Founded by the Athenaeum’s Social Athletic Club known as the Athenaeum Turners (the Socialer Turnverein), the Athenaeum Damenverein is the women’s group representing the German House Athenaeum organization (Das Deutsche Haus Athenaeum). The group meets for social occasions and volunteers to support Das Deutsche Haus groups’ various activities. This organization has remained active since 1876, when they banded together formally to support the Turner society (the original founding group of the historic Athenaeum Building in Indy).
Originally, the Damenverein’s focus was trained on the girl’s athletic classes in the newly-created Athenaeum, and the betterment of the Turner library. The “Sisters” gradually enlarged their scope, though during the great Wars their membership perforce dropped off.
During the late 1800s, the “Women’s Club,” as the Athenaeum Damenverein was simply called, offered soup kitchens, ran needlework classes for children (especially the poor), and championed the rights of women. They created a “Freethinkers” society that figured heavily in the group’s activism in Indianapolis.
The Women’s Club had an inner group called the “Kranken Kommittee”that cared for the sick, indigent and home-bound in the outer community, providing basic hospice care and even cooking and cleaning. This club for the sick eventually branched off into yet another sub-group, called the “Cheer Committee,” which sent flowers to funerals and hospitals and even offered financial help to the disadvantaged.
Along with their direct volunteer support of the Athenaeum’s German-American organizations, the Damenverein branch out into the various Indianapolis German Societies to provide volunteer social service work and charitable philanthropic support.
Back home in the Athenaeum, the Damenverein‘s activities were specifically to volunteer help at picnics, parties and fund-raisers, and they became famous for their children’s class picnics and parties, which continued well into the 1960s. The forging of the various German-American strongholds in Indiana during 1876 eventually was hailed as the “Hey-Day of German Culture in Indianapolis,” and it is evidently still going strong.
Since the 1990s, the Damenverein have regained their strength, if not their previous scope. They do, however, continue to provide support, focusing on their German culture and peoples. And inside the hallowed walls of the Athenaeum, they maintain their own special events hall, the Damenverein Room, a charming, full-service banquet facility. This flexible, long-lived women’s group will survive and metamorphose into whatever serves the needs of the German community at the time.
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The Athenaeum Damenverein
401 E. Michigan
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204