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Wade, Martin Joseph
(October 20, 1861–April 16, 1931)

–lawyer, lecturer, Iowa Democratic Party leader, U.S. congressman, and state and federal judge—was the son of Michael and Mary (Breen) Wade, Irish immigrants. He was born in Burlington, Vermont, but his family moved to a farm in Butler County, Iowa, in 1865. He attended public schools in Greene, and spent three years at St. Joseph's Academy (now Loras College) in Dubuque. In 1887 he married Mary McGovern. They had two daughters, Julia and Eleanor, and lived for many years in Iowa City.

    Wade graduated with a law degree from the State University of Iowa in 1886 and immediately set up a law firm, Ranck and Wade. On December 22, 1893, Governor Horace Boies appointed him judge of the Eighth Judicial District to fill a vacancy. He was subsequently elected and remained in the position until 1903. He turned down requests to run for governor and was often mentioned for appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court.

    From 1886 to 1903 Wade was active in Iowa City affairs; he was a lecturer at the university and a popular speaker throughout the state. He was generally the first choice to speak at building dedications, political events, graduation ceremonies, business and legal groups, and other civic events. Historian Clarence Aurner noted, "Few men excel him in polemics, in repartee, and the elements of gifted speech."He spent one season on the lecture circuit of the Mutual Lyceum Bureau of Chicago. After 1890 he was a regular lecturer in the State University of Iowa's law school, and from 1895 to 1905 he was a professor of medical jurisprudence at the university's medical school.

    Criminal and rowdy behavior by young people in Iowa City led him and others to become interested in founding a public library to provide alternative activities for the young people of the community. He led public meetings, organized a large committee of interested citizens, and subsequently served seven years as the governing board president of the Iowa City Public Library Association and later the municipally supported Iowa City Public Library. His 1902 efforts through Iowa's longtime U.S. Senator William Allison convinced Andrew Carnegie to increase his gift for the library building's construction by $10,000.

    In 1902 Wade was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the only Democrat elected to the House from Iowa between 1894 and 1906. Defeated for reelection in the fall of 1904, he formed a new law firm, Wade, Dutcher and Davis. He earned the nickname "Verdict-Grabbing Wade" for his continuing success in the courtroom.

    From 1905 to 1915 Wade served as Iowa committeeman on the Democratic National Committee. At the 1912 Democratic National Convention, his name was on the short list of possible vice presidential candidates to join Woodrow Wilson on the Democratic ticket. In 1915 President Wilson named him judge for Iowa's Southern District. He served in that capacity until his death in 1931. Always a devout Catholic and outspoken about intolerance toward Catholics in the United States, he declined a title awarded by Pope Pius XI in 1928, citing Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution forbidding a citizen from holding public office from accepting a title from a king or foreign state. He became known nationally as a brilliant jurist and for his knowledge of constitutional law.

    After 1915 Wade spent a large share of his spare time speaking and writing on Americanism, the Constitution, and citizenship, and he started his own publishing firm, American Citizen, to publish short books, pamphlets, and newspaper columns on those subjects. He campaigned to put teachings about civics and the U.S. Constitution into all schools, and in 1920 he convinced the Iowa legislature to become the first state to adopt such a law.

    Wade died in 1931 in Los Angeles, where he had been spending his winters for several years. Democrats, judges, officials, and friends from all over the United States traveled to Iowa City for his funeral. A large overflow of mourners stood outside St. Patrick's Church. "A brilliant advocate, a just and profound judge, and a nationally known orator," was the tribute of one Iowa City friend and colleague. He was buried in Iowa City's St. Joseph Cemetery.
Sources Both the University of Iowa and the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, hold books, pamphlets, and reprints of speeches by and clippings about Wade. Most of his writings address his interest in teaching about citizenship responsibilities and the Constitution. He also wrote a book on medical malpractice. Other sources include Clarence Aurner, Leading Events in Johnson County, vol. 2 (1913); George Mills, No One Is Above the Law: The Story of Southern Iowa's Federal Court (1955); and William Bentley Swaney, Three Friends: Malone, Head, and Wade (1935).
Contributor: Lolly Parker Eggers