The General…and the Boss

Lew's wife, Susan Elston Wallace

As a couple, Lew and Susan had a long and loving relationship. Married over 50 years, they had both a public and a private partnership that worked very well. In public, Lew acted as the leading partner, as might be expected in a Victorian marriage. In private, Major General Lew Wallace couldn’t pull rank. Lew’s letters and references make clear that he valued Susan’s advice, counsel, and thoughtful considerations. This manner seems atypical in 19th century marriages. Susan demonstrated an adept handling of her husband from early in their marriage.

Husband and Wife Disagree

Lew and Susan married in 1852. It seems Lew entered the marriage anticipating a large family. It also seems that Susan, one of nine children, did not necessarily share that vision. Susan wanted only one child. Lew might have attempted a face-saving compromise. However, it’s clear from a letter that Lew wrote to his brother William that his wife made decisions for herself.
Excerpt from a letter from Lew Wallace to his brother, William:
“And first, Bill, the baby hasn’t come yet, though we’re both in nightly expectation.  We’ve had great trouble over it, indeed, our only difficulty.  I insisted that there should be two:  she insisted on one.  The strife waxed higher, and was warmly waged night after night, until the result we at length grew tremulous about.  Finally, the angel of peace on dark night, about the hour of Tristam’s birth, (which you’ll recollect no critic has ever yet precisely ascertained), flew to our relief.  He suggested a mode of settlement.  I immediately proposed it, and we compromised.  I consented to one, in consideration of a solemn promise on her part that that one should be a boy.”

She Wins

After Susan had graciously consented to have a baby boy, Lew discusses a number of possible names for this boy in another letter to William. After listing and dismissing several names, Lew ultimately informed his brother that the one perfect name for a boy was… Lew.

Again, Susan apparently had other ideas. Henry Lane Wallace, the one and only child of Lew and Susan Elston Wallace, was born on February 17, 1853 and named after Susan’s brother-in-law. Even with all of his military training, when it came to big decisions for the family, Major General Lew was not able to out maneuver his wife, Civilian Sue.

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