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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Wallace, "Uncle" Henry
(March 19, 1836–February 22, 1916)

–United Presbyterian minister, farm editor, moralist, and patriarch of the Wallace family prominent in agricultural politics—was born near West Newton in southwestern Pennsylvania, oldest son of John and Martha (Ross) Wallace. All seven of Wallace's younger siblings survived to adulthood, but all but one died before age 30, victims of tuberculosis. Of a nearby area Wallace remarked that "its main products were sheep, barley, and Presbyterians."Although the Wallaces' crops were corn and oats, otherwise the description holds. Raised by Scotch-Irish Covenanter Presbyterian parents, Henry came to know the Psalms and the Shorter Catechism as a matter of course.

    Opting for the ministry, Wallace attended schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, notably Geneva Hall, a Seceder Presbyterian institution, and Jefferson College. He began seminary at Allegheny Seminary in Pittsburgh, but transferred to the more moderate Monmouth Seminary in Illinois. As Wallace prepared for ordination, majorities of the Covenanter and Seceder churches merged in 1858 to form the United Presbyterian church. Although smaller, more homogeneous, and generally more theologically conservative than the Presbyterian church, the United Presbyterians–having left behind the more disputatious rump factions of Covenanters and Seceders–exhibited an irenic patience for theological differences often absent within the larger Presbyterian church(es). Also, formed by merger, United Presbyterians showed an almost obsessive need to unite with other Calvinist groups, an ecumenical urge that remained unfulfilled long after Wallace's death, until United Presbyterians and northern Presbyterians united in 1957.

    After ordination, Wallace first served mission churches in Davenport and Rock Island, and then a congregation in Morning Sun, Iowa. In 1863 Wallace married Nancy Cantwell, whom he had met in Ohio. They had four surviving children, Henry Cantwell (future U.S. secretary of agriculture and father of Vice President Henry Agard Wallace), Josephine, Harriett, and John. In 1877 they moved to Winterset, where Wallace retired from the ministry due to tuberculosis. Managing farms he had bought or inherited from his father, he became absorbed in agricultural technique and consequently in farm journalism.

    Combining moralism and middle-class craving for order and (by 1896) hard money, Wallace was solidly antimonopoly and just as solidly Republican. In his autobiography, Wallace blamed Governor William Larrabee for setting back the cause of the antimonopoly movement by "ten years" by refusing to run for the U.S. Senate against William Allison, but also related his own recusal because Democrats made the offer.

    In 1883 Wallace moved to Des Moines to edit the Iowa Homestead. After James Pierce took controlling interest, Wallace became entangled in a particularly nasty and public newspaper feud. Wallace wanted editorial freedom to continue attacks on monopoly; Pierce, convinced that that battle was over, wanted editorial silence to increase advertising revenues. The bitter dispute continued after Wallace left to found a rival farm paper in Ames that he steadily built into the nationally renowned Wallaces' farmer (He remained a minority stockholder in the Homestead, unable to demand dividends.)

    The paper's most widely read feature was "Uncle Henry's" commentary on the upcoming "Sabbath" school lesson. His avuncular manner, intimate knowledge of scripture, and irenic disposition brought an ecumenical and moderate viewpoint to rural congregations, and ran for decades after his death.

    In 1908 President Roosevelt appointed Wallace to the Country Life Commission investigating rural problems. In 1910 he was elected president of the National Conservation Congress.

    Wallace died on February 22, 1916, at Des Moines' First Methodist Church, while preparing to address the Laymens' Missionary Conference. A tribute volume published by the Wallace Publishing Company reached 238 pages. Wallace's house at 756 16th Street has been preserved west of downtown Des Moines.

    The combination of moralism and mischievousness that endeared him to readers is illustrated in his autobiography: "You may think I am sermonizing. So I am. I rather like it."
Sources Wallace's published works include The Fast That God Hath Chosen (1863), Clover Culture (1892), Trusts and How to Deal with Them (1899), Clover Farming (1900), The Skim-Milk Calf (1900), Letters to the Farm Boy (1900), Letters to the Farm Folk (1915), and his memoir, Uncle Henry's Own Story (1917– 1919). A collection of his papers is in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. See also Richard S. Kirkendall, Uncle Henry: A Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace (1993); Russell Lord, The Wallaces of Iowa (1947); Joel Kunze, "Shameful Venality: The Pierce-Wallace Controversy and the Election of 1896," Palimpsest 71 (1990), 2– 11; Wallace N. Jamison, United Presbyterian Story: A Centennial Study, 1858–1958; and www.wallace.org.
Contributor: Bill R. Douglas

Cite as: Douglas, Bill R. "Wallace, "Uncle" Henry" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017