Grandaughter of Dooleys' Head Cook Receives Maymont Benevolent Society Award

Doris Walker Woodson


Release Date: December 6, 2016

Nearly 100 years ago, Frances Twiggs Walker served as the head cook for James and Sallie Dooley at Maymont. As she worked in the mansion’s basement kitchen from 1919 to 1925, she probably never imagined that her granddaughter would be honored at a party in the opulent upstairs rooms. But that is exactly what happened on Thursday, December 1 at the annual Maymont Council Holiday Reception.

Doris Walker Woodson, Walker’s granddaughter, was presented with the 2016 Maymont House Benevolent Society Award for her outstanding contributions to Maymont’s preservation. Her assistance in developing the Maymont Mansion belowstairs exhibit, “In Service & Beyond,” and her outreach presentations for thousands of people have helped to tell the story of domestic service at Maymont and in the South.

“Thanks to Doris’ contributions, the Maymont Mansion offers our guests a much richer, more insightful and more honest presentation of life in America’s Gilded Age. Since her introduction to Maymont nearly eighteen years ago, Doris has not wavered in her willingness to help Maymont,” said Dale Wheary, Maymont Curator and Director of Historical Collections & Programs.

Woodson, an artist and retired Professor of Fine Arts at Virginia State University, was an integral member of the domestic service exhibition planning team and became Community Outreach Coordinator for the project in 1999. She addressed hundreds of groups with captivating insights from her unique perspective as the descendant of six Maymont domestic employees. In addition, she organized two reunions for descendants of domestic workers employed by the Dooleys, each attended by 150 individuals from around the country. Woodson served two terms on the Maymont Foundation Board of Directors from 2003 to 2009.

At the opening of the domestic service exhibition in 2005, Woodson was a keynote speaker, and remarked, “Imagine our ancestors revisiting this scene…We salute them, as well as all the people of color who labored as domestic servants in our country… We salute Maymont for telling their story so beautifully and so honorably.”

During Thursday’s Council reception, it was Maymont’s turn to salute Woodson. More than eighty Maymont Council donors and friends, as well as family members of Woodson, celebrated her achievements and contributions. Presenting the award, Council President Anne Innes applauded Woodson as “our living link to the history of this special place.”

The Maymont House Benevolent Society Award was established in 2003 to honor the origins of the Maymont Council. It recognizes individuals who have shown a distinguished commitment to advancing the cause of Maymont’s preservation. Recipients are nominated by the Council Executive Committee and approved by the Maymont Executive Director and the President of the Maymont Foundation Board of Directors. Including Woodson, there have been fourteen recipients of the award. Preservationist and civic leader Mary Tyler Cheek McClenahan, with co-chair Frances Valentine, founded the Maymont House Benevolent Society in 1983 as an annual campaign to help fund conservation, restoration and acquisitions. In 2000, the preservation affinity group adopted a new name—the Maymont Council—and an expanded mission to support preservation of all original elements of the estate and the carriage collection. Since its founding, the Council has helped to conserve countless objects, address critical historic structure needs, restore original features and details both indoors and out, acquire important Dooley-owned pieces, support architectural investigations and research, and enhance the care and authenticity of the historic site.

Maymont Mansion, including the domestic service exhibit, is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 12 to 5pm, year round. The belowstairs is self-guided, and tours of the upstairs rooms are provided every half hour. For information on hours and fees, call 804-358-7166, ext. 310, or visit The Historic Estate entrance closest to the mansion and gardens is located at 1700 Hampton Street in Richmond, Virginia.

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