Wallace, Lila Acheson

Wallace, Lila (Bell) Acheson

(1889–1984) editor/publisher, art collector, philanthropist; born in Virden, Manitoba, Canada. Her father was a Presbyterian minister who brought his family to the U.S.A. when she was a girl and she grew up in the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Oregon (1917), taught school for two years, and then worked for the Young Women's Christian Association. She married DeWitt Wallace in 1921 and was directly involved in launching the Reader's Digest in 1922. As the publication quickly caught on after its first issue of 5,000 copies, she served as cochairman of the company until 1973, and as a director until 1984. Although she gradually withdrew from the day-to-day operations, she was known to exercise indirect influence on the Digest 's editorial agenda. She assembled an extensive collection of art—strong in French Impressionists—and placed original paintings throughout the Digest 's offices; she was also a lover of gardening and flowers and among the many millions she donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a fund to provide fresh flowers daily to the museum's Great Hall. Among her benefactions were the restoration of Giverny, Monet's home in France; the gallery for the Abu Simbel temple at the Metropolitan; the Bird House at the New York Zoological Society's Bronx Zoo; and millions to various hospitals and churches as well as to such arts institutions as the Juilliard School of Music. Altogether she gave away some $60 million in her lifetime, and since they had no children, she and her husband left their fortune to foundations that continue to donate millions to various causes.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.