Liederkranz Membership

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When the new clubhouse opened in 1882, the Liederkranz’s membership was at its peak with 1, 557 members listed on its roster.(1, p.139) Between 1882 and 1883, membership applications were so numerous that the Board decided to restrict the number of new members to no more than the number of members leaving the society because of death or non-renewal.(3, p. 39) William recorded that his motion of limiting the number of Liederkranz members was passed at the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee meetings and that the society as a whole resolved a short time later not to increase the number of members further. (Diary, 1883-03-01, 1883-03-06)

Liederkranz members ranged from such leading citizens of the German-American community as William Steinway, Carl Schurz, and Oswald Ottendorfer, to bankers, clerks, brewers, doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, politicians, and many other professional men. There were two types of memberships: active members, those who performed in the male chorus or orchestra, and passive members, all others plus a few honorary, non-resident and junior members.(3, p. 30) There were usually no more than 200 active members. Their annual dues were lower than those of passive members. By 1896, the final year of William’s diary, active members paid annual dues of $24.00 and passive members paid annual dues of $40.00. (Diary, 1896-10-06) Although passive members paid more in dues, they far outnumbered active members, suggesting the society’s primary importance was for socializing and networking. (1, p. 139) The relatively expensive dues were a barrier to working class German-Americans.(1, p. 139) Stanley Nadel in his history Little Germany believes that the new Liederkranz clubhouse "was designed to demonstrate that the German-American upper class of New York was fully prepared to match the opulent life-style of its Anglo-American contemporaries. (6, p. 115) The Liederkranz followed the gradual movement uptown of New York businesses and cultural activities. The Liederkranz acquired the reputation of an upper class society, so much so that it was described in a 1946 novel by Marjorie Worthington as "a very dignified place. Membership was restricted in a way, in fact in such a way that everyone belonging was a solid, substantial citizen of New York; business and professional men of a serious nature."(3, p. 32) Mosenthal’s history admitted as much when discussing the early days of the Liederkranz: "Probably despite the lesser number of members there existed less homogeneity in social standing than there is now. And they had to be less selective in admitting new members since one wanted to shine with a rather large chorus at the concerts."(5, p.V)

In addition to class restrictions, the Liederkranz restricted the number of Jewish members. As William first mentioned in his diary: "Strong anti-Jewish sentiment springing up in the Society."(Diary, 1881-03-29) A little over a week later, while presiding at the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee meetings, William oversaw "a thorough sifting of the anti-semitic sentiment."(Diary, 1881-04-07) William later recorded that the "Jewish question" was discussed without trouble.(Diary, 1881-05-05, 1881-06-07) However, on November 8, in spite of William’s warnings, the Liederkranz blackballed two Jewish applicants.(Diary, 1881-11-08) Later, William declared that the "Jew question" is settled: David Sohn was admitted and several Jewish applicants’ names were withdrawn."(Diary, 1881-12-01) The "Jew question" was settled by sending a private circular to the Jewish members, who numbered more than 50. Using his influence to advocate for Jews, William persuaded the Liederkranz to sing at the funeral of Eduard Lasker, a Jewish parliamentarian in the Prussian Landstag who died suddenly in New York on January 5, 1884, during a visit to the United States. Although no representatives from the German and Prussian governments attended Lasker’s funeral and Bismarck refused to convey the United States Congress’ motion of sympathy to the German Reichstag (7), William ensured that the Liederkranz performed at Lasker’s funeral. William noted that he became acquainted with several rabbis at Temple Emmanuel where Lasker’s funeral was held.(Diary, 1884-01-10) Several years later, William succeeded in securing membership for Jacob H. Schiff, a prominent German-born Jewish philanthropist. (Diary, 1889-05-02)

The Liederkranz also restricted the number of non-German speaking members. This issue arose in 1883 when William wrote, "General feeling against taking too many non-German speaking members of the LK." (Diary, 1883-02-27) William criticized former Mayor William Guenther, who was elected to the Liederkranz, for making a speech in broken German.(Diary, 1874-01-13) William noted when English was spoken at the Liederkranz and noted when he made English speeches for members. Indeed, speaking English was so noteworthy that when the Mendelssohn Glee Club attended a Liederkranz Social Evening on December 11, 1886, William recorded that Richard Adams greeted them in English and that William conducted the whole evening in English. William gave a speech on the Liederkranz’s 25th anniversary and said, "If one is surrounded the whole day by Americans—the evening here allows one not to forget the old homeland."(2) When William acquired a safe deposit box for the Society on January 5, 1885, he chose the password "German."



1. Bruhn, Christopher. "Between the old world the new: William Steinway and the New York Liederkranz in the 1860s," European music and musicians in New York City, 1840-1900, edited by John Graziano, Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 2006.

2. "Deutscher Liederkranz von New York," New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, March 17, 1895, p. 1.

3. History of the Liederkranz of the City of New York 1847 to 1947 and of The Arion, New York. New York: The Drechsel Printing Co., 1948.

4. "The Liederkranz Society," Harper’s Weekly, March 7, 1891, p. 187.

5. Mosenthal, Hermann. Geschichte des Vereins deutscher Liederkranz in New York. New York: F.A. Ringler Company, 1897.

6. Nadel, Stanley. Little Germany; ethnicity, religion, and class in New York City, 1845-1880. Urbana and Chicago, Il: University of Illinois Press, 1990, p 115.

7. Online Encyclopedia (based on the 11th Edition Encyclopedia Britannica), "Eduard Lasker (1829-1884)". (accessed on October 17, 2011)