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Sallie Maxwell Bennett
Sallie Maxwell Bennett (1857-1944) generously used her wealth and social position for a wide range of philanthropic efforts. Much of her life nad work were devoted to memorializing her son, a fallen war hero. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries.

"Able Courage"

The Monumental Sallie Maxwell Bennett

By L. Wayne Sheets

On August 24, 1918, a World War I flying ace from West Virginia was gunned down over France. The death of this daring young pilot broke his mother's heart and set into motion a compelling chain of events, the results of which are visible today from Wheeling to Weston to Westminster Abbey. Together, they form a lasting monument to military bravery, and to a mother's love.

Born into wealth and opulence on June 2, 1857, Sallie Ann Maxwell was the daughter of James and Ruth Armstrong Ray Maxwell. Sallie's father was a successful mercantile entrepreneur in Wheeling who lived a life of great charity and social awareness. He was especially sensitive to the educational needs of the era.

Motivated by an impassioned desire to carry on her father's benevolence, Sallie spent many years — and untold amounts of money — striving to improve the lives of West Virginians, and to perpetuate the memory of her heroic son.

Sallie married Louis Bennett in January 1889, at her home in Wheeling. Louis was the son of Jonathan Bennett, a wealthy landowner and attorney from Lewis County, and Margaret Elizabeth Jackson Bennett. The young couple made their home in Weston. Following in his father's footsteps, Louis Bennett soon became a very successful attorney and state politician. His eloquent speech and charisma endeared him both to his constituency and to fellow politicians, propelling him to Speaker of the House of Delegates during his first term in office — the first person in West Virginia politics to do so.

Members of her family believe that Sallie's passion for West Virginia developed in part through her support of her husband's political career. Not only was she married to a prominent and wealthy attorney, but she was ambitious and pragmatic herself. Through politics — especially her husband's 1907 gubernatorial race against William E. Glasscock which Bennett lost by only 12,000 votes — she established a network of influential acquaintances in West Virginia and throughout the East. Sallie and Louis also traveled extensively, allowing them to establish relationships with many influential friends and acquaintances around the globe.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.