Growing up in Indianapolis wasn’t easy after the death of her mother when she was a teenager, but Catherine S. Wallace persevered and went on to earn multiple college degrees, marry and have daughters of her own.
As an elementary education teacher, she found joy in running a Montessori education program, which operated at several Indianapolis Public Schools. Mrs. Wallace taught at Schools 55, 51, 91 and 67.
She became a teacher because her cousin and a friend wanted to teach and convinced her to become a teacher, too, she said. She and her cousin made it their business to integrate segregated settings in Indianapolis.
They would go to restaurants and other segregated businesses and sit in to help integrate the business. ”She became sort of a partner with me.”
Mrs. Wallace was part of the Crispus Attucks High School Class of 1943. Always one to be an organizer, she and other girls formed the Junior Missses of Brightwood club for girls. Her love for being a part of a fraternity induced her to become part of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest African American Greek organization established by black female college students in the nation.
All this she did while taking care of home responsibilities. ”I had to come home every day and cook. I couldn’t do like a lot of other girls.”
She also worked part time on a factory assembly line.
She immersed herself in education. She received multiple college degrees — from Indiana University, IUPUI, Indiana State and Butler University.
At Indianapolis Public Schools, she was administrator of the Options Program which operated the Montessori education program. She said the program lasted for eight years but was finally cancelled because of the costs.
A watershed moment in her life was when her great aunt, for whom she is named, survived one of the most horrific events in U.S. history. Catherine Hyacinth Thrash hid under her bed while more than 900 members of the People’s Temple committed suicide or were murdered in Jonestown, Guyana at the behest of their minister, Jim Jones.
Early in his ministry, Jones worked toward a society where all were equal. This is what attracted her aunt to the People’s Temple, Mrs. Wallace said.
Mrs. Wallace and her aunt remained close until her death in 1995.
In her spare time, Mrs. Wallace loves writing poetry. She has a box full of poems she has written.
She is a member of Fairview Presbyterian Church, which she joined in 1961. She was the first black member.