By John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
When the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (ECH) was published in 1987 it was a landmark publication in a number of ways. It was the first modern encyclopedia of a city and it was the first major work to include a history of Cleveland’s LGBT community and a number of the institutions within that community. It was a small step, but an important one.
Equally, if not more important, was the formal establishment of a program to collect archival records and publications relating to Greater Cleveland’s LGBTQ community at the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1991. It was created in partnership with the LGBT Community Center. Aubrey Wertheim, who at that time directed the Center, played a pivotal role in getting the archives started.
Now over thirty years after these initiatives began we can measure their growth and, indeed, their success. The number of collections relating to the LGBTQ+ community held at WRHS has grown immensely. In 2014, the collections were central to the creation of an exhibit at the Cleveland History Center on the local LGBTQ community which ran during the Gay Games held in Cleveland that year. Most importantly, the collections continue to serve the needs of researchers in the WRHS Library.
At the same time the Encyclopedia also continued to grow. A second edition was published in 1996 to honor the city’s Bicentennial, but most importantly, the ECH went online in May 1998, making it the first urban encyclopedia accessible on the World Wide Web. Moving online also made it possible for staff to quickly update the ECH. The number of entries relating to the LGBTQ+ community has grown thanks to a number of authors including CWRU student interns and members of the community, most particularly John Nosek and Leon Stevens. This summer, WRHS will host a CWRU student intern, Sidney Negron, who will process and catalog archival materials from the LGBTQ+ collections and write new articles for the Encyclopedia. It’s an ideal combination, one that brings together these two important aspects of preserving Pride in Cleveland and one which also elicits a great deal of pride among those of us who have long worked on the Encyclopedia and at WRHS.