Cornelia Ellis Wallace, previously Cornelia Ellis Snively (January 28, 1939 – January 8, 2009), was the First Lady of Alabama from 1971–1978 and the second wife of Democratic Governor George C. Wallace.
Wallace attracted national attention on May 15, 1972, when, at the age of thirty-three, she threw herself over her husband when he was shot four times by Arthur Bremer during an assassination attempt at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland. At the time, Wallace was seeking support in his bid for his party's presidential nomination.
Wallace was born in Elba in southeastern Alabama to Charles G. Ellis, a civil engineer who died in 1960, and "Big Ruby” Folsom Ellis, former Governor James E. “Big Jim” Folsom’s sister. Folsom was a widower and in 1947 invited his sister to be First Lady; Cornelia joined her at eight years of age.
She attended Methodist Huntingdon College and Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and studied voice and piano. She sang and played guitar and toured Australia and Hawaii with Country music singer Roy Acuff. She wrote and performed two songs for M-G-M: "It's No Summer Love" and "Baby with the Barefoot Feet". Following her father's death, she and her mother, who was not wealthy but had many wealthy and influential contacts, often house sat for wealthy friends in Washington, D.C., and other cities in order to live beyond their limited means. In 1962, she married John Snively, whose family owned the tourist attraction Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven, Florida. The couple had two sons, James and Joshua, but divorced in 1969.
Cornelia Wallace was a niece of a George Wallace's intraparty rival, former Governor Jim Folsom, whom Wallace had defeated in the 1962 Democratic primary. She married Wallace on January 4, 1971, shortly before he was inaugurated for the second of his four nonconsecutive terms as governor, and two and a half years following the death of his first wife, former Governor Lurleen Burns Wallace.
The Wallaces divorced in January 1978 amid claims that she had bugged his telephone in the Governor's Mansion. She received no spousal support from Wallace because of his claims of her infidelity after his attempted assassination. Mrs. Wallace entered the Democratic primary for governor in 1978 but did little active campaigning and finished last with only 217 votes among the thirteen candidates.
Cornelia Wallace later moved to central Florida to be near her sons from her first marriage. In 1997, Turner Network Television produced the television movie George Wallace, with Gary Sinise in the title role, and Angelina Jolie as Cornelia. Wallace criticized the script for portraying her as a frivolous person.
Death and Legacy
Wallace died of cancer in Sebring, Florida, on January 8, 2009.
Alabama state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham recalled that Mrs. Wallace is "etched in Alabamians' memory because of the tragedy" in Maryland. William Stewart, a political scientist at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, said that he remains impressed by Mrs. Wallace's bravery during the shooting and her loyalty to her husband during his long recovery from the wounds that left his legs paralyzed and rendered him permanently in a wheelchair. Turnham also recalled that as first lady, Mrs. Wallace urged Alabamians to plant vegetable gardens to be more self-reliant.