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Richard Clement Wade (July 14, 1921 in Des Moines, Iowa – July 18, 2008 in Manhattan, New York)[1] was an American historian and urban studies professor who advised many Democratic politicians and candidates, including Adlai Stevenson, Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern. As a historian, he pioneered the interdisciplinary application of social science techniques to the study of urban history and helped make cities an important academic subject.[1] His first book The Urban Frontier (1959) was a challenge to Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier thesis, asserting that the catalysts for western expansion were the Western cities like Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati, not the pioneer farmers.



Wade was born in Des Moines but grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, a wealthy suburb of Chicago, where his father practiced law. He attended New Trier High School there, where he played championship-level tennis.

Wade earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history at the University of Rochester and also competed in basketball, track and field and baseball.

After receiving his doctorate at Harvard University in 1956, Wade taught at Rochester and at Washington University in St. Louis before moving to the University of Chicago in 1963.

In 1971 Wade was named a distinguished professor of history at CUNY's Graduate Center.

In 1991 Wade was appointed chairman of New York State's Commission on Libraries by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

Wade was a co-founder and the first president of the Urban History Association. "He started a movement," said his former student Kenneth T. Jackson. "There are hundreds of books on cities now, and in a sense he is their grandfather. The only reason I took urban history was because of him; I had never heard of such a thing."[1]

Wade was a close friend of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., with whom he shared an office at the Graduate Center. He moved easily in the higher circles of Democratic Party politics.

In 1974-1975 Wade was the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.

His marriages to Louise Carroll Wade of Eugene, Oregon, and Cynthia Hyla Whittaker of Manhattan, New York ended in divorce. He was survived by his wife, the former Liane Wood-Thomas.

He died at his home in Roosevelt Island in Manhattan, New York.


In The Urban Frontier, Wade summarized the claims that scholars had made for the importance of the city in American history. The cities were the focal points for the growth of the West, especially those along the Ohio River and Mississippi River. The cities, especially Boston were the seedbeds of the American Revolution. The rivalry between cities, such as between Baltimore and Philadelphia, or between Chicago and St. Louis, stimulated economic innovations and growth, especially regarding the railroads. The failure of the South to develop an urban infrastructure significantly weakened it during the American Civil War, especially after its border cities of Baltimore, Washington, Louisville, and St. Louis refused to join the Confederacy. The cities were fonts of innovation in democracy, especially in terms of building powerful political organizations and machines; they were also the main base for reformers of what those machines built, becoming the home base for important immigrant groups, especially the Irish and the Jews. Cities were the strongholds of labor unions in the 19th and 20th centuries (although no longer true in the 21st century). See Richard Wade, "The City in History: Some American Perspectives," in Werner Z. Hirsch, ed., Urban Life and Form (1963) pp. 59–77.


  • The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830 (1959) read online
  • Slavery in the Cities: The South, 1820-1860 (1964)
  • Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis (1973) (with Harold Melvin Mayer) OCLC 301295200


  1. ^ a b c Grimes, William (July 25, 2008). "Richard Wade, 87, Urban Historian, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-26. Richard C. Wade, who helped put cities on the map as an academic subject and who advised Democratic candidates including Adlai Stevenson, Robert F. Kennedy, and George McGovern, died last Friday at his home on Roosevelt Island in New York City. He was 87.