I had somehow never heard of the Sons of Hermann (as in Herman the German, i.e., Arminius), a fraternal organization of Americans of German heritage:
The Order of the Sons of Hermann, also known as Hermann Sons and by its German name as Der Orden der Hermanns-Soehne or Hermannssöhne, is a mutual aid society for German immigrants that was formed in New York City on July 20, 1840, and remains active in the states of California, Ohio, and Texas today. Open to members of any heritage today, the order provides low-cost insurance and mutual aid and has historically promoted the preservation of German language and traditions….
The Sons of Hermann was formed by Dr. Philip Merkel, George Heiner, John Blatz, A. Auer, R. Schwendel, W. Kohler, and Philipp Germann on the Lower East Side,in response to anti-German sentiment during a period of heavy German immigration to the United States.
The order has some rites, but they don’t seem very complex. It was mainly a mutual-support cooperative, the sort of thing which many Northern European immigrant groups brought from the old country to the USA.
Hundreds of lodges were organized during the nineteenth century; by 1895 there were about 30,000 members, and in 1896 there were Grand Lodges in California, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington in addition to New York, as well as scattered members in 15 other states with a total membership of 90,000…. However, like all things German, the order declined sharply in popularity with the outbreak of World War I.
The order’s symbolic colors are black, red and gold, representing German unity: black for ignorance, prejudice and indifference; red for the light and enlightenment spread by German culture and the German spirit; and gold for true freedom, which man arrives at through knowledge and labor….
German Jews participated fully in the Sons of Hermann; the order’s insurance fund was led by Jacob Brandeis and Rabbi Emanuel Gerechter, the former also directing the order’s choral group in Milwaukee.
A friend of mine, Robert Blackburn, recently took some photos of the handsome Art Deco “Hermann Sons Lodge” in San Antonio, Texas:
And it still seems to be going strong:
Cajun dancing, brought to you by liberal (in the 19th-century sense) Germans. I know the first place I’m going to visit if I ever return to San Antonio.