Oscar Wilde in Omaha

In the spring of 1882, Oscar Wilde, English poet and self-styled aesthetic, visited the unpolished state of Nebraska during a lecture tour. Wilde, his business manager, and a servant arrived in Omaha on March 21, from Sioux City and checked into the Withnell House. That evening he spoke at Boyd’s Opera House, where he discussed his theory of beauty.

As reported in the Omaha Herald the next day, Wilde “wore the suit of black velvet with knee-breeches which has been his usual dress in this country. His hair fell about his shoulders in heavy masses and his dreamy, poetic face grew animated and his large dark eyes lighted up as he entered upon his subject.” Wilde professed intense feelings on art for art’s sake and believed that the pursuit of beauty should dominate man’s intellectual ventures.

Wilde was generally critical of American architecture, and in his lecture gave “his impressions of many American houses, illy designed, decorated shabbily and in bad taste, and filled with furniture that was not honestly made and was out of character. He ‘hit them off’ keenly, and the ripples of subdued laughter in the audience told how well his descriptions of their ‘horrors’ was appreciated. His picture of . . . rows of houses, glaring bill boards and muddy streets was equally graphic.”

Wilde “pronounced against machine-made ornaments as being ugly, coarse and bad, as compared with beautiful and durable handiwork,” and appealed for “schools of design and means of teaching art to the poor so that they can beautify their houses.” He also gave many practical suggestions “on household decoration and art studies, and argued that the lives of boys be made joyous and that they be taught to love the beauties of nature.”

At the close of his lecture, “which was given the most respectful and undivided attention, Mr. Wilde was enthusiastically applauded. He impressed his hearers as earnest, and enthusiastic, and one who was powerful in his appeals for the developing of all that is beautiful in life. Mr. Wilde speaks rapidly, is eloquent at times, and a poet in prose in his word painting.”

Herald reporter interviewed Wilde at his hotel. Wilde wore a “black, velvet jacket, dark trousers, [and] leather gaiters faced with yellow cloth . . . [A] maroon silk scarf is tied at his throat and a handkerchief of like color and material peeps from the breast pocket of his jacket.” The poet “remarked that he had seen many men of marvelous physique and many beautiful women in the west,” supporting his opinion that “physical beauty is really, absolutely the basis of all great and strong art.”


Oscar Wilde was photographed in New York in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.