In Memory of historian Louise Carroll Wade

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Louise Carroll Wade

Daniel Pope, Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Oregon, joined the department in 1975.

These remarks were prepared and read by Louise Wade's colleague and friend, Daniel Pope,at her memorial gathering in Eugene, Oregon last April. Professor Wade, a specialist in American urban and social history, had taught at the University of Oregon from 1975 until her retirement in 1994.

I’m Daniel Pope. I’m here, like all of you, as a friend of Louise Carroll Wade who passed away on February 17 of this year. I also speak as a member of the University of Oregon History Department. I’ll include comments of far flung colleagues who wrote to honor her today. We joined the department at the same time, in 1975. Louise was one of the first colleagues I got to know here. Barbara and I joined her at Mavis Mate’s home for dinner soon after we arrived. I can date our friendship from that event, and in retrospect I can see that Louise and Mavis had already bonded in a friendship that remained valuable for them both over the years.

One reason it was so important was that Louise and Mavis were two of only three women on the faculty of the History Department at the time—a group of roughly 25. Flash forward to the early 1990s and there were still only three women. Louise was well aware of how far short of gender equity we fell but she dealt with it in characteristic fashion. She found opportunities—and some were lying in plain sight—to remind us about gender equality without confrontation. I recall, for example, when our mutual friend Tom Brady proposed that the History Department work to establish a chair in Western American history named for Chief Joseph, Louise suggested that the position could instead be called the Sacajawea Chair. And when women colleagues joined the department in greater numbers in more recent times, she was—as always—gracious and helpful to them.

I want to talk about Louise as a teacher. Upon occasion I asked her in to give a guest lecture to my business history course on the development of the meatpacking industry, especially around its Chicago base. Each time I was struck with her ability—in the framework of an engaging and stimulating presentation—to provide a vast amount of information in the space of a single class. She saw the forest as well as the trees (or perhaps, given the subject matter, I should say the herd as well as the steers) and put the information in context in a fashion that delighted and enlightened the students.

Another mutual friend, Howard Brick, now at the University of Michigan, also recalled Louise in the classroom. Soon after he joined the department, Howard and Louise co-taught a large introductory course in American history. Howard writes, “This was a challenge, for I feared my real inexperience and lack of knowledge would be all too clear as she sat through my lectures. [I’ll interject here a gasp of astonishment at the notion that Howard lacked knowledge about anything.] I would work until 2 or 3 am to get my lectures just so for that morning’s class (facing 250 students perhaps)…because Louise’s lectures were always just right.
“And almost every day after I spoke, we walked together out of the lecture hall and back to PLC, and she said to me, with equal accent on both words, and two nods of the head to mark the syllables with firm emphasis: “Good…talk.” Sort of like a sound pat on the back, but Louise wouldn’t have done that. It felt that way, though, and it meant the world to me. I had made the grade with a tried and true lecturer in American history.”

Another evocation of Louise from our department comes in the tribute Roger Chickering paid her. I’ll take the liberty of reading it in full:

 Dear Friends,

 As some of you will remember, I spent the better part of a half-century quarrelling with my professional colleagues in meetings of History Departments at three different universities. In pugnacity, determination, and relentless tenacity, none of my foes was remotely the equal of Louise Wade. I cannot recall an argument with her that I won. Were this all, it would have been unremarkable; she would simply sit atop my long list of professional antagonists. But Louise was different in a remarkable way. The moment our meetings ended, whatever the lingering rancor, I found it impossible to quarrel with her; it was as if the arguments had never taken place. In a way that I at first thought might be schizophrenic, she was the soul of grace, good will, and congeniality.

 These traits made up, as I came to realize, the heart of Louise Wade. There was no malice in her. She compartmentalized the antagonisms, held them in perspective, ignored them when they no longer mattered in the larger scheme of things. I admired profoundly her capacity to act in this way, wishing only that I could learn better from her to do the same. She was, in the larger scheme of things, a wonderful human being.

Historians who came to the department shortly before or even after Louise’s formal retirement also have memories of the not-so-random acts of kindness and graciousness on her part. Jeff Hanes, a fellow urban historian, recalls that Louise had invited him over and had selected books from her collection to offer him. Historians, in my experience, don’t give away books readily, but Louise was a giving person. Ellen Herman tells us that she got to know Louise a bit. “She was such a welcoming, kind person—generous too,” Ellen writes. Another historian who arrived after Louise’s formal retirement, our current department head David Luebke, spoke of her as a “dear person [who] offered a lot of good advice during my first years in Eugene….”

That advice was both professional and personal. Ellen Stroud, a former graduate student now teaching at Pennsylvania State University, writes, “I never took a class from her, which seems impossible to me now, especially given that I owe it to her that I was up to date on my U.S. Urban History when I left U of O for Columbia for my PhD. … [S]he gave me a reading list, and I understood that I was in no case to show up out East without having read and understood (and placed in historiographic context) every book that she named.” Ellen continues, “[S]he was always generous to me personally as well as professionally; the pep talk she gave me about being happy in my work and career, just after she learned that I was getting divorced, was one of the first times I realized that I was a feminist, and a professional, and happy, all three at once, and proud of the fact. She is among the people who taught me to live my life on my own terms, and with enthusiasm, and I am proud to have had her as a mentor.”

I needn’t say too much about Louise’s scholarship. Some comments appeared in last Sunday’s obituary which you can find online in the Register Guard. I will draw upon the memory of an old friend, Carl Abbott, who knew her before she came here from Chicago. Louise was already working on the book that she published as Chicago’s Pride: The Stockyards, Packingtown, and Environs in the Nineteenth Century. He writes: “What I recall is Louise as an indefatigable researcher on her Chicago stockyards book. When I was working on my dissertation and would go to the Chicago Historical Society, Louise was often there, working through old records and reading community newspapers. It was a great, and somewhat intimidating, example for a budding historian.” As some of you know, recently Carl, himself an eminent urban historian, held the Carroll Visiting Professorship in Urban Studies that Louise’s gift endowed.

I can’t end a discussion of her academic life without noting her remarkable gift to the University and the community upon her retirement, the Benjamin H. Carroll and Louise L. Carroll Visiting Professorship in Urbanization. Since 2000, her endowment has brought eminent senior and promising junior scholars to campus to teach undergraduates and graduate students and deliver public lectures on topics in urban studies. Though Louise was herself an American historian, the urban studies professorships have ranged far and wide. Scholars in History, Political Science and Geography with interests in cities including Shanghai and Berlin, among others, have spent a term on campus thanks to her gift. I think it’s fair to say that Louise and the visitors found many interests in common and I’m sure that her presence made the visitors’ stays especially valuable.

Several people have remarked on Louise’s life in retirement. She remained engaged, and not just with the world of academia. Martina Armstrong, our Department Office Manager, was a long-time friend of Louise. Martina has asked me to read her reminiscences:

 “She was always so practical! Louise did not accumulate. She left one with the impression that she was very content with her garden, reading, visiting with friends, dropping in on local events. In later years, her involvement with the Living-Learning Center was a source of great pleasure. One could get Louise excited with the discussion of politics. She was happy to leave you with her opinion of current events and personalities.

 “During the time we shared, one event stands out:

 “Several years ago, Louise and I took an “organic” gardening class through Lane Community College. This was a time when organic gardening was just getting some attention. The two of us were engaged with landscaping our respective yards. We really had no idea what to expect, but “organic” sounded “cutting edge” gardening--and we both appreciated that. We attended classes once a week and were introduced to the process. We were taken to a local nursery for some real time with organic gardens. As classes progressed, it became clear that we were in over our heads. We were expected to build our own compost pile with real live worms and if we had slugs, how to drown them in beer. It’s a good thing the instructor did not grade our participation. Louise was a really good sport --and so we soldiered on with classes. After class, we enjoyed sharing our thoughts and had a lot of laughs once it was apparent that we really had (had) no idea what we were doing.”

I think Martina got it just right calling Louise a “good sport,” and even more so in the final line of her comments: “In the final analysis, I believe, Louise was a woman at peace with herself.”

Louise did not spend all her retirement time pouring beer over slugs. (For one thing, beer was not her beverage of choice. Howard Brick recalled that an invitation to Louise’s for dinner was a real treat—“because you could get a real drink there, not just white wine. There was a kind of old-school toughness to her, along with her kindness.”) She became a very active member of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Responding to her arm-twisting—it was both gentle and firm—I’m among those here who made presentations to the group. I have to say that OLLI “students” reminded me that you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but you can certainly learn a lot from bright, well-informed, engaged seniors. I only can hope that the members found me as stimulating as I found them.

When Louise moved to Cascade Manor she brought her learning-in-retirement enthusiasm with her. She invited in speakers on topics in the humanities and social sciences. I can’t recall exactly what she named her initiative, but it was designed to highlight what she called the west side of campus.

OLLI (and her work to mirror it at Cascade Manor) is just one of the community institutions that Louise devoted her energies to. I hope guests from the Oregon Mozart Players, the Eugene Public Library Foundation, and Friends of Trees will be able to offer their remembrances and tributes this afternoon. Louise was not only an historian of cities. She was an example of a kind of civic responsibility, civic pride, and—to use a perhaps-old-fashioned term—civic virtue.

A good citizen, in other words, a good colleague, a good friend and a good person. Louise Carroll Wade was all of these.  

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