The publication of Dr. Mary Lynn Bayliss’ book “The Dooleys of Richmond: Two Generations of an Irish Immigrant Family in the Old and New South,” published in April by the University of Virginia Press, is a landmark occasion for the Dooleys’ estate Maymont. The engaging new book is the first full-length biography of the Dooleys.
Although Maymont has been opened to the public for ninety-one years and the story of James and Sallie Dooley is told daily for Maymont Mansion guests, until now, there has been no single, in-depth publication that sets forth the full extent of the Dooleys’ significant role in the history of Richmond. Consequently, they have remained largely unknown and unacknowledged by academic and independent historians. The exception, however, has been John E. Dooley, brother of James Dooley, whose Civil War journal has been published and is well-known to scholars.
The outstanding void of published information on James Dooley, his wife and his parents may be partially explained by the lack of a large body of readily available primary source material from which historians might have drawn. Sadly, this results from the decision to destroy all family papers in the mansion immediately after Mrs. Dooley’s death — probably a final instruction given to her nieces, as indicated in a 1926 city document. And with no descendants in Richmond to perpetuate the Dooley story, the details of their lives and their leadership in the city’s development grew very hazy over the years. Thankfully, soon after I became curator nearly four decades ago, Lynn Bayliss, a former Maymont Foundation board member and volunteer, took up the challenge of piecing together documentation of the Dooleys’ lives and careers from a myriad of sources. Without a large body of family papers, Dr. Bayliss’ accomplishment is remarkable and substantial.
“The Dooleys of Richmond” stands now as the definitive source on James Dooley, a brilliant, multi-dimensional figure, and his wife Sallie. An additional benefit of Dr. Bayliss’ extensive research has been the restoration of James Dooley’s father, John Dooley, to his important place in the story of ante-bellum Richmond — in fact, getting to know the charming John Dooley, an enterprising, well-educated, and civic-minded Irishman, will prove for many readers one of the special pleasures of the book. Moreover, “The Dooleys of Richmond” demonstrates the family’s value as reference points for understanding a wide range of historical contexts, the lives of the principal characters spanning a critical and formative period of American history — from Industrialization, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the emergence of the New South, and America’s Gilded Age up through the brink of the Great Depression.
“The Dooleys of Richmond” marks the crowning achievement of Dr. Bayliss’ long-term commitment to Maymont and her diligent research and study. She presents for us a compelling narrative about interesting and accomplished individuals who participated in the mainstream of their times, who influenced the world around them, and who left lasting legacies–outstanding among them our beloved Maymont. Thank you, Dr. Bayliss, for your enduring gift to Maymont —”The Dooleys of Richmond.”
Meet the author at a special lecture, book signing and reception on Tuesday, June 6. Find out more and register online.
– Dale Wheary, Curator/Director, Historical Collections & Programs