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Original purpose and history of
THE STEUBEN SOCIETY OF AMERICA
Past, Present, Future

The Steuben Society of America, founded in 1919, is an educational, fraternal, and patriotic organization of American citizens of German background. The stated purpose of the Society is “to educate the public about matters of interest to American citizens of German descent and their families, to encourage participation in civic affairs, and to perpetuate and enhance the understanding of contributions made by such citizens to the development of the United States of America.”

In appealing to newly made citizens, as well as to descendants of immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other German-speaking areas of Europe, the founders called “Duty, Justice, Charity, and Tolerance” the four pillars on which the Society is built. In its early decades, the Society focused strongly on guarding the liberties of its members and assisting new immigrants in applying for American citizenship through various educational activities. Parallel to these endeavors, Units and Councils of the Society recognized meritorious achievements of students in American history and in German language with awards and scholarships. Because the organization had chosen as its patron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a hero of the Revolutionary War George Washington’s Adjutant General, the Steuben Society also recognized the importance of teaching military discipline. Thus, the Society has a long-standing tradition of presenting annual awards at the U.S. Service Academies in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. Sponsorship of scholastic awards for high school and college level achievement used to be a major thrust of local Units.

Steuben Society of America float at
the New York Steuben Parade

In 1927, the Steuben Society republished in book format the seminal research on “the German Element in the United States” by Professor Albert Bernhard Faust (first Published in Berlin in 1912, now amended with Volume 2). In addition, the Society printed and distributed pamphlets highlighting individual achievements of great German-Americans, including John Peter Zenger (printer whose history prepared the way for freedom of the press on this continent), Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, (Drillmaster of the Revolution and a model citizen), the statesman Carl Schurz (fought with Lincoln and later served as Secretary of the Interior; his wife Margarete Schurz founded the first Kindergarten in Wisconsin in 1855), and many others. The Society also distributed portraits and biographies of notable German-Americans who were chosen as patrons of individual Units of the Society. It gradually extended its educational outreach efforts from new immigrants to high school and college students, working in collaboration with teachers and faculty mainly in the areas of American history and German Language.

The structure of the Society was three-tiered, in that higher Councils on a District and/or State level superseded local Units, and all were united under the National Council. Delegates from Units to higher Councils, and additional Council-to-Council delegates assured smooth communication and collaboration. All officers of the Society’s Units and Councils serve without pay. A vital component of the organization’s educational efforts was and is its “Steuben News,” formerly published ten times per year, now published bimonthly as a messenger to members and as an educational tool.

RECENT HISTORY AND CHANGES

Now in its eighty-fourth year, the National Council receives its support from merely 24 Units and one State Council (NY) and establishes its program through National Council meetings that are open to delegates and alternates from each Unit; it elects its officers from among those delegates at the Annual Meeting of the Council and may affirm its platform and program through annual or biennial conventions. The Society’s current legislative educational activities purport to obtain government funding for historic sites. These include the German-American Friendship Garden in Washington, DC, and State Historic Sites in New York and New Jersey. In addition, there is interest in supporting legislation toward recognition of the unlawful and unjust WWII internment of American citizens of German origin.

Since 1988, the Society is loosely linked to two other national German-American organizations through the German-American Joint Action Committee (GAJAC), a collaboration that provides the planning the execution for educational and cultural aspects of “German-American Day” in Washington, DC. The chairpersons of the three organizations, including the National Chairman of the Steuben Society, manage GAJAC jointly and the Society contributes a modest share towards the expenses of GAJAC. A major effort of the Society is the annual support of the Steuben Day German-American Parades in New York City and Philadelphia in September (around the birthday of General von Steuben), where pride of heritage is displayed through marching groups and theme floats.

EFFECTS OF DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS AND IMMIGRATION POLICES

According to the 1990 census, Americans of German decent constituted 26% of the total US population at that time. However, in recent years, the membership of the Steuben Society of America demographic shifts, aging population, and reduced immigration. In view of these trends, it becomes increasingly important to document the contributions of the German element in the United States and to share this rich history with our fellow citizens throughout the nation. The current leadership and members of the Steuben Society are determined to increase educational efforts that highlight the achievements of immigrants from the German-speaking European nations and their contributions to America. This was the clear resolve of the attendees of the Year 2000 Forum on German-American Issues sponsored by the Steuben Society of America in the Washington, DC area under the joint leadership of then National Secretary Ilse Hoffmann, and Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, President of the Society for German-American Studies (SGAS) and Professor of German-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, OH.

FUTURE PROGRAM

Paul Bette at the dedication of the Steuben
Monument May 2004

Photo by C. Zorn-Scott
To sustain and enlarge its membership, the Society recognizes the need to be more responsive to requests for scholarships and to increase educational activities for a younger population. The Society’s Education Committee has formulated and the Council has endorsed the following program for the immediate future.

Obtain expert help in redesigning the Society’s website and create links to relevant scholarly sources of educational materials.

Make greater use of Steuben News as a living history conduit to publish important facts on German-American history, highlighting biographies such as the ones on Admiral Nimitz, General Eisenhower, Lou Gehrig, Joseph Pulitzer, Charles Steinmetz, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, to name but a few. Such biographies shall also be published as separate pamphlets. Enlist the collaboration of the Society for German-American Studies to ensure that material is scholarly and authoritative.

Foster the continuation of the National Forum on German-American Issues on an annual or biennial basis in conjunction with the training of speakers who may represent the Society at local events.

Support the German-American Day Essay Contest for high school students developed by Dr. Fuhrig and Dr. Reichmann. The Council has set aside and initial award of $2,000 for the year 2003/2004. This important seed grant will likely be matched by contributions from other sponsors.

Purchase videotapes (in bulk) like the one from the PBS Series on the Germans in America and other German-American history topics for distributions to libraries, schools and community groups.

Maintain ongoing national award programs at the Us Service Academies and at Colleges and Universities with a German-American Studies curriculum. Work closely with and through those of our members who are also members of the American Association of Teachers of German, like Brother Willie Aust, Sister Louise Terry and others.

Encourage all Units to maintain their current benevolence and scholastic awards programs and, where such have ceased to be active, support the efforts of the National Council. If at all possible, delegate one or two of the Unit members to the National Council’s Education Committee.

Thus, the Steuben Society of America will increasingly encourage studies in German-American history, while continuing its support of the teaching of the German language. Use of organizational archives and of the resources at academic institutions specializing in German-American studies, [e.g., the German Society in Philadelphia, the Universities of Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Indiana, as well as of authoritative (!) information from the Internet and local museums] is encouraged for critical study and as a repository of new contributions that will be solicited through sponsorship of research and awards for meritorious achievement in these areas.

SUPPORT OF HISTORIC SITES

May 2004 at the Monument Unveiling. The playing of the
National Anthems. Guest speaker Ted Hierl, Chairman
of the German Heritage Council of NJ in front row.

photo by Werner Hoefer

Through its National Council’s Historic Sites Committee, and its local Units, the Society will also take a greater role in supporting the preservation of monuments and collections that testify to German-American history. This major educational outreach currently includes co-sponsorship of a new Steuben Monument at the Battle of Monmouth Historic Site in New Jersey (with friends of the Monmouth Battlefield), assisting The Friends of Steuben at the New York State Historic Site, Remsen, NY (burial place of our patron), sponsoring a new base for the Steuben Monument at Valley Forge Historic Park, PA. (The letter project was just completed by our Pastorius Unit No. 38 of Philadelphia).

Clearly, these plans require financial resources that are beyond the funds available from current dues and activities, and the Society will need to create outreach to solicit support. Since the Steuben Society is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, you can help support out work by making a tax deductible donation made out to "The Steuben Society of America".  Your donation should be mailed to our executive offices located at:

The Steuben Society of America
6705 Fresh Pond Road,
Ridgewood, NY 11385-4505.

 
©2014 Steuben Society of America, Inc. | Cynthia A. Zorn-Scott