Frances Twiggs Walker

HEAD COOK, 1919-1925

Mother of sons Abraham Walker, John Thomas (Tom) Walker and Joseph Walker, and daughters Frances Walker, Hannah Walker Mitchell Kenney and Mary Walker

City directory listings and oral histories locate Frances Twiggs Walker (March 25, 1864-March 18, 1928) at Maymont as a cook between 1919 and 1925. She may have arrived a year or two earlier.

According to her grandson, John W. Walker, Frances Twiggs was born in Caroline County, Virginia. She was of both African American and Native American (Mattaponi) heritage. Her niece, Sally Woolfolk, noted that her first name was Mary, and her great-granddaughter, Frances Jones, recalls that her grandmother, aunts and uncles often referred to Mrs. Walker as "Grandmother Mary." She was likely named for her mother.

Frances Twiggs was married to William Herbert Walker (1864-1931) and had eight children: Mary, Joseph, William, John Thomas, Maggie (died in childhood), Hannah, Abraham, and Frances.

Mrs. Walker first appears in the Richmond city directory in 1903, residing on Ramcat Alley. She also appears as a resident on Catherine Street with her sons Thomas and William. In subsequent years, the directory indicates that she was a domestic living on Broad Street and Boyd.

Between 1909-1916, she was working as a cook and living at various addresses, including the West Franklin Street residence of Samuel W. Travers and the Grace Street home of General William R. Cox and his wife, Catherine, friends of the Dooleys. Her great-granddaughter, Frances Jones, noted that she placed her young children with extended family members while living-in with employers. The oral history of Virginia Alexander indicates that Frances Walker had a room near the kitchen in Maymont House, which was furnished with a bed and dresser. Her granddaughter, Wilnette Massac, also recalled Mrs. Walker having a room belowstairs. She was skilled in both ordinary fare and specialties such as nasturtium sandwiches and white potato pie.

However, her niece, Virgee Payne, recalls that as head cook, Mrs. Walker resided in a four- or five-room apartment above the garage. Work invoices in Dooley Papers reveal that in September and October 1920, plasterwork, plumbing, and electrical hookups were installed in rooms above the garage. Mrs. Payne remembered spending weekends with her aunt in this apartment. She also noted that her aunt was in her sixties during these years and usually traveled with the Dooleys to Swannannoa. She recalled that her aunt wore a gray uniform with a white band collar. In an undated letter from around 1921-22, James Dooley writes his business secretary to "Tell Frances our cook that we expect to come home about the 25th of Oct.," which indicates that Mrs. Walker stayed in Richmond at least some of the time that the Dooleys were on Afton Mountain. Her niece remembered that she elected to remain in Richmond one summer.

Oral history from her grandchildren indicates that several of Mrs. Walker's teenage and grown children also worked at various times for the Dooleys during her tenure at Maymont: Joseph, John Thomas, Mary, Hannah, Frances and Abraham. A payroll letter from Frances Elder that outlined servant wages indicates that in 1923, Mrs. Walker earned $43 a month. She was among the staff members to receive $1000 in a bequest after Mrs. Dooley's death in 1925. According to her niece, Mrs. Walker and her daughter Hannah Walker Mitchell Kenney then took positions at the Stuart home, Brook Hill.

Mrs. Walker's granddaughter, Wilnette, recalls that her divorced grandmother remarried late in life. Her husband was a Mr. Mitchell (no relation to Hannah's late husband), and they resided in Barton Heights on Northside. Frances Walker Mitchell died in 1928. She is buried in Ruther Glen, Virginia, next to her first husband, Herbert, on forty-eight acres of land owned by the family—now property of the Indian Nations of Washington.

Food and Entertaining at Maymont

The work of the kitchen staff revolved around a rigid schedule with many deadlines. Discover more about the preparation of food at Maymont.