by Hedvig Podonyi 2023. Jul 11.

Social Clubs for Culture

Industrial progress necessitated a growing number of independent industrialists and workers.

Since guilds sought to stifle competition and block people from becoming masters, government intervention became necessary in order to meet mass production needs. A decree issued in 1859 by Emperor Franz Joseph I defined the organisation of industrialists as a trade corporation and stipulated that guilds needed to revise their statutes. Additional laws in 1872 and 1884 furthered regulation of the industry.

Trade corporations took action against amateurs, often ran their own trade schools, owned property and provided sickness assistance and even funeral aid to members’ families. In addition, they often maintained a glee-club, an amateur theatre troupe, library, and organised cultural events and balls. Larger companies similarly made efforts to ensure that their workers’ cultural and educational needs were met.

Song circle of Rákoshegy, 1930 (source: Fortepan / László Poór)Song circle of Rákoshegy, 1930 (source: Fortepan / László Poór)

An increasing number of people enjoyed social life and leisurely activities organised by trade associations. According to a report in “Fővárosi Lapok” in January 1881, the city officials’ association’s New Year’s Eve party held in the banquet hall of the Hungária Hotel included a concert as well as poetry performance. The “merchant youth” association’s event featured musical performances as well as a comedy show. In the capital’s industrial circles, the schedule was even richer: poetry reading, singing, magic tricks and tableau vivant provided the entertainment.

Civic organising also grew in significance: modelled on the aristocrats’ club and the National Casino, a multitude of social circles and clubs were established. The Budapest Address and Residential Directory of 1899 lists these at great length, from the Hungarian Nepenthe Circle to the Óbuda Reading Circle, the Terézváros Civic Circle to the Study Circle of the National Women’s Education Society to the Budapest Postal and Telegraph Officials’ Glee and Music Association.

The gymnasts of the Workers' Bodybuilding Association, 1930 (source: Fortepan / Zsuzsanna Nagy Formanekné)The gymnasts of the Workers' Bodybuilding Association, 1930 (source: Fortepan / Zsuzsanna Nagy Formanekné)

In 1870-71, there were 11 music societies in Budapest, originally established by skilled labourers who moved to the city from Germany. By 1910, their number had grown to 36. Later, Hungarians took over the tradition, also forming music societies at larger companies, including the Hungarian State Railway, the Athenaeum, the Weapons and Machinery Works as well as at the Ganz. The latter celebrated its 60th anniversary at the Vigadó, commemorated in the March 1931 issue of the Pesti Napló, highlighting that, “These 60 years are a wonderful example of cultural organising. And it cannot be denied: Hungarian cultural life is in desperate need of such examples” (…) “When the Ganz Music Society was established, Hungarian music culture was still in its infancy. At the time, each and every glee club established was a kind of timid attempt. Organisers and leaders, most of them musicians with German roots or education, tried to lead the broader population towards a higher, more advanced music culture through polyphony. Today, the situation is quite different. The cult of classical music is flourishing in the country…”

Party, 1930 (source: Fortepan / Péter Székelyi)Party, 1930 (source: Fortepan / Péter Székelyi)

Over time things have evolved: the widespread support for Hungarian culture, which started as a private initiative, has transformed. Patronage used to be the privilege of the aristocracy and consisted primarily of collections of books and works of art. From the end of the 19th century, however, support for the fine arts, literature and music rose in significance, and industrialists and the representatives of the emerging bourgeoisie also became active on the scene. As investors and generous patrons, they all contributed to the rise of national culture, art and science.


See also: Industrial development


The Alrite speech recognation (speech-to-text) program helped to write the publication.

Photo:  Group photo from the Muskétás Esperanto Association trip, 1935 (source: Fortepan / Local History Collection of Angyalföld)


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