UC Exhibit Celebrates Cincinnati's History of Physical Fitness

In 1848, the first Cincinnati Turners club was formed in a small building situated at the corner of Plum and Canal Streets in Over-the-Rhine. Growing out of a German movement created by Frederick Jahn in 1811, the Turners took their name from the German verb turnen, meaning “to do gymnastic exercises.” The training was designed to develop physical and mental fitness, and to instill national pride.

For the American Turners, Cincinnati led the way for this health movement celebrating mind and body, and in the years following the Civil War, turnfeste, or Turner festivals, were held by many cities. The competitions involved track and field events, gymnastic demonstrations, rhetoric contests, and traditional German food and drink. The latter was just as important as the athletics because one of the primary functions of the festivals was to preserve a sense of ethnic heritage in the face of cultural assimilation.

Postcard celebrating Turnfest

Postcard celebrating Turnfest

This exhibit showcases Cincinnati’s Turner festival in 1909. From June 19-27 of that year, more than 50,000 people poured into Cincinnati for this German-American sports event. A special Turnfest stadium was built on Government Square, with trains and trolleys carrying people to events held at the massive tent city in the suburb of Carthage. The Cincinnati fest signified the growing foothold of urban sports in American culture, and also allowed the Cincinnati German community to celebrate their common bonds at a time when Over-the-Rhine was ceasing to be the geographical center of their lives.


Postcard celebrating Turnfest

Postcard celebrating Turnfest




The images in the exhibit are from vintage postcard souvenirs of the Turnfest, reproduced from the collection of Kevin Grace. The exhibit pays acknowledgment to both the department’s urban sports research materials and its German-Americana collection.
The display is free and open to the public from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Archives and Rare Books Department, 8th floor, Blegen Library.

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