Today is International Women’s Day, celebrated since the early 1900s to mark achievements and milestones for women around the world. While Lew Wallace died before the idea took root, he might have liked the idea of such an event, since he was raised by a strong woman and married another.
Zerelda Gray Sanders gained an education in medicine by accompanying her father on his frontier physician rounds. When her family moved to Indianapolis in 1830, they became charter members of the Central Christian Church, where she got an early taste for temperance and suffrage ideologies. In 1836, Zerelda married Lew’s father, David Wallace, and became a stepmother to three, later raising six of her own children.
She became the first president of the Indiana chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As a result of being met with “open contempt” by the male legislators of the Indiana State Senate, she became, at age 56, a crusader for women’s suffrage. She traveled around the nation, working alongside such leaders as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lew wrote of her, “In all the states of the Union…there are good people who know and speak of her as Mother Wallace, sweet-tongued apostle of temperance and reform.”