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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Object Record

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Object Name Badge, Membership
Catalog Number 2017.fic.1066
Description Badge from Frohsinn Singing Society. Pin portion is metal with white plastic inlay and text "FROHSINN" stamped in blue. The front of the ribbon is blue with silver text "La Crosse, Wis. Gegruendet 1885". There is a medallion attached below with a picture of a harp, trumpets, sheets of mustic, and olive branches on the front. The back of the ribbon is black and contains the same silver text as the front. The back of the medallion has black text "In Memoriam" and is surrounded by black branches.
Collection La Crosse County Historical Society Collection
Provenance Badge from Frohsinn Singing Society of La Crosse WI. They were a German singing group that went to concerts and festivals in the Midwest.
Dimensions W-2.25 L-4.75 inches
Length (in) 4.75
Width (in) 2.25
Search Terms Badge
Singing group
Featured in Things that Matter
Notes The reverse of the badge (the black side) would have been worn at funerals.

Featured in Things that Matter

"This colorful badge once decorated the lapel of a member of Frohsinn, La Crosse’s German singing society.

The badge’s attached disk, with classical style lyre, highlighted a love of music, while the top of the badge and blue ribbon proudly stated, “Frohsinn, La Crosse, Wis., Gegrundt (Founded) 1885.”

The one-time local owner is unknown, as is the badge’s age. Similar be-ribboned badges were used by fraternal and union organizations in the late 19th and early 20th century. This one probably dates from about 1900.

The Frohsinn badge is reversible. Its front ribbon is blue, but there’s a second black ribbon on the back. The attached disk reads “In Memoriam (in memory of),” making it suitable for funerals.

The Frohsinn Society (froh Sinn means happy state of mind in German) began as a literary society and current affairs forum, but it soon evolved into a singing group that celebrated German heritage. Activities often centered around Germania Hall on Fifth Avenue, between Market and Ferry streets. The building housed athletic, dramatic, educational and cultural groups, and once was the focus for German culture in La Crosse.

Initially all Frohsinn members were men, though women joined in later years. The group participated in concerts and annual regional singing festivals throughout the Midwest. La Crosse hosted many such events, including the 1908 Saengerfest, with some 3,000 singers and 5,000 visitors. An auditorium was quickly constructed at Fourth and Jay Streets to accommodate the huge gathering.

During World War I (1914-1918), anti-German sentiment caused a temporary lapse in participation in Frohsinn, but the organization regained strength and continued after the war. American folk and patriotic songs joined traditional German songs in its repertoire.

As German immigrants in the area declined, so did Frohsinn. The last Saengerfest was held here in 1959. After that, the organization dwindled. Later, Oktoberfest came to be seen as the primary expression of German heritage in La Crosse.

The Frohsinn Singing Society badge represents a time when area Germans enjoyed expressing their heritage through choral singing. The group offered support and community to immigrants, reminding them of the country left behind and helping them adjust to their new life here."

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Title: Frohsinn Singing Society badge
Author: Carol Mullen
Publish Date: July 15, 2017

"The Frohsinn Singing Society was founded on January 12, 1885, in La Crosse, Wis., with Reverend Henry Andreas of the Mormon Coulee Reformed Church as chairman. At its inception, the society referred to themselves as the “Literarischer Verein” or literary society, before settling on the name, “Versammlung Frohsinn”, which roughly translates to “The Cheerful Society.” The Frohsinn Singing Society began to meet in the late 19th century as a means for German-Americans and recent immigrants from Germany to discuss current affairs, share in their home-country nostalgia of Germany, and to create a social sphere for German culture in La Crosse. One means by which they promoted their culture and engaged as a society was by singing traditional German music (Volkslieder). Under the direction of Jos. Fliegl (Fleigel) as choir director in 1886, the singing of Volkslieder very soon became the main purpose for the group.

The Frohsinn Singing Society called several locations around La Crosse home, the first rehearsals in the 1880s were held in the classrooms of the Reformed Church at Fourth and Markets Streets. Later, for a number of years Gund Hall, which stood at the corner of Fourth and Jay Streets, hosted Frohsinn practice sessions. Thereafter, Eagles Hall was rented for some time, and then in 1921 the society met at Germania Hall (later Pioneer Hall) for about a decade. After 1950, the group would often meet at Krause Hall and the Northern States Building. The society never had a permanent meeting or residence place.

While singing became the main focus of Frohsinn, literature still played an important role for the group. The group did have a library of German literature from which members could borrow books. One such book contained in this collection is "Das Wert des Volksverbandes der Buecherfreunde," or "The Importance of the People's Collective of Book Friends." The Volksverbandes der Buecherfreunde was an organization which grew out of the aftermath of WWI in Berlin, Germany. The purpose of this group was to create a non-partisan and apolitical environment in which German culture and arts could be celebrated. The group had several publishing houses in Berlin and sought to publish and republish works by famous and upcoming German authors, in particular Goethe and Schiller, in order for Germany to regain a place in world culture and to also make money during the intense recession which followed WWI in Germany. Frohsinn possessing a work from this organization demonstrates the close ties the society still held with Germany even following the intense scrutiny of German-Americans during and after WWI.

In addition to the Frohsinn Singing Society, La Crosse also had several other German singing groups or societies operating around this time. Liederkranz was another well-known German singing society in La Crosse. This society was originally the Turnen (Turners or gymnastics) Society, which later split and changed its name to the Deutscher Verein (German Society). Liederkranz was the name given to the musical section of the larger Deutscher Verein group. While the Frohsinn Singing Society and Deutscher Verein are separate groups, they both often sang at the same concerts and festivals in La Crosse, the greater state of Wisconsin, as well as the tri-state region. Frohsinn also worked with the Norwegian Normanna Saengerkor, which was founded in La Crosse in 1869, making it the oldest Norwegian singing society in the United States. While the Frohsinn society was exclusively compromised of men, it did however, for a brief time in 1903, invite the women of a local Damenchor (women’s choir) to join the society. The conductor of the women's choir was Robert Isler, a piano tuner from Switzerland. In 1903 the Damenchor sponsored a concert and invited the men of Frohsinn to sing with them. The concert was so successful that the men invited the members of the Damenchor to join Frohsinn. Isler would conduct this combined group for about a year, however the Damenchor disbanded in 1904 leaving Isler the conductor of an again, all male singing group.

John Malin was elected president of Frohsinn in 1891 and served for 27 years, eventually dying in office in 1918. Much of the success of Frohsinn is attributed to Malin's efficient leadership.

Most years the Frohsinn Singing Society attended at least one “Sängerfest,” or singing festival. These festivals begin in 1865 when Liederkranz set about sending invitations to various singing societies in the greater La Crosse area to meet in La Crosse and hold a singing festival. La Crosse then hosted the first Saengerfest in 1866 with participation from Corcordia, Watertown, Portage Liederkranz, Bangor Liederkranz, Waumandee, Brownsville, Lansing, and New Lisbon. Watertown won first prize and Portage second at the first Saengerfest. After this first competition in 1866, it was decided to call these united societies the Northwest Singing Society and John Ulrich was elected president.

The Frohsinn Singing Society often participated in the singing festivals put on by the “Sängerbundes des Nord-Westens” (Northwest Singing Soicety), particularly in 1871, 1883, 1894, and 1908. Frohsinn also participated in events hosted by other regional districts such as the East and North Wisconsin Districts, which were the predecessors to the Wisconsin District. This district held its first concert in Sheboygan in 1892. The “Nord Wisconsin Sängerbezirk” (North Wisconsin Singing District) was another district which hosted festivals. Each year the festivals would grow in size, with the 1894 Northwest Singing Society festival seeing representation from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. The July 1908 Northwest Singing Society festival hosted in La Crosse was deemed the largest in their history. The event brought 1,800 singers to La Crosse and prompted a community effort to accommodate so many people. The Frohsinn Singing Society hosted several times thereafter, with the last year being 1959.

In addition to singing, the society hosted a number of activities for both society members and the La Crosse community. Most years Frohsinn would host an annual picnic for members and their families, Goose Island would often be the chosen location. Christmas celebrations, fun fairs, concerts, garden parties, masquerades, "hardtime" parties, dances and balls were all events members of La Crosse could look forward to Frohsinn hosting. In particular, during the early 1900s, Frohsinn would host steamer excursions to Winona and Fountain City as a means to raise funds. However, in 1919 when Prohibition came into effect, these events ceased.

Festivals and meetings lapsed during World War I. La Crosse's Frohsinn resumed participation in regional festivals at the 1921 Appleton Wisconsin District festival. The Northwest Singing Society was revived in Chicago in 1922 by Oscar Doering of La Crosse. Then in 1930, the Northwest Society even worked on a festival for Chicago at the time of the World's Fair.

During the Great Depression, Frohsinn participated in fewer singing festivals and excused many of its members from paying annual fees due to unemployment. While funding was low, the group still practiced regularly and beginning in February 1930, began airing a number of radio concerts.

After the death of the pioneer founders going into the 1940s, members began to focus more on recreation. However with the onset of World War II, continued membership and practices declined. Nevertheless, Frohsinn gave annual spring concerts and members, as well as their families would participate in dramatic performances. Scenic films were also often part of the program. The society never held a sectarian or political affiliation, but rather contributed its money and services toward welfare and culture. In 1951, Frohsinn assisted the Jaycees in housing an Austrian concert group.

In 1985 the Frohsinn Singing Society celebrated its 100th anniversary with a centennial celebration in La Crosse. At that time the society had only 13 members. Membership continued to dwindle as interest in the group also decreased. The Society finally disbanded in 1995 after 110 years."

Information from: La Crosse Public Library Archives
Author: Archives Staff
Accessed 07/21/2017