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Student Reading 2.4: The Melting Pot of Cincinnati

Starting in the late 1700’s many different culture groups immigrated to Cincinnati. They brought with them their own heritage, which includes things like language, religion, food, artistic expression, and clothing style. The heritage from each immigrant group came together and formed the city of Cincinnati. Three of these groups that played a major role in forming our city were the Irish, Italians, and the Germans.

Irish

In 1788, Israel Ludlow, Robert Patterson, and Matthias Denman bought 800 acres of land and developed a town near the Ohio River. They named their new town Losantiville. In 1790, Arthur St. Clair, decided that he wanted to honor the soldiers that were in the Revolutionary War. These soldiers formed the Society of Cincinnati. This society was created to promote America’s independence and help citizens feel a sense of fellowship with each other. St. Clair was so impressed with their message that he changed the name of Losantiville to Cincinnati in their honor. There were about seven hundred people living in Cincinnati at this time. Among those 700 hundred people were immigrants from Ireland. Many Irish people contributed amazing things to Cincinnati.

  • Joseph Lloyd is known as the first school teacher because he developed a school in a log cabin in 1791. It was located on what is known today as Sycamore Street.
  • John Dunlap immigrated to Cincinnati from Coleraine, Ireland. To honor his old country, he named his settlement Colerain. There was a fort built there that became an important place used to defend against attacks from Native Americans.
  • The Sisters of Charity, with help from two local business men, were able to establish The Good Samaritan Hospital in Clifton. Sr. Anthony O’Connell helped operate the hospital and spread her Catholic religious message and help the sick and needy until she died in 1897.

Between the 1820’s and 1840’s many Irish immigrants were against the idea of slavery while others were against the anti-slavery movement. The group that supported slavery did so because they were competing for the same jobs African Americans wanted. The end of Civil War did help resolve some of the problems but tensions did remain between the two ethnic cultures for some time.

By 1870, 21% of Cincinnati’s population was of Irish decent. Even today we still see the Irish culture flourish throughout our city. Whether it is downtown during the St. Patrick’s Day parade, having dinner at an Irish Pub with your family, or watching the award winning McGing Irish Dancers at a local festival, there are many places where the luck of the Irish is still in Cincinnati.

Germans

The largest population of immigrants to inhabit Cincinnati would be from Germany.

They came to America with an economic purpose. They wanted to create businesses, make money, and make a better life for their families. One of the biggest opportunities that the Germans organized in Cincinnati was the creation of the breweries. Many families made their fortune by the production of alcoholic products.

During the early 1900s, many people felt alcohol was bad for ones’ health and immoral. No one was allowed to make, sell, import, and transport or purchase alcohol. This was a hard time for the Germans like Christian Moerlein whose life was based around his business. On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified and prohibition ended.

In 1873, the German citizens in Cincinnati wanted to celebrate something very near and dear to their hearts – music. They started the annual Maifest or now known as May Festival. This has become the nation’s oldest choral festival. Every year on May 1st, people come together to celebrate the rebirth of nature. The German Singing Society would perform and sing songs to enjoy the idea that spring had sprung. The event became so popular that that Sanger-Hall was built to house the event. In 1878, an even more permanent structure was built in the same place and was named Musik-Halle. This same building is known today as Music Hall down Camp Washington.

Italians

Italian immigrants that moved to Cincinnati had very humble beginnings. When they arrived, the one thing they brought with them was a strong work ethic. Eventually they understood how America worked. With this understanding, their strong belief in their Catholic religion, and their knowledge of how important a good education was, they became great American citizens.

The Italians that were living in Cincinnati were strongly rooted in their Catholic religion. In 1887, several sisters from the Sisters of Charity created the Santa Maria Institute to help the poor Italian immigrants when they were in need of shelter and then also began to teach them English. They began teaching classes for all levels, from kindergarten through cooking classes for adults. On Sundays they taught classes about the Catholic faith.

By 1896, over 8,000 Italians were living in Cincinnati. They were very proud of their strong family businesses. In the early 1900’s, 85% of all Italian immigrants were working as one of the following trades; tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, sculptors, musicians, or tile setters). They would first start their businesses as peddlers on the streets. They would then move to local markets to sell their goods and trades, and finally would open store fronts. The only market still intact and operational today where the Italians would sell their goods is Findley Market. Located in Over the Rhine, you can still visit there today to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and many other items from all over the world.

Educational opportunities started becoming more readily available. Many Italians took this as an opportunity to further themselves in their careers and lives. This helped move many of them up the professional ladder.

Italian immigrants always stayed close through communicating with their family and friends back home in Italy. They also stayed closely connected with the Italian government. They have established many Italian social groups that still remain intact today that remember and celebrate their heritage. While together, the members of these societies cook and serve spaghetti and ravioli dinners just like they would have done in Italy.

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