Oscar Wilde in Philadelphia, Presented by the Rosenbach

Celebrity, wit, literary and political icon—Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) has always been central to Philadelphia’s cultural scene. This walking tour takes you to 10 stops Wilde made in 1882 and highlights how Philadelphians welcomed him.

Oscar Wilde in Philadelphia, Presented by the Rosenbach

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States

Created By: Rosenbach Museum and Library

Tour Information

Who was Oscar Wilde and why did he visit Philadelphia in 1882? Oscar Wilde was an Irish-born poet, novelist, and playwright, and "influencer." Today, his witticisms are frequently quoted and he has become a contemporary LGBTQ icon.

During his time at Trinity College Dublin, Wilde became a devotee of the Aesthetic Movement. It was in his role as a proponent of this movement’s “art for art’s sake” philosophy that he was invited to tour the United States on a speaking tour in 1882, stopping in Philadelphia in January and again in May. He gave lectures and spent time being celebrated in the homes of the city’s literati, visiting cultural sites, and making a pilgrimage to Camden, New Jersey, to visit Walt Whitman. This walking tour allows you to walk in Wilde’s footsteps, tracing his path to the sites of his lectures, parties, and social calls.

While he was popular and prolific, it was the legal system that forbade Wilde’s personal involvements that would prove his undoing. A series of lawsuits and prosecutions related to his sexual behavior landed him in prison in 1895. Released in 1897, in failing health, Wilde left England for France where he died at age 46 in 1900. Wilde is known for a range of work including Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, among many others. His early death likely deprived the world of many more.


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What You'll See on the Tour

George W. Childs held a dinner for Oscar Wilde at his home on Walnut Street the evening of Wilde’s first Philadelphia lecture, January 17, 1882.  The dinner ended an eventful day, which had included breakfast at the home of Dr. Samue... Read more
Rebecca Harding Davis, a novelist, and her husband, L. Clarke Davis, an editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, held a reception at their home on this site the day after Wilde’s first lecture in Philadelphia (see stop #8). The reception ... Read more
This is the site of the Aldine Hotel, where Oscar Wilde stayed beginning January 16, 1882.  On an American tour from his native Ireland, Wilde arrived in Philadelphia via train from New York.  He was accompanied by his tour organizer,... Read more
Wilde had family ties in Philadelphia.  His mother’s second cousin was Basil W. Maturin (1847-1915), an Anglican priest who served as rector of St. Clements Church from 1881-89.  Both born in Ireland, Wilde and Maturin were concerned ... Read more
Although most people did not enjoy Oscar Wilde’s January 17 lecture at Horticultural Hall (see stop #8), Joseph Pennell was “edified” and “amused” by it, according to his wife, Elizabeth Robbins, in her biography of her husband.... Read more
Between his first visit to Philadelphia in January 1882 and his return in May, Wilde gained experience giving lectures to American audiences. This lecture on the decorative arts was a practical application of Aesthetic principles, such as ... Read more
Oscar Wilde made a second trip to Philadelphia to lecture in May 1882. He visited this site, the Public School of Industrial Art, which was headed by founding director Charles Godfrey Leland. Leland had visited London and was influe... Read more
The primary reason Wilde came to Philadelphia was to deliver lectures on topics of style, decoration, and cultural trends, speaking broadly about the Aesthetic Movement, which valued beauty over meaning or politics. Wilde’s first le... Read more
January 18, 1882, the day after Wilde’s ill-received lecture (see stop #8), was filled with events.  Dr. Samuel Gross (now famous from Thomas Eakin’s 1875 painting The Gross Clinic), who knew Wilde’s family from a trip to Dublin... Read more
Note: you may wish to drive rather than walk to the last stop on this tour One reason Wilde was excited to visit Philadelphia was that Camden, the home of the poet Walt Whitman, was nearby. George W. Childs (see stop #1) had invited Whitman... Read more

 

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