Love is a complicated matter, and it was certainly not simple in Gilded-Age Cleveland, especially if your last name was Wade. Marriages, specifically if you belonged to the wealthy and the influential, were not just a matter of romantic pursuits but also long term investments in building the family reputation and cultural capital. Such, for example was the marriage between Alice Louise Wade (1859-1916) and Sylvester T. Everett (1838-1922). The couple married a few years after the death of Alice’s father, Randall P. Wade (1835-1876), in what was seemed in first sight as a strange match. At the age of 20, Alice married a widowed neighbor who was 21 years her older and with three daughters from a previous marriage. Alice’s grandfather, Japtha Homer Wade I (1811-1890) was pleased with her choice. Writing to her brother, Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926), he commented: “I am also rejoiced to know that your lovely and only sister is about to be married to man that will be a good councellor and aid to you instead of dragging you down as a worthless man might have done.” Jeptha was pleased to know that his grandson, Homer, will be surrounded by capable family member who will help to keep and enlarge the family’s fortune.
Yet, even if getting married involved more than just emotional inclinations, it doesn’t mean that they were deprived of love and affection. Alice and Sylvester’s daughter, Ruth Everett Worthington (1896-1987), in a recollection that we received through the kind donation of one of her family members, recalls fondly her parents’ relationship. According to her, although Alice was reluctant to get married at first, Everett’s persistent and generous courtship probably convinced her. “My father had a rig with high red wheels and drove his horses tandem,” Ruth recalled. “They must have looked a very sporting pair…as they went forth to Euclid Creek, or other spots, for picnics, they usually had a basket with jellies, cakes, a cold bird and champagne.” Alice and Sylvester had five children together, and he enjoyed spoiling his young wife as much as he could. Their life, despite the generation gap was happy and complete.
The model for a loving marriage probably came to Alice from her father, Randall P. Wade, the only son of Jeptha Homer Wade I, who married his sweetheart despite family objections. His love letters to his wife, Anna McGaw Wade (1835-1910) reveal how much love he had for her. In one letter from 1856 he writes her: “My own dear Anna, It is now the still hours of night when all are commended to retire… but I am sitting by my little table alone, writing to the chosen of my heart. My dear wife is the Sight of Heaven for our hearts are now linked together.” Reassuring Anna that his parents will not oppose the match, Randall urge Anna: “Oh dearest, please do not say that you could not be mine were they to raise a “single objection,” for I cannot think I you could passionately love me and desert me for so slight a cause.” On a different letter from the same year he writes Anna: “The more I know of you the more I love.” In the Wade Family Papers at the Cleveland History Center at WRHS (MS. 3292) there are also Valentines that Randall sent Anna, inscribed with verses of love he wrote to her.
Randall’s son, Jeptha Homer Wade II, like his sister Alice, also followed his father’s model for a happy marriage. As the heir to his grandfather’s business empire, Homer married exactly on his 21st birthday the neighbors’ daughter with whom he grew up. Ellen (Nellie) Garretson Wade (1859-1917) was indeed a perfect match. Coming from a respectable family on Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, Nellie, Homer, and Alice studied together as children with the tutors that came to the Wade house, and their relationship probably started after they shared this time together. Raising together 3 children, Nellie and Homer built a life together based on their shared interests and enthusiasm for art, travel, and philanthropy.
Unlike his father though, Homer was not a sentimental guy. His journal entry from his wedding day is brief and factual: “Married Nellie Garretson at 12 O’clock. Rev. A.C. Haydn. Bridesmaids were Alice Wade and Kitten Beckwith. Groomsmen Will Backus and Chas Teale of Cambridgeport. About 75 at ceremony + 4 or 500 at reception from 1 to 3. Nº of presents about 100 and very elegant. Left at 7.30 for Cincinnati, en route for Colorado and California [where the couple spend their honeymoon]. Quite a number of the family went to the depot with us.”
Yet, despite this somewhat dry account of his wedding, later accounts do show his great affection to Nellie. In 1914, on their thirty sixth wedding anniversary, Homer wrote Nellie the following poem:
Just thirty six short years ago
We found we loved, each other so
That marriage seemed the only thing,
Full happiness, to us could bring.
That we were wise, in getting wed
I think is all, that need be said
Our record shows, where love is all
That happiness, can love no fall
Another year, has passed around
and finds us ocean homeward bound
We’ve had enough, of war and strife
And yearn for home, and simple life
And now with health, to you restored
To free you from, the things that bored
If future years, proved like the past
T’will give us all, we could have asked.
Clearly, Homer was fond of his wife and cared for her very much. She was a true companion in advancing the family’s name and reputation as great benefactors to Cleveland, but she was also a loving partner to her husband and a devoted mother to her children. Homer’s love and respect continued even after Nellie’s death in 1917, when he founded a trust in her name that gave financial aid to over 30 institutions and organizations, among them the Beechbrook Orphan Asylum that even dedicated a building in her name. While certainly marriage partnerships in Gilded Age America were not only romantic, as these examples, love was much a part of marriage life in the Wade family.