(Aug. 6, 1817-Mar. 19, 1901). Born in Millersburg, Kentucky, Zerelda Gray Sanders Wallace was the eldest of five girls. Her father, Dr. John Sanders, moved the family to Indianapolis in 1830 and established a successful medical practice in the capital. At 19, Zerelda married Lieutenant Governor David Wallace, a widower with three children (one of whom was Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur). David Wallace became governor (1837-1840), then a congressman (1841-1843); the couple had six more children before he died in 1859.

Although she had to take in boarders for a short time after her husband’s death, her first public and independent work came with the Woman’s Temperance Crusade of 1873, from which evolved the Indiana branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

She addressed the Indiana legislature in 1875, but her memorial endorsing temperance was ignored despite signatures of 10,000 women. Thus, she converted to the advocacy of women’s suffrage and prepared a suffrage resolution for the WCTU national convention. Although most members were not pro-ballot, they respected Wallace and her resolution passed without debate.

After organizing the Indiana WCTU, Wallace was its president from 1874 until 1877 and again from 1879 to 1883. She helped found the Equal Suffrage Society of Indianapolis (1878) and was its first president. She headed the national WCTU franchise department (1883-1888) and lobbied in the state legislature for Women’s Rights And Suffrage and prohibition in 1881. She was described as an “inspirational” speaker who could give impromptu two-hour lectures. Lew Wallace identified her as the model for Ben-Hur’s appealing mother.

Wallace died of a bronchial ailment at the Cataract, Owen County, home of daughter Agnes, and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Revised March 2021

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