History, Organization, and Governance of the
American Goethe Society of Washington, D.C.
The “Goethe Society of Maryland and the District of Columbia” was founded on November 13, 1931 in Baltimore, Maryland, by scholars of German Literature of Baltimore and Washington area Universities. Led by Professors William Kurrelmeyer as the Society’s first president, and Ernst Feise (both Johns Hopkins University), the Society was an offspring of the Goethe Society of America (founded in 1927 in New York) as the first American branch of the original Goethe Society of Weimar, Germany, founded in 1885, to honor the great German genius.
The highlight in the history of the founding of the Goethe Society of Maryland was the event which called forth its existence, the Goethe Year Centennial 1932. Over a thousand guests gathered in the large auditorium of the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore on March 10, 1932. In the presence of the Governor of Maryland, the Mayor of Baltimore and many other distinguished guests, the great modern German poet and dramatist Gerhard Hauptmann delivered his lecture on “Goethe as Educator”.
It was hoped to establish Goethe Societies in many more US cities, but the advent of Hitler's regime in Germany, causing strong anti-German sentiments in the US prevented that, leading to the unfortunate dissolution of the American (New York) Goethe Society in 1935. The Goethe Society of Maryland and the District of Columbia continued quietly, even seeing increased interest in its activities during and after the war.
1949 saw an even greater increase in membership, particularly from the Washington area, and it was felt advantageous to organize a second chapter in Washington, under the leadership of Professors Wolfgang Seiferth (Howard University) and Dieter Cunz (University of Maryland). The two chapters continued as one organization with common officers, but in 1955 it was mutually agreed that they would be divided into two independent organizations. The first elected president of the Goethe Society of Washington was Professor Dieter Cunz. Although founded in 1949 as a local chapter of the Goethe Society of Maryland and the District of Columbia, it was not until 1955 when a Constitution and By-Laws were written.
The Goethe Society of Maryland in Baltimore continued with their quarterly lecture programs under the sponsorship and guidance of the German Department of the Johns Hopkins University until 1995, followed by three years sponsorship of the German Society of Maryland until 1998. Declining membership numbers led to a merger with the American Goethe Society Washington, DC during the same year.
Under the leadership of Professor Irmgard Wagner (George Mason University) a complete re-organization of the Society took place in 2002 after the Society had been inactive for some time. A major change consisted of offering lectures in English, and programs fostering socialization among members.
The annual program schedule includes four lectures on the subjects of literature, art, music, and philosophy (in English), monthly drama readings (in German), and bi-monthly Saturday luncheons (“Lunch mit Lyrik”) at one of Washington’s German restaurants. The highlight of events is always the "Classical Oktoberfest", featuring an all-day seminar on a classical writer, followed by a festive meal.
How the Present Day AGS is Organized and Governed
The American Goethe Society is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to fellowship and the appreciation of German literature, art, music, and philosophy. Knowledge of German is not required, but may be beneficial for participation in our various programs.
The AGS is governed by officers and a board of directors elected every two years in accordance with its constitution at the annual business meeting in June. Officers of the Society may serve a maximum of two consecutive two-year terms, but may again stand for election after a break in their service. Newly elected officers will assume their positions at the annual meeting in January.
Officers of the American Goethe Society of Washington, D.C.
President: Dr. Mary Helen Dupree
Vice President: Dr. Francien Markx
Immediate past President: Brigitte V. Fessenden
Treasurer: Dr. Nick Fessenden
Recording Secretary: Joyce Constantine
Corresponding Secretary: Noelle Rettig
Publicity/Graphics: Sharon Higgins