June 10, 1903 -- Sept. 13, 2000

Rochester Historian 2/3ds of a century also authored authoritative studies on American prisons. These interests melded in his Rochester penal history.

The scholar whose nearly two-thirds of a century researching, writing and teaching Rochester's history so identified him with it and it with him was not born there. Nor did he start out on a career path that would have brought him there for that purpose.

Blake Mckelvey was born in Centralia, Pa., to the Rev. and Mrs. Elmer McKelvey, June 10, 1903, one of seven children. Some 20 years later he was engaged in pre-med studies with the intent of becoming a medical missionary.

But then in his fourth year at Syracuse University, Blake took some courses in history and philosophy that prompted him to shift the focus of his professional life.

Blake McKelvey as city historian emeritus.

After graduation in 1925, he taught history at Haverhill, Mass., High School until 1928, while studying for his master's degree at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He gained that in 1929. At Harvard, he pursued both a doctorate and another doctoral candidate, Jean Trepp. They received their Ph.Ds in 1933 and wed on June 29, 1934.

Brief stints as a researcher with the Chicago Project and as an Encyclopaedia Britannica editorial assistant preceded his being interviewed by the then Rochester City Historian Dexter Perkins in June 1936 for the position of assistant city historian. Perkins was impressed with McKelvey, and hired him. Thus began a 64-year intelectual love affair between the native Pennsylvanian scholar and his adopted city and its environs.

Most of his 25 books were written about Rochester -- its history and history-makers -- but he also wrote landmark studies on American penal insitutions and the country's urbanization.

Blake McKelvey in '63

. . . at Susan B. Anthony's house . . .

. . . with one of his many books . . .

. . . with one of his well earned awards . . .
The above images of him and those on the title page of this presentation are reduced and cropped versions of larger ones provided by the History Division of the Rochester Public Library.

His American Prisons: A History of Good Intentions and his American Prisons: A Study in American Social History Prior to 1915, both republished by Patterson-Smith, Montclair, NJ, are considered classics in their field and are much cited by other scholars.

Blake also edited 10 volumes of the Rochester Historical Society's publications, and edited and wrote much of the 35 volumes of Rochester History, a quarterly published by the Rochester Public Library. He launched it in 1939.

He gave 66 radio history talks in 1966 and authored two chapters in the Readers Digest picture book, We Americans, first published in 1975. Founder of the American Historical Association's Urban History Group, Dr. McKelvey edited its newsletter for many years.

His teaching venues included the University of Rochester, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Sir George William University in Montreal.

Despite having to use a walker, the Rochester City Historian Emeritus Blake F. McKelvey continued working until his last hospitalization. Dr. McKelvey died early September 13, 2000 at Strong Memorial Hospital. He was 97.

His wife, Dr. Jean McKelvey, the first faculty member of Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the first woman to serve as president of the National Academy of Arbitrators, had died Jan. 5, 1998 in Rochester. She was 89.

At his death, Blake McKelvey's survivors included his sisters, Frances Holley of Little Rock, Ark., and Rachel Cleaves of Haverford, Pa.

"I don't think people realize how much he has done," Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, the current historian, was quoted as commenting [in the Democrat and Chronicle obituary by Meaghan M. McDermott].

"Some people still think of history as just telling old stories . . . but he took it to a much higher level -- much like a doctor would diagnose based on your medical history and say here is your prognosis, here is what you need to do to create a new, healthy you. That's what he was doing with history."

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