Zelda Harrison Seguin Wallace

Lew Wallace and his brother William each married women from prominent families who brought prestige, money and important Hoosier connections to the Wallace family. These were not, however, the only sons of David Wallace to marry well. David had six children by his second wife, Zerelda. Three of these children died in childhood. Their only surviving son was born in 1852, named David Jr., and married a woman of prestige with connections far beyond Indiana.

When doing historical research it is generally easier to find records on men than it is women. In the case of David Wallace, Jr. however, it is his wife who is much better recorded. In 1870, census records list eighteen year old David, Jr. as a baggage master for a railroad in Indianapolis. Ten years later in 1880 he is living in the home of his sister Mary Wallace Leathers with his mother, Zerelda and working as a transfer agent for an Indianapolis railroad. Reportedly a very handsome man of 28, David, Jr. married the beautiful Zelda Harrison Seguin in Baltimore on July 31 that same year.

Zelda was one of the most famous opera singers of her day. A contralto, Zelda became known as the Gypsy Queen because of her tremendous success in the opera “The Bohemian Girl.” Among her accomplishments on stage, she introduced the role of Bizet’s “Carmen” in English to the opera world in a performance in New Orleans and in her last New York appearances in 1886 she performed in “The Mikado.”

Anne Childe Seguin
Anne Childe Seguin

Born in 1848, and a native of New York City, her parents discovered that young Zelda Harrison had a remarkable voice. They placed her under the tutelage of Mrs. Anne Seguin, one of the most important opera teachers of the late 19th century. Mrs. Seguin was trained at the Royal Academy and had an extraordinary career of her own, including her debut performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in 1836. Together with her husband, Edward, Anne sang at the coronation of Queen Victoria. From 1840 until his death in 1852, Anne and Edward dominated the opera world. They were particularly famous for their performances of opera in English and the list of their accomplishments is still highly regarded by opera historians.

Zelda made her stage debut at a concert in Saratoga in 1865 when she was seventeen years old singing popular songs of the day. During her time studying with Anne Seguin, she met one of Anne’s children, Edward Seguin, Jr. Although more than ten years her senior, they fell in love and married in 1867. Edward, an opera singer, was trained at the Conservatoire in Paris and the Royal Academy in London and had been touring in America since his return from Europe in 1860. Together Edward, Jr. and Zelda performed throughout the county. In the 1870s, they had a son they named Edward S.R. Seguin.

Zelda’s husband, Edward, was resoundingly successful and, like his father, one of the most popular performers of his day. He taught Zelda about make-up, stage presence, and acting. In 1877, Zelda was one of the featured performers at a New York Press Club entertainment held in Steinway Hall with guest speakers that included Mark Twain. She was singled out in coverage of the evening with the following:

Mrs. Zelda Seguin, a favorite among favorites, not only with the journalistic fraternity, who have always expressed good wishes for her success, but with everybody else possessed of taste and feeling, raised a whirlwind of applause by her singing of Hullah’s “Storm.” The excitement could not be stayed by anything less than a ballad, and the lady sang a pretty little Irish song–“I wrote my love a letter.”

Her husband also helped manage Zelda’s career by selecting parts she would and, just as importantly, would not sing. For instance, he would not let her perform in Wagnerian operas because he felt Wagner’s work did not suit the range of her voice. Under his tutelage, Zelda Seguin became internationally famous and, like her in-laws, was especially known for performing operas in English that were traditionally performed in Italian or French.

In early October of 1879, Edward died suddenly of heart disease in Rochester, New York at the age of about 42. Stricken three weeks earlier in Jersey City, he didn’t consider the illness serious as he thought he was having an asthma attack and continued to travel with his wife and other performers. Zelda did not perform the evening of his death and accompanied her husband’s body back to New York, but the show had to go on and in spite of their grief the rest of the cast and crew performed as scheduled at the Grand Opera House in Rochester.

Zelda Seguin Wallace
Zelda Seguin Wallace

The beautiful widow and famed performer based in New York met the Indianapolis based David Wallace, Jr. in February of 1880 at the home of a mutual friend in Indianapolis. At the time, David was the Master of Transportation for the Indianapolis-Terre Haute railway. After a “season of bouquets and correspondence” David went to New York to propose and within ten months of her husband’s death, Zelda and David were married at St. Luke’s Church in Baltimore. David was joined by his sister, Agnes Wallace Steiner and in a detailed description of the ceremony the news account made note that “Diamonds were the jewels” worn by the bride. The quiet service received wide discussion as it was a distinct surprise to many of her friends. This marriage cost Zelda a small fortune because her mother-in-law, Anne Seguin had revised her will just weeks after her son’s death leaving Zelda $20,000 in cash to be held for her benefit provided she not remarry. With her marriage to David, the money was forfeited and returned to the estate.

Records indicate that Zelda and David, Jr. had a son in October of 1881, who was also named David, but it appears this child died within a year. Census records in 1900 indicate that David and Zelda may have had one more son born in 1891, but the name and fate of this child is unknown. In these records from 1900, David and Zelda are living in Indianapolis adjacent to the prominent Claypool family.

After Edward’s death and her marriage to David, Zelda resumed performing throughout the country. Her last operatic performance in New York was in 1886, but she continued to sing in important venues across the country for a few more years. In 1895, Zelda was still appearing on the concert stage when she was badly injured in a train accident when a train she was on jumped the tracks as it rounded a curve near Coatesville, Indiana. Two people were killed and although she did recover, Zelda was among the most seriously injured. As her professional career came to an end she still supported favored charities with small programs.

After her marriage to David, it appears that Zelda left New York behind and Indianapolis, where David had his railway jobs, became home. As she became a part of the social scene in Indianapolis in the early 1880s, Zelda provided musical performances for receptions and events sponsored by her mother-in-law, Zerelda Wallace, in support of suffrage. Her mother-in-law had not swayed Zelda on this issue. At her first meeting with Zerelda, Zelda confirmed that she was a firm believer in women’s rights. She had been a working woman all of her life and while she did not speak widely on the issue, when she was questioned, “ . . . she expressed her opinion with an effective eloquence as charming as her marvelous voice. To hear her sing you would think she was made for that alone; to hear her talk you would wonder at the naturalness of manner and clear, unsullied, mind.”

In the 1910 census, David’s occupation was listed as the manager of a motor company in Indianapolis and the couple was living along prestigious North Delaware Street—although they may have been living in an apartment rather than a detached home.1911, was terrible year for Zelda. She had all of her costumes and memorabilia in storage but a fire destroyed everything she had saved from her storied career. To add to her burden, David died in May of 1911 at the age of 59. Shortly after his death, Zelda made a much publicized return trip to New York to visit her son, Edward and two grandsons. In newspaper interviews she reminisced about famous people she had worked with, productions she had performed in, and trends she had seen in opera during her career.

In these interviews in 1911, although she was 63 yeas old, Zelda is described as still a young woman in thought, action and manner of speech. Friends who came to call on her found her very much like the Zelda Seguin of old. Just three years later, Zelda passed away at her home in Indianapolis in February of 1914. Timing is everything and while she was remembered in the press for her great stage career with small mentions, Zelda’s death was eclipsed in the newspapers because of the passing of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson the same day. David and Zelda are buried together very near his father and adjacent to his uncle, Richard Gatling, in Crown Hill Cemetery. In a family of accomplished men and women, Zelda Harrison Seguin Wallace was certainly one of the most talented and widely admired members of the Wallace family.

Census records 1860-1880, 1900, 1910

Aurora Daily Express, September 17, 1883

Thanks to Erin Gobel and Roger Adams

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