Several Swiss clubs formed in Louisiana in the 1800s, but this is the only one still in existence.This content was published on July 5, 2019 - 21:00
Founded in 1855, the Swiss Benevolent Society reinvented itself a few times before eventually becoming the Swiss American Society of New Orleans – making it one of the oldest such clubs in the United States.*
SWI on tour
How do Swiss citizens living abroad view the political debate in their home country? What is important to the expat Swiss community when they vote?
To tap into the mood of the expatriate Swiss community during this general election year, swissinfo.ch is visiting clubs in Europe as well as the Americas.
Here’s an excerpt of the discussion held while SWI was visiting. Check back soon for the entire talk.
It began when 31 Swiss men formed a society to provide mutual assistance among members, as well as moral and material aid to other Swiss – a purpose that still applies to the current club. There had been a similar group founded some 20 years prior, but it didn’t survive the yellow fever epidemics of 1838 and 1840.
In 1959, the society took on its current name – having absorbed clubs such as the Union Suisse (in 1878), the Swiss American Historical Society of Louisiana (1936) and the Swiss Ladies and Their Friends (1959). Previously, no women had been allowed in the society, but when the men saw how the ladies outnumbered them within a year of the auxiliary’s founding, they decided to welcome women as well as non-Swiss to the club.
Tulane University Library has a special collection of papers, photos and minute books that showcase the society’s history.
Present day Swiss in NOLA
Today the society has about 50 members, over half of them living in New Orleans, Louisiana – NOLA for short
“Our membership ranges in age from our newest member, who was born last November, to members in their 70s and 80s,” says society president Robert Stickney. Swiss National Day and Christmas parties are perennial favorites, as well as sporting and cultural activities.
Despite the long tradition of Swiss living in the region [see box below], the ties to Switzerland remain strong, and many Swiss continue to follow the political situation back home.
Swiss in NOLA
Even as far back as 1718, there were Swiss citizens living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Many were workers and mercenary soldiers, such as the 210 lumberjacks sent to clear forest land to make way for the new city.
According to the society’s historical records, Swiss soldiers were so well respected that France’s Governor Kerelec wrote, “The Swiss behave exceedingly well… I would prefer reducing the French troops and augmenting the Swiss, such is the superiority of the latter over the former”. In 1829, Switzerland opened its third US consulate in New Orleans.
* The Swiss Benevolent Society of New York was founded in 1832.
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