When Lew Wallace courted Susan Elston in the late 1840s and early 1850s, he was pursuing a daughter of one of the richest men in Indiana. By all accounts, Susan adored Lew and was thrilled by his attention.
Her very business-like father, however, was not so enamored. Lew had something of a reputation. He hadn’t embraced school. He only half-heartedly pursued a career to provide a stable income. Furthermore, he loved to go off in pursuit of adventure and military excitement. Even the distinguished Calvin Fletcher weighed in on young Wallace, commenting that Lew and his friends ran around Indianapolis as rascals.
Although there were schools that had a founding based on Christian theology, there was no state university affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. In the 1840s, Butler and Fletcher became leading proponents for a Christian college in Indiana. In 1850, the State General Assembly authorized the formation of a school for the Christian Movement.
The creation of this school became a driving force in Butler’s life. Over the next five years, Butler raised $75,000 for the school. In November of 1855, the North Western Christian University opened its doors. For the next sixteen years Butler served as the head of the Board of Directors. He was then made Chancellor of the University. In 1877, the school received a new name, Butler University, in honor of his leadership.
As is common in research, women were much less recorded in historical documents than men. Available records detail much more about Cordelia’s husband and her father than they do about her. No images of Cordelia have come to light. We know that she was born on March 25, 1828. During her marriage to William, she had nine children.
Given her father’s importance, Cordelia Butler was one of the most eligible women in Indiana. With their limited means and concerns about Lew, David and Zerelda Wallace must have been pleased to see their oldest son happily wed to a woman of means with a strong Christian upbringing.
If the date of the birth of her first child is correct, Cordelia must have married William Wallace at or before the age of 17. The children of Cordelia and William were Esther (born 1845), Butler (born 1853), Zerelda (born 1854), Willie (born 1856), Lewis (born 1857), Ovid (born 1859), Anna (born 1859), Cordelia (born 1861), and William (born 1866). The birth of William on August 31, 1866, is particularly poignant because Cordelia died that same day at the age of 42.
As the daughter of Ovid Butler, the wife of successful attorney William Wallace, the daughter-in-law of Governor David Wallace, the sister-in-law to Lew and Susan Elston Wallace, and with business associates like Calvin Fletcher and Benjamin Harrison, Cordelia traveled in powerful circles. She must have been a great contributor to the culture and society of Indianapolis during the pivotal years prior to and during the Civil War.
While the relationships to the men she was surrounded by have assured that she is remembered to a degree, perhaps one day research will better define Cordelia Butler Wallace as a person in her own right rather just a reflection of those around her.
Extra tidbit: It is through the Butler family that the Wallaces can claim kinship with Booth Tarkington.