Ohio History Journal

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Among the holdings of the Cincinnati Historical Society1 is a box of

manuscripts containing 126 documents and a single volume of a short-

lived magazine, titled The Semi-Colon, which consists of three numbers.2

These two source materials represent the sole remains of the Semi-Colon

Club, a literary society that flourished in Cincinnati during the 1830's and

1840's.3 The activities of this club constitute a significant chapter in the

intellectual history of Cincinnati and the American West.

In the three decades prior to the Civil War, Cincinnati was a Gulliver

among western cities. It was not only a chief economic bastion but a

cultural center, a regional capital of arts and science. In the first quarter

of the nineteenth century, Lexington, Kentucky, had been the focus of

intellectual life in the West,4 but by 1830 Cincinnati had wrested the

crown of leadership from its Kentucky rival. The upper Mississippi

Valley and Ohio River Valley now lit their economic and cultural flame

from a Cincinnati candle--literally, too, what with the enormous candle

production in Cincinnati! It was for good reason that Cincinnati acquired

the title "Queen City of the West." Cincinnati's importance as a manu-

facturing and commercial emporium has been detailed in a number of

works, but surprisingly slight attention has been devoted to its cultural

and intellectual activities and attainments.5

One plausible answer for this dearth of attention may be found in the

image of Cincinnati projected in Mrs. Frances Trollope's celebrated

Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832). While Madam Trollope did

find a few Cincinnatians who measured up to her high standards of literary

refinement and social breeding, she indicted the city as an area populated

by boorish frontiersmen who were disciples of Mammon and were more

intent on improving their bank accounts than their minds. As she looked

about, Mrs. Trollope found Cincinnatians actively employed in "search of

that honey of Hybla, vulgarly called money."6 (It could be added that she