THE WALLACE CENTERS OF IOWA: sustainable food & civility initiatives

Henry Wallace

An Advocate for Farmers and Rural Society

Editor of Wallaces’ Farmer magazine 1895-1916

Henry Wallace was born in 1836 and raised on a farm in Pennsylvania. He became a Presbyterian minister and came to Iowa in 1862, where his first congregation was a church in Monroe County. He married Nancy Cantwell of Ohio in 1863, and they moved to Rock Island, Illinois, where Henry had congregations on both sides of the Mississippi River.

In 1871, the family relocated to Morning Sun, Iowa where they lived for six years. Henry had tuberculosis (all six of his siblings died from the disease by the age of 30, as well as his parents in older age), and he left the ministry on the advice of his physician in order to spend time out in the fresh air on farmland he had purchased in Adair County.

The family moved to Winterset, Iowa, and Henry began farming. It was in his work on the Adair County farm that the background for Wallaces’ Farmer was laid. As a “beginning” farmer at age 40, Henry brought an inquiring mind and a progressive attitude. He experimented with clovers and Russian mulberries, started a herd of Shorthorn cattle and built a creamery, had a herd of Poland China hogs, and bought a Percheron stallion and mares. He realized the need for good livestock, and the importance that livestock played in maintaining the fertility of the soil. He realized the importance of crop rotation, and out of his practical experience came his message to folks who were involved in farming and rural life.

As his health improved, Henry began to take an occasional speaking engagement. After a controversial and popular speech he gave on the Fourth of July, 1878 in Winterset, he began writing a weekly column in the local newspaper. Eventually Henry became editor of the Winterset Madisonian, and Nancy Wallace wrote a column called “Home Talks by the Farmer’s Wife”.

In 1883, Henry began writing for the Iowa Homestead, a paper based in Des Moines which had a regional circulation. He became editor of the Homestead in 1885, which expanded Henry’s audience, further developing his reputation as a proponent of scientific farming methods as well as an advocate for farmers and rural society.

Henry left the Iowa Homestead in 1895 after the majority owner censored his editorial attacking the railroad monopoly and shipping rates. At the age of 60, he joined with his sons Henry C. and John to purchase a weekly paper printed in Ames, Iowa, called the Farm and Dairy. They renamed it Wallaces’ Farm and Dairy, which became Wallaces’ Farmer and Dairyman, and then Wallaces’ Farmer.

It was as editor of Wallaces’ Farmer that the first Henry Wallace became known as “Uncle Henry”, out of a sense of familiarity with the farm people comprising his audience. He recycled his sermons in the paper as “Uncle Henry’s Sabbath School Lessons”, and wrote a book for farm boys called Uncle Henry’s Letters to the Farm Boy, and one for families called Uncle Henry’s Letters to the Farm Folk. He wrote a total of six books.

Wallace was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve on the prestigious Country Life Commission in 1907, and served as President of the Third National Conservation Congress in 1910. He was not interested in serving in public office, but was instrumental in the appointment of Iowan James “Tama Jim” Wilson as US Secretary of Agriculture in 1897. Wilson served until 1913, the longest-serving Agricultural Secretary in history.

Uncle Henry Wallace died on February 22, 1916 at First Methodist Church in Des Moines while waiting to speak to the concluding session of the Laymen’s Missionary Convention. So many tributes were received by Wallaces’ Farmer following his death that they were published in a book by the Wallace Publishing Company.

Bibliography:
The Skim-milk Calf. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company.
Clover Culture, vol. 1. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company.
Uncle Henry’s Letters to the Farm Boy. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, 1897.
Trusts and How to Deal with Them. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company.
Clover Farming, vol. 2. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, ca. 1900.
Letters to the Farm Folk. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, 1915.
Uncle Henry’s Own Story of His Life: Personal Reminiscences, Vol. I. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, 1917.
Uncle Henry’s Own Story of His Life: Personal Reminicences, Vol. II. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, 1918.
Uncle Henry’s Own Story of His Life: Personal Reminicences, Vol. III. Des Moines: The Wallace Publishing Company, 1919.

Served as a chaplain in the Civil War

John and Martha Wallace expecting Henry, ca. 1836.

John and Martha Wallace, Henry’s parents

Henry and Nancy Cantwell Wallace on Henry's 61st birthday.

Nancy Cantwell and Henry Wallace (undated)

At the 1913 Highland Agricultural show (second from left) in Paisley, Scotland

Henry and Nancy on the front porch of their home at 756 16th in Des Moines

Uncle Henry with his friend and fellow Iowan Tama Jim Wilson, who served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for 16 years.

Henry with good friend “Tama Jim” Wilson

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