Way Back at Mac: Dewitt Wallace is not guilty


Photo courtesy of Macalester archives.

We are guilty, here at Macalester, of falsely accusing a man for a crime he did not commit. Namely, bringing a cow to the fourth floor of Old Main and leaving it for the administration and facilities to deal with. This man, as many know, is Dewitt Wallace. If you took a tour as a prospective student or are a tour guide yourself, you will remember the anecdote told as the tour walks toward the library. For those of you who blocked your senior year of high school from memory, the legend runs as follows:

Photo courtesy of Macalester archives.
]1 Photo courtesy of Macalester archives.

Dewitt Wallace liked to play tricks on campus, especially on his father, James Wallace, who was president of the college at the time. Once Dewitt Wallace led a cow up to the fourth floor of Old Main, where his father’s office was. Cows, of course, can go up stairs, but not down stairs. The cow was effectively stuck, and no one’s exactly sure how they got it down (hamburger for dinner?). Perhaps due to his pranks, Wallace did not maintain the 2.0 GPA necessary to remain at Macalester, and was expelled. However, it did work out for Wallace in the end, as he went on to co-found Reader’s Digest and donated a large sum of money to Macalester to fund the building of the library (tour guide gestures at the library).

A couple weeks ago, I published a Halloween article, noting that in the early 1920s some students did bring a cow inside and up several flights of stairs as a Halloween prank. I decided to do some more digging to uncover whether or not Dewitt Wallace was actually the real perpetrator and if so, whether he had accomplices.

An article in the December 3, 1976 edition of The Mac Weekly, provides several decisive clues in solving the mystery. Dewitt Wallace did indeed only attend Macalester for two years before graduating from the University of California. However, he attended Macalester from 1907 to 1909. The aforementioned cow incident occurred in the 1920s. This fact does not completely negate the legend as there could have been another cow prank, but it is certainly less likely. There is no mention of a cow prank in the archives anytime between 1907 and 1909.

Additionally, the 1976 article recounts a letter that student Louisa Chapman wrote to Wallace. “As a p.s. she asked if the cow story was true. He replied no: that in fact he had never been expelled.” Of course, taking Wallace’s words as verbatim would not be in line with good scientific practices. However, neither is accusing someone of a crime without any concrete evidence, and so far, evidence is few and far between.

Wallace has also been one of Macalester’s best friends donating over $35 million! Are false accusations a nice way of treating friends? I think not. It seems likely that Wallace is not responsible for this misdemeanor, so I proclaim innocent until proven guilty.