was founded in 1932 and at that time was the only society, other than the Goethe Society of American and one in Canada. The Society in Maryland, however, was the only society that weathered the political clouds of WWII and was one of the few German clubs, societies that remained in existence during that time.
The Goethe Society of Maryland and Washington began during the celebratory momentum surrounding the planning for the centennial of Goethe’s death. The celebration drew more than 1000 guests, including Governor Ritchie and Mayer Jackson (Baltimore) to the Peabody Institute on March 10, 1932. The driving force behind the society’s establishment was William Kurrelmeyer and Ernst Feise, both professors at Johns Hopkins University. The meeting and the formal founding took place on November 13, 1931 at the home of Mr. Kurrelmeyer. Others involved in that early decision were A.E. Zucker, Robert Roulston, Edward Sehrt, Jane Goodloe, Father John G. Hacker, Carl Nitze, Pastor Fritz Evers, Otto Franke, and Mrs. Magdalena Hester.
A constitution was written and its mission statement, “Its objects shall be: To promote the study and appreciation of Goethe and of German literature, art and philosophy in general”. The first president, William Kurrelmeyer was chosen and in its early years it maintained an active membership of between 40-50 members, holding seven meetings per year. Originally the meetings were held in the homes of members, however, post WWII, the meetings were held at the Enoch Pratt Library or the Johns Hopkins University.
A new era began in 1949, the bicentennial of the birth of Goethe. There were special meetings and parties in his honor. Many of the colleges, schools, libraries and museums presented special programs and lectures. The BSO presented a concert on Goethe’s works and Johns Hopkins University’s theater group presented Faust I. During this time special fundraisers were held to collect money to be sent to the Goethe House in Frankfurt-am-Main. The Society contributed as did the Zion Church of the City of Baltimore. The Society at that time, also contributed a full set of Goethe’s works to the library of the Goethe Society in Bremen, Germany.
There was a big bump in membership during that year, many from the Washington area. This made it obvious that a second chapter would need to be formed. Prior to this almost 100% of the meetings had been held in Baltimore. For several years (1949-1954) the two chapters were one organization with common officers. In January 1955, it was by mutual agreement that the chapters divided into two independent societies, the Goethe Society of Baltimore and the Goethe Society of Washington. The two new presidents were Professor Kurt Roderbourg from the US Naval Academy for Baltimore and Dieter Cunz from the University of Maryland for the Washington society.
The Goethe Society of Maryland in Baltimore continued with their quarterly lecture programs under the sponsorship and guidance of the German Department of the Johns Hopkins University until 1995, followed by three years sponsorship of the German Society of Maryland until 1998. Declining membership numbers led to a merger with the American Goethe Society Washington, DC during the same year.
The organization was reorganized in 2002 after many years of inactivity. One of the major changes is the offering of the lectures in English and programs providing a social forum for members. For information on the society, visit http://www.americangoethesociety.org/.
You may also want to visit the Goethe Institute at https://www.goethe.de/en/index.html.