About H.H. Fick and the German-Americana Collection

The German-Americana Collection is a rich source of material on the heritage of Germans in the United States. Consisting primarily of monographs on literature and history, in recent years it has expanded to include archival materials on everyday German-American life, including photographs, church records, organizational records, and almanacs. However, its existence, and research value, can be traced to a remarkable founding collection.

In 1935, the University of Cincinnati Libraries acquired the H.H. Fick German-Americana collection for its holdings. Over the course of his lifetime, Heinrich Hermann Adolf Fick, a leader in Cincinnati’s German-American community prior to the First World War, assembled an outstanding collection of books on German-American life and culture. Fick gathered this collection for students of German-Americana, but he was much more than just a book collector. Fick was a noted educator, advocate, writer, and a poet.

Born in Luebeck, Germany on August 16, 1849, Fick was educated at the Grossheimsche Schule, and in 1864 he immigrated to New York where he went to work for his uncle. He then moved to Cincinnati where he would spend much of the rest of his life. He initially had the intention of doing work in sales, but quickly grew dissatisfied with the business world. (1)

In 1870, he was appointed as a teacher at an elementary school in Cincinnati, where he taught both German and art. Fick was so successful as an art instructor that by November of 1878, he was appointed Superintendent of Drawing, a position he held until 1884.(2)  During Fick’s tenure, the Drawing Department continued to grow in renown. In a 1902 history of the Cincinnati schools, John B. Shotwell wrote that during Fick'€™s superintendency, "Exhibits of drawing were frequent at institutes and at meetings of the National Education Association, and Cincinnati continued to hold her reputation as a leader in this branch of education." (3)   It is not surprising that Fick felt that drawing proficiency was "just as important as reading and writing." (€™4) He even published a book on drawing, Pencil and Brush; An Introduction to the Elementary Principles of Graphic Representation, for the use of students and teachers in Cincinnati's schools. (5)  

In 1884, Fick resigned from his position as Superintendent of Drawing, and moved to Chicago, where he wrote for the German press and gave private lessons in German and art. It is here that that he met and married Clementine Barna, who was also a German teacher. With Barna and a colleague named Louis Schutt, Fick established a German-English school in Chicago, and served as the school’s director. (6)

He returned to Ohio in 1890, to Ohio University in Athens, and began studying for his Ph.D., which he was awarded in 1892. Fick then took a position as principal of the Sixth District School in Cincinnati. In 1901, he became Assistant Superintendent of the Public Schools of Cincinnati and served in this position until 1903, when he became the Supervisor of German for the Public Schools. (7) Under Fick, Cincinnati Public Schools became known nationally for its bilingual education program. His teaching methods, which were called the "Cincinnati Plan,"€ (not to be confused with the "Cincinnati Plan"€ that refers to the University of Cincinnati'€™s pioneering efforts in cooperative education) were introduced in other public school systems in the United States, and called for bilingual education to start at the elementary level. (8)  

Fick was also known for his contributions to professional teachers'€™ associations. Fick was elected seven times to the presidency of the National German-American Teachers Association, and served as co-editor and then editor-in-chief of the Erziehungsblatter, the journal of the German-American Teachers Association, for thirty-five years. He also helped to lead a movement to establish the German-American Teachers Seminary in Milwaukee, and served on the board of that college for forty years. (9)

Fick was an avid writer and was highly involved in the German-American community. He wrote five German textbooks for children and published a German-language children'€™s magazine called Jung-Amerika. Fick also wrote a collection of poetry, and was invited to read his poems at various German-American celebrations, including the Luther Celebration at Music Hall in 1883, the Central Ohio Saengerfest in 1884, the Annual Convention of National German-American Teachers’ Association in 1889, and at the Cincinnati Turngemeinde in 1903. (10) Fick was active in the German-American community in other ways as well. He belonged to the German Pioneer Association of Cincinnati and gave many lectures at their meetings. He was also an honorary member of the Literary Club and the Cincinnati Turngemeinde. (11)

With the advent of World War I, life changed rapidly for Fick and other German-Americans, as Cincinnati rejected much of its German heritage. When the German language was shunned, and even declared illegal in twenty-six states, Fick began censoring German books for the public school system. In 1918, the German language program in the Cincinnati Public Schools was eliminated and Fick was forced to retire. (12)  

Fick spent his final years collecting a library and archives that has proved to be of great value to students of German-Americana. The collection contains books, pamphlets and documents that shed light on German-American history, literature, and culture. The collection also includes many of Fick’s writings, including his unpublished autobiography. Before Fick'€™s death in March of 1935, the University of Cincinnati Library obtained his collection with the assistance of Professor Edwin H. Zeydel of the university'€™s German Department. (13)   From the 1940s to the 1960s, Berneice Reichwein in the UC Library took a special interest in the materials and began cataloguing them. Scholarly interest grew, and in 1974, reference librarian Don Heinrich Tolzmann became curator of the "Fick Collection€," continuing in this position until 2006. (14)

This collection, along with Fick's contributions to foreign language education and the German-American community, continue to make an impact today and are an integral part of the German-Americana Collection in the Archives & Rare Books Library.


1 Don Heinrich Tolzmann, German-American Literature (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1977), 274.

2 Ibid, 274; John B. Shotwell, A History of the Schools of Cincinnati (Cincinnati: The School Life Company, 1902), 176-177 (12 September 2008).

3 Shotwell, 177.

4 From Fick’s annual report to the Superintendent of the Cincinnati Schools published in Cincinnati. Board of Education,Fifty-third Annual Report for the School Year Ending August 31, 1882 (Cincinnati: Board of Education, 1883), 82 (12 September 2008).

5 Tolzmann, German-American Literature, 274; Shotwell, 178.

6 Tolzmann, German-American Literature, 274.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid, 276. More information on the teaching of German in Cincinnati Public Schools is available in the Cincinnati Public Schools Annual Reports. Fick provides a concise overview of the program in the Eighty-Sixth Annual Report (Cincinnati: Cincinnati School Board, 1916), 55-56. A history of the teaching of German in Cincinnati schools can also be found in Carolyn Toth, German-English Bilingual Schools in America: The Cincinnati Tradition in Historical Context (New York: Peter Lang, 1990).

9 Tolzmann, German-American Literature, 274-275.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid, 276.

12 Don Heinrich Tolzman, Catalog of the German-Americana Collection University of Cincinnati, vol. 1 of 2 (New York: K.G. Saur, 1990), XXII.

13 Don Heinrich Tolzmann, “Max Kade Grant for the German-Americana Collection” Perspectives: The University Libraries Newsletter, Spring 1985, 3-4. Available in the Fick Pamphlet Collection Addendum in the German-Americana collection at the University of Cincinnati, Box 23, fl. 123

14 See also, The German-Americana Collection, University of Cincinnati: A Chronology and Selective Bibliography by Don Heinrich Tolzmann. Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati Occasional Papers in German-American Studies, No. 1, 2004, and, The History of University Libraries, 1895-2005 by Don Heinrich Tolzmann. Cincinnati, OH: University Libraries of the University of Cincinnati, 2005.

Written by Suzanne Reller