Original Purpose and History
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.
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.