The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Wallace, Henry Cantwell
(May 11, 1866–October 25, 1924)

—farmer, educator, journalist, and U.S. secretary of agriculture—was the son of Henry Wallace (known as "Uncle Henry") and Nancy Ann (Cantwell) Wallace. Born in Rock Island, Illinois, young Henry moved with his family to Iowa in 1877. There his father served a United Presbyterian congregation in Morning Sun, farmed in Adair County, and wrote for the local newspaper in Winterset. Young Henry completed his elementary and secondary education in the Winterset schools and assisted his father on the farm.

    Both father and son shared an interest in journalism. In 1883 Uncle Henry became the editor of a farm publication known as Iowa Homestead. Young Henry assisted his father with the publication until he entered Iowa State Agricultural College in 1885. While at Ames, Wallace focused his studies on agricultural research and on writing for the Student Farm Journal. Eager to test some of his ideas about agriculture, he left Iowa State in 1887 to take over one of his father's farms. He also courted and married Carrie May Brodhead, with whom he had six children.

    Wallace returned to Ames in 1892 at the behest of James "Tama Jim" Wilson, who recently had become the head of Iowa State's Agriculture Department. Wilson had promised Henry a faculty position once he had received his college degree. After completing the requirements in 1892, Wallace began teaching dairying at Iowa State and also became a part owner and editor of Farm and Dairy. Wallace resigned his teaching position in 1895 and, with his father, took full ownership of Farm and Dairy.

    Father and son expanded and transformed the publication over the next three years into Wallaces' farmer, arguably the most influential agricultural publication in the country during the first three decades of the 20th century.

    The publication was very much a family affair. Not only were father and son involved in editing and producing Wallaces' farmer, but the paper also employed several Wallace children, including Henry Agard Wallace, who was known as "Harry" to avoid confusion with his father and grandfather.

    Henry Cantwell Wallace served as general manager and associate editor of Wallaces' farmer until the death of his father in 1916, when he became editor. As editor, Wallace was an ardent advocate for the family farmer He also put the editorial support of Wallaces' farmer behind the policies of his friend "Tama Jim" Wilson, who served as U.S. secretary of agriculture from 1897 until 1913.

    In addition to his editorial work, Wallace also was an active member of the Corn Belt Meat Producers Association and served as its secretary from 1905 until 1921. In that effort, and more specifically as chair of a government committee on pork supply, Wallace clashed with fellow Iowan Herbert Hoover over the hog price guarantees of the Wilson administration during World War I. In fact, Wallace became a vocal critic of Hoover's policies as head of the U.S. Food Administration and actively opposed Hoover's effort to win the Republican nomination for president in 1920.

    Wallace was a powerful influence on agricultural policy within the Republican Party during the presidential campaign of 1920. It was logical, therefore, for President Warren Harding to choose Wallace as his secretary of agriculture. In that capacity, Wallace proposed that the federal government take a direct role in assisting family farmer in distress during the postwar years.

    He also developed programs based on ideas that had been championed in the pages of Wallaces' farmer over the previous 20 years. He advocated expanding cooperative marketing efforts, increased foreign exports, better credit terms, and an expanded voice for farmer within the administration.

    As secretary, Wallace was tireless in his efforts to make the department more efficient; he was particularly pleased to establish the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to facilitate policy development. Wallace also protected the department against the encroachments of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who had sought to take control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's forestry program.

    Frustrated by the persistent decline in commodity prices, Wallace championed the program proposed by Oregon Senator Charles McNary and Iowa Congressman Gilbert Hau gen to have the federal government purchase surplus commodities and thereby guarantee farmer a steady return on investment. Although popular with farmer, the McNary-Haugen plan had few supporters within the Coolidge administration other than Wallace.

    Wallace was embarrassed by his failure to convince Coolidge to do more for the farming community, and he gave serious thought to resigning his position as secretary of agriculture. Instead, he turned his attention to writing a book titled Our Debt and Duty to the farmer (1925), which he hoped would change public opinion.

    Before the book was published, however, Wallace suffered a gall bladder attack and a bout of appendicitis, and the complications of surgery led to his death. The book was published the following year, but did not convince Coolidge to change his views on the McNary-Haugen plan.

    Although he failed to change Coolidge's agricultural policies, Wallace is remembered as an activist secretary who successfully reorganized the department and never wavered in his vocal support for the family farmer As with his father before him, Henry Cantwell Wallace also was an inspiration and influence on his son Henry Agard Wallace, who is considered by many to be the founder of many of the federal government's ongoing agricultural programs.
Sources The Papers of Henry Cantwell Wallace can be found in several repositories. His private papers are, for the most part, in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. Documents related to his years as a student and faculty member are at the Iowa State University Library, Ames. Finally, Wallace's tenure as secretary of agriculture is documented in the General Records of the Secretary of Agriculture held by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. There is one major study of Wallace: Donald L. Winters, Henry Cantwell Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture, 1921–1924 (1970). See also Donald L. Winters, "Ambiguity and Agricultural Policy: Henry Cantwell Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture," Agricultural History 64 (1990), 191–98. Also of value is Richard S. Kirkendall, Uncle Henry: A Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace (1993); and Russell Lord, The Wallaces of Iowa (1947).
Contributor: Timothy Walch