Journeys and Journals – Meet the Wades

I live and work  in Cleveland, Ohio.  I’m an art historian by training but am happily pursuing a new career in history.  Here’s how my journey began. In 2009 I took a short walk across University Circle’s Wade Oval to have lunch with John Grabowski, Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History at CWRU, and Historian and Vice President for Collections at Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS).

John asked, “What do you know about the Wade family?”

Not a hard question to answer if you know a bit about Cleveland History.  Heck, I’d just walked across Wade Oval.   I knew that Jeptha Homer Wade had been an  itinerant portrait painter who became fascinated with telegraphy and ended up a founder of Western Union.   Jeptha Homer Wade has a distinctly 19th century look in surviving photographs–a high forehead (due to receding hairline), beard but no mustache, and a craggy profile with deep set eyes, heavy eyebrows, and a prominent nose.

Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890)

Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1890)

His grandson Jeptha Homer Wade II was a founder of the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Cleveland’s Wade Park and the surrounding area—known today as University Circle—is home to more than a dozen museums and cultural institutions.

Photograph of Ohio Historical Marker #19-18 " University Circle"

Ohio Historical Marker #19-18 “University Circle”

John suggested that I might like to spend some time in the Research Library at WRHS looking through the Jeptha Homer Wade Papers (MSS 3292) and possibly transcribing Randall P Wade Travel Journals 1870-1871 (MSS 3934)

Randall Wade?  Who was Randall Wade?  

Randall Wade, as it turns out, was the only son of Jeptha Homer Wade.   In 1870 Randall Wade was an earnest and avid American traveler. He is a connoisseur and consumer extraordinaire—engaged in learning and teaching his young family about history, beauty, art, culture, and philanthropy. These skills his own son would later hone and use as an adult in his position as a patron and philanthropist of Cleveland’s emerging cultural institutions.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Europe with Randall Wade (in the top hat),  his step-mother Susan Maranda Fleming, his wife Anna, and their children  Alice and Jeptha “Homer” Wade II.   The patriarch of the Wade family Jeptha Homer Wade is absent from the above photograph.  Though he bankrolled the journey he stayed in Cleveland to manage the countless family business interests.

A formal photograph of Randall Wade Family ca. 1870, a gentleman in a top hat, two women, and two children all dressed for travel

Randall Wade Family ca 1870, Photograph Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society

The Randall P. Wade Travel Journals present an immediate and nearly complete picture of what it was like to be a second-generation, wealthy American traveling in Europe during the great cultural expansion of the United States.   The three journals (900 + pages) provide snapshots of daily life for the American traveler; attitudes towards marriage, raising children; health; politics (the Franco-Prussian War, the American Civil War, Italian Independence); religion; scientific discoveries; trade; comparative cultures; and cultural consumption (art, music, theater, and literature).

What  began as an exploration of one family’s experience in Europe has grown into The Wade Project:  a WRHS initiative to make the Wade family papers accessible online.   A primary goal of the overall project is to disseminate information and enable students and scholars to explore aspects of family and intellectual life that are illustrative of the complex, and often conflicting, decisions involved in the creation of America’s urban cultural centers in the late 19th century.  The driving need of such families to create cultural legacies characterized a particular aspect of American philanthropy and determined the role the visual arts would have in the American city.

I’m on a mission to share the Wade stories.  Won’t you come with me?

 

 

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