Society for the History of Germans in Maryland

A short history

The Society for the History of the Germans in Maryland

‘Ohne Hast, ohne Rast’

Thanks to ‘hindsight’ and the strong will of many first generation German immigrants that wished to maintain an element of ‘Germanism’ alive, the Society for the History of Germans in Maryland was founded in 1886. The mission of the group was to preserve the German language and traditions. The timing was perfect because by this time many second and third generation German Marylanders were learning, speaking and working in the English language. English had become the norm. Many German immigrants had achieved positions of prominence in Maryland and were instrumental in founding many of the benevolent and charitable institutions of that time, including the German Aged Home, the German Orphan Home, etc. There were also tons of ‘social’ organizations including the singing societies, Germania, etc. The Society’s wish and mission was ‘cultural’ and remains so today. It is the last existing society of its kind.

The Society was founded on January 5, 1886 at a meeting at the Maryland Historical Society. Names present at that meeting included Henninghausen, Landsberg, Raddatz, Leyh, Ax, Gail, Morris, Weber, Hoen, Knabe, Bauernschmdit, Moale, Sadtler, Bessels, etc. Dr. Morris was elected temp chair and was installed as the first president at the next meeting. His presidency lasted until his death on October 10, 1895. It was at this meeting that they wrote their mission statement, “to collect and publish in proper form and share which the German settlers of Maryland have borne in the development of the country.” The society today stands strong on that mission. It was also at the second meeting that the constitution was adopted. It was printed in both English and German, however, the meeting minutes have been printed in English from the founding. The signers of the constitution included Henry Scheib of Zion, Dr. John Hemmeter, Dr. Edward Deichmann, Dr. Louis Steiner and Basil Sellers…all educators in the Baltimore area, many with their own schools including Scheib and Deichmann.

The Society’s first public appearance was at the monument of General Jean DeKalb, a German by birth and a leader of the Maryland troops at the battle of Camden in 1780.

The Society met once a month, usually not with large attendance. The Society made it a practice, which also continues to this day, inviting speakers. Today, an annual meeting and dinner is held where speakers that have made their mark in historical research provide perspectives on many topics with Germans as their theme. This practice, the dinner meeting, began on February 22, 1894 and this first meeting hosted seventy members. Early speakers included Dexter, Volck, Henninghausen, Faust to today who have welcomed speakers such as Roggelin and current president, Nick Fessenden. It was during the early years that membership was opened to those outside of Maryland. They became corresponding members.

The third meeting provided the first officers, which included:

· President: Rev. John G. Morris

· Vice Presidents: Louis P. Hennighausen and Charles Weber

· Treasurer: Edward Nieman

· Executive Committee: Dr. Louis Steiner, Edward Leyh, Henry Becker, Dr. Charles Brombaugh, Professor Charles Raddatz, the last also being the designer of the seal of the Society.

The meetings continued to be small in numbers. Dr. Morris was succeeded by Dr. Benjamin Sadtler, who presided until his death on April 28, 1901. It was near the end of that century that the society had its first major success with the work of Herrmann Schuricht’s History of the German Element in Viriginia, which was published between 1897 and 1900 within a succession of reports of the Society. Dr. Sadtler was followed by Louis P. Hennighausen. He resigned in 1907 but was reinstated in 1912 and served until his death in February 1918. It was also Louis Hennighausen that gave the Society one of its first literary publications when he penned, ‘The History of the German Society of Maryland’.

The numbers still remained within the membership with some maintaining their loyalty to their homeland and some to their adopted land. This caused some members to resign. Mr. George Prechtel was the president at the time and managed to keep the Society afloat. He served from 1918 to 1929. It was during this time that the Society did see a slight uptick in membership. Among the new members was H.L. Mencken, who joined in 1926. Nineteen members attended the dinner that year. In 1931, thirty one members attended. The dinners were held at prime establishments in the area. The 1931 dinner was held at Miller Brothers’ restaurant and in 1932 the Emerson Hotel was the host location. This was the first time women guests were invited. The group remained ‘stag’ for many years. At one point a vote was made to allow women to join, however, it died in 1936. It was voted again in 1941 and died. There is a footnote or reference on a paper written by Ernest Becker for the Society stating that, in 1908 one woman, Louisa Schenkel was elected to membership. It was also during this time, 1929 to be exact that the reports began again…after a twenty two year hiatus.

Dr. Prechtel died in 1931 and was succeeded by Thomas F. Hisky. New life to the Society came in the form of a $10,000 bequest by Mr. Ferdinand A.J. Meyer, a former member. Mr. Meyer died in 1933 and bequeathed the sum to the society in his will. Careful investments of this gift allowed the society to begin publishing their reports again. Mr. Prechtel died in 1937 and was succeeded by Professor William Kurrelmeyer of the Johns Hopkins University.

One of the projects of the society that took many years for fruition was the compilation of a history of the Germans in Maryland. The first suggestion to undertake such a project was in 1909. Mr. L. Hennighausen began the onerous project and in 1913 requested assistance from a historian for this daunting task. Apparently the information was maintained, but the project tabled until a proposal was made at the 1939 annual meeting. It was suggested at that time to establish a fellowship in the amount of $500 for a term of one year. The fellowship would be given to a graduate student who spoke and understood both English and German and this student should write a thesis on a topic of German American History in Maryland. Dr. Dieter Cunz was the recipient of this fellowship. The grants were renewed each year until 1942, when on November 22, 1942 the book, The Maryland Germans’ was published by Princeton University Press. There are still copies available and anyone interested in the German experience in Maryland should make this a must read. Mr. Cunz was elected to the Executive Committee of the Society in 1944. He also became the editor of the reports in 1942.

The constitution and bylaws were amended in 1950 to keep up with current conditions.

One of the highlights of the Society was the first meeting held outside of the Baltimore area, when in 1952, the annual dinner was held at the Governor’s House in Annapolis. The Governor, Theodore R. McKeldin (See Biography), a member of the Society extended the invitation to members to meet in the mansion in Annapolis. Governor McKeldin was the grandson of German immigrants on his mother’s side (Grief).

Sources: The Society for the History of the Germans in Maryland: A Chronicle by Ernest J. Becker