Children who play and swim in Waite Park, learn at Waite Park School, and live in the Waite Park neighborhood might be interested in know more about Judge Edward Foote Waite (whose name is honored throughout their quiet residential community. They might wonder about the man whose name is everywhere – and why, when Judge Waite was a elderly man, children from Waite Park School would collect pennies to purchase flowers to take to him on his birthday.
The story of Edward Foote Waite is that of a distinguished Minneapolis leader whose involvement in public affairs covers most of the 20th Century. Though he lived almost all of his long life in Minneapolis, his roots were distinctly New England. An editorial in the Minneapolis Tribute described the Judge as “a Yankee intellectual in the great tradition of Emerson, Thoreau and Oliver Wendell Holmes…stern and uncompromising with willful evil…compassionate with the weak and suffering…a man devoted to his duty and to his community…the very best type of the old New England tradition.” (Jay Edgerton, Minneapolis Tribune, 1-15-50).
Born in 1860 in Norwich, NY Waite migrated to Minnesota in 1888 as a traveling examiner for the pension office, processing applications for pensions from Civil war veterans. As an examiner Waite gained a reputation for his keen eye in spotting fraudulent claims, a characteristic that did not sit well with the miscreants.
After a brief tenure in private practice Waite was named assistant Hennepin county attorney. Based on his background as a tenacious fraud-spotter he was appointed to serve as Minneapolis Chief of Police. The short -term assignment to clean up the department ignited in him a lifetime interest in and commitment to juvenile justice.
Waite was appointed to the city bench in 1904; in 1911 he began his lengthy career as a member of the district court, responsible for juvenile court which remained his first love throughout his judicial career. A proponent of what would be known today as “tough love” he was a strict enforcer of the law who was credited with having helped hundreds of young people. He once dismissed his detractors by observing that “the better the home surroundings of the boy, the greater the prospects of his being dealt with in a way he and his friends may consider severe.”
The Judge earned a reputation as The Children”s Friend. A story was told of a boy who had been before him who was quoted as saying “he’s been a bully good friend to me, and there’s a lotta guys would say the same thing. He ain’t one of those stiffies that sets up there and looks at a kid like he was a worm; he comes right where we live.” (Minneapolis Tribune, 4-28-58)
Judge Waite served on the juvenile bench for twenty years (1911-1921 and 1931-1941) For over a half century after his 1941 retirement from the bench Judge Waite remained an active community leader. Working long hours in his office on the 23rd Floor of the Rand Tower Judge Waite explored a range of legal issues in his voluminous publications and speeches. He served as special assistant to the U.S. attorney general to hear the cases of conscientious objects. Later he was appointed by Governor Luther Youngdahl to the state commission on reform of the state’s divorce laws. In a significant study of children of divorce he wrote “the child in every divorce case has…ipso facto a status of disadvantage which challenges the judge, and opens to him the duty to reduce it so far as possible.”
Juvenile justice was not Judge Waite’s only interest. In an important legal treatise published in 1949 in the Minnesota Law Review Waite wrote eloquently of “Jefferson’s ‘Wall of Separation’, What and Where”. In that article he raises the hypothetical question: “In what sense, if at all, is this ‘a Christian nation’? Is there ‘a wall of separation between church and state’ and if so, where is it, and what really does it separate?” He poses and ponders the paradox without overtly answering his own question.
Tbroughout Judge Waite’s long life one of his greatest concerns was the condition of minorities in Minneapolis. Well into his 90’s he wrote an article for the Minnesota Law Review on racial segregation in the public schools. He stressed that the “fundamental crying need is for people to put out of their minds prejudices growing out of such accidents as race, religion and creed.”
After Waite’s death the name of the Elliot Park House at 2215 Park Avenue was changed to the Edward Foote Waite House, a move the Judge had halted during his life, admitting to the Elliot Park Board that “After I’m dead, of course, I’ll have no control over what you do.” (Minneapolis Star 10-22-56)
Apparently Judge Waite did not protest, or his protests fell on deaf ears, when, in 1949, the Park Board designated the land referred to as the “Cary-Cavell site as Waite Park. Waite School opened in September 1950, a unique collaborative project between the Minneapolis School and Park Boards.
The years did not slow the activities of Judge Waite. After the death of his wife in 1935 Waite lived alone until his last years when a niece came to help him. For his entire adult life he lived at 2009 Queen Avenue in South Minneapolis., conveniently close to downtown for an energetic jurist who never owned a car.
At his 95th birthday party he mused that, if he had his life to live over again, he “should hope’” he would make some changes…. Apparently one thing he would do different was to keep up his membership in the American Bar Association – at age 96 re-upped his membership, becoming the oldest applicant in the history to the ABA
Judge Waite died in 1958 at age 98. Judges from Minneapolis municipal and Hennepin county district courts were honorary pall-bearers at the memorial services held at Plymouth Congregational Church where the Judge was a lifetime member and leader.
Northeasters can be proud that , though Judge Edward Foote Waite did not live in Northeast, his name, his wisdom and his progressive ideas life on in the neighborhood that bears his name.