The Season of Giving

Approaching the holiday season, the streets begin to be filled with lights and decorations. As we go to our holiday shopping, thankful for what we have and the joy we share, we are also reminded of the less fortunate, and that we should do what we can to help others in having a happy holiday.

Indeed, this time of year is the season of giving, and the Wades were no different. Being active in a range of philanthropic activities, Wade family members gave their time and financial support to those in need. The Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum (now Beech Brook) was the jewel in the crown of their charity. The Asylum’s records (MS. 4544) at the Cleveland History Center of WRHS offer a glance into the Wade family involvement and dedication. A brochure for the Asylum from 1926, noted that Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926) saw in the Asylum “the holiest of all human charities.” The Wade’s family commitment did stretch a long way. Starting in 1875, when Jeptha Homer Wade I (1811-1890) joined as a trustee, he paid for the construction of the Asylum’s new building on St. Clair Street, a purpose-build home for the orphans. After his grandfather’s death in 1890, Jeptha Homer Wade II together with his wife, Ellen Garretson Wade (1859-1917) made it possible for the Asylum to move outside the city of Cleveland and into the countryside, first as a summer escape, and later permanently.

beech brook

The Wades gave more than just money to the institution. They were also part of the day-to-day activities and administration. Specifically, the Wade women played an active role on the board. Anna McGaw Wade (1835-1910), the wife and later widow of Jeptha Homer Wade I’s only son, Randall, served as president, and her daughter, Alice Louise Wade (1859-1916), and Mrs. Hiram Garretson, the mother of Ellen Garretson Wade, served as members of the board. Alice was part of the Clothing Committee that was responsible for all the clothing donations to the Asylum’s children, while Anna was part of the Admitting and Placing Children Committee that oversaw that the orphans will receive a deserving home after they left the Asylum.

The Wades’ involvement with the Asylum was year-round, yet around the holidays, mainly Thanksgiving and Christmas, donations reached their peak. Whereas the men of the family, Jeptha Homer Wade I and II were mainly involved in donating real-estate and large sums of money, sometimes up to $110,000 per annum, the women of the family preferred, it seems, to donate in other, more personalized ways. On Christmas of 1885, the Wade women gave the Asylum 5 overcoats, 12 pairs of pants, 4 kilt skirts, 4 suits, 4 caps, 42 under-wrappers, 140 yards of wool dress goods, 12 chickens, 6 pounds of ginger snaps, 3 quarts popcorn, 6 dozen oranges, $1.20 in pennies for the children’s merit money, as well as an artistic bag for each boy and girl filled with candy, given by “Little Jeptha and Garretson Wade,” Jeptha Homer Wade II and Ellen’s children. These donations not only sought to better the lives of the Asylum’s orphans, but they suggest the familiarity that the Wades had with the recipients of their donations. For the Wade women, giving to the Asylum’s children was not just another chore to check off the to-do list, or another check one is writing, but a family project, in which the adults as well as the younger generations were practicing philanthropists.

EGW memorial

While donations lists, like the one from the Christmas of 1896, often look a bit odd today, they reveal how the Wade women saw their role as philanthropists. In that year, the Wade women donated 2 turkeys, 200 balls popcorn, 1 barrel Baldwin apples, 2 dozens Kate Greenway handkerchiefs, 3 pairs of mittens, linen for dollies (napkins), waste-basket for office, 2 dozen dolls, 2 dozen mouth organs, 11 dozen handkerchiefs, 1 book “Character Building”, a box of Christmas cards, another 2 pairs of mittens, 13 linen picture books, 9 bolts ribbon, and one drum. Miss Helen Wade, Ellen’s Garretson Wade’s daughter who was 12 at the time, also pitched in and gave 5 picture books, 2 dressed dolls, 1 pair lines and bells, and 1 top. This idiosyncratic list of items shows that Ellen, Alice, Anna, and Helen Wade saw in the Asylum not only a place where children will be well-fed, but also sought to educate them and provide them with a life of culture. The Wade women made sure that the Asylum’s orphans will have a great feast, and that they will be warm and properly dress in the Cleveland winter. They also wanted the children to experience music and art. When they donated food, clothes, and toys, they formed a personal connection with these children.

While there is no doubt that the generous monetary donations of the men of the Wade family have been more crucial to the sustainability of the institution, the women donations were perhaps no less important. Giving clothes and books all year round strengthen the ties between the women and the Asylum’s children. But it also helped the Wade women to demonstrate their commitment and status as great philanthropists to the society, even without holding a big check book of their own. As the twentieth century progressed, donations of goods, clothes, and toys would be replaced for money, but in this small snapshot of the holidays at the end of the nineteenth century, the Season of Giving was clearly a much more personal, rewarding activity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s