This Day in History September 19, 1926

By Ruth on September 18, 2011 in history
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Well, today we delve into women’s history.  I used to think that women’s history was not a valid history, but several years ago when I actually decided to study it, I realized just how wrong I was.  And this story I am about to relate to you should indeed inspire and amaze you.

On this day in 1926, Lurleen Burns Wallace was born.  Okay, maybe you don’t know who she is, but hopefully if you have ever studied Alabama history, you may indeed know!  I admit that I didn’t know, but I certainly know now, and I am amazed.

She was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  She grew up in a working class family, and she graduated from high school when she was 15 (she took summer classes).  She then went on to work at Kresge’s Five and Dime store.  It was there that she met George Wallace (who was a regular ladies man).  They married May 21, 1943 when she was just 16 (and while George was on leave from his Arkansas air base).

Following his time in the service in WWII, politics consumed his life.  Life was difficult for her as she raised three children in all sorts of places once entering public office.  When he failed to become governor in 1958, he went into depression and also had affairs.  She took her children back to her parents’ home and filed for divorce.  She later withdrew the suit and returned to him.  In 1961, their final child was born.

In 1963, her husband finally become Alabama state governor.  Lurleen did well in her role of “first lady.”  She opened the governor mansion to visitors seven days a week, and she refused to serve alcoholic drinks at executive mansion functions.

In 1965, Lurleen was diagnosed with utereine cancer (that had been suspected back in 1961, but her husband did not tell her).  She was treated with radiation and a hysterectomy.  During this time, her husband lost out on an Alabama bill that would have allowed a sitting governor to run for reelection.  He desperately wanted to hold onto the governor position so that he could possibly run for president.

Well, George Wallace did the absolute unthinkable.  He decided to have his wife run in his place. She did say  that her husband would continue to make the decisions if she were elected.  She did win, and she was officially inaugurated January 16, 1967.  She chose not to have a typical inaugural ball out of respect for those serving in Vietnam.

Following in her husband’s footsteps, she spoke out against of desegregation in schools (her one true fault in my mind). She also pushed for mental health and state parks initiatives.  It was not long into her political career that her cancer began to return.  George continued to maintain that she had beaten cancer, but even as he tried to campaign for presidency in 1968, it was clear how ill she was.  In May of 1968, she was allowed to return home to be with her family before she passed away. She died May 9, 1968, and 21,000 mourners turned out to pay their respects.  She was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Albert Brewer.

For a lot of more information than what I shared here:
http://www.archives.state.al.us/govs_list/g_walllu.html
http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Lurleen_Wallace
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wallace/peopleevents/pande06.html

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