Ohio History Journal

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Carl Frederick Wittke:

Versatile Humanist





There're too many do-gooders

and organizers and not enough

quiet humanitarians among us.

Cleveland Sun Press,

November 18, 1971

Native Ohioan Carl Frederick Wittke distinguished himself in many areas of aca-

deme. At such Ohio institutions of higher learning as Ohio State University, Ober-

lin, and Western Reserve University, he is recognized as an outstanding teacher, ad-

ministrator, and mediator. Nationally, he is remembered as an indefatigable,

forceful, and courageous civil libertarian and fighter for academic freedom. Inter-

nationally, he is acknowledged as one of the historians largely responsible for the

development of the cultural aspects of American immigrant historiography. Before

it was fashionable, he recognized cultural pluralism-not the melting pot-as the

hallmark of American society. As an historian and critic Dr. Wittke expressed his

thematic ideas with succinctness, more than a dash of imagery, and a great deal of

tolerance. His impact was thereby felt outside as well as inside his own field of


Dr. Wittke's many accomplishments reflect a strict but compassionate home life.

Carl Wittke, the senior, was a German immigrant who, upon landing in the port of

New York, bought a ticket as far west as his money would stretch. This happened to

be Columbus, Ohio. It was here, on November 13, 1892, that a son, Carl Frederick,

was born. While Carl senior was not a formally educated man and had no degree in

engineering, he was a "mechanical genius." Through a combination of aptitude and

diligence, he started a factory and prospered enough to provide educational op-

portunities and adequate comforts for his family.1 As all immigrants, Wittke

struggled to combine the ways of his adopted country with familiar customs of the

Old Country without losing the flavor and substance of the latter. His son's work,

which covered a span of forty-nine years, 1921-1970, is a testament to the fact that

the father successfully instilled a deep and abiding respect and love of his German



1. Interview with Thya Johnson, September 13, 1971. Miss Johnson was Dr. Wittke's secretary for

twenty-four years. See also C. H. Cramer, "Speech Honoring Dr. Wittke," March 31, 1971, p. 3, in Case-

Western Reserve University Library.


Ms. Mendel is a lecturer, teacher, and author from the Cleveland area. She is presently on the staff of

Cuyahoga Community College-Eastern Campus.