James H. Dooley
Business Leader of the New South
James Henry Dooley (1841-1922), the son of prosperous Irish immigrants, was born in Richmond. After graduating first in his class from Georgetown College, he enlisted in a Confederate militia unit. At the end of the Civil War, he established a law practice in his war-torn city. Four years later he married Sallie May. In the decade that followed, Dooley served three terms in the state legislature.
In the 1880s, he joined a group of other Richmonders in financing, rebuilding, and expanding southern railways, including the Richmond and Danville, the Seaboard Air Line, and the Chesapeake and Ohio. Through these and other business ventures, Dooley made a fortune and at the same time helped the economic recovery of the South.
Dooley took a prominent role in the community and served on the boards of local charitable institutions including St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum and the Medical College of Virginia. Recognized locally for his knowledge of European art, Dooley served as president of the Richmond Art Club for over a decade.
Daughter of the Old South
Sarah O. "Sallie" May (1846-1925) was born in Lunenburg County, the heart of Virginia's tobacco plantation culture. She moved to Richmond
after marrying James Dooley in 1869.
Sallie Dooley was founding regent of the state's first chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a charter member of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Virginia. In 1906, her book, Dem Good Ole Times, a romanticized interpretation of Virginia plantation life, was published by Doubleday, Page, and Company.
Sallie Dooley and her husband enjoyed traveling together and planning their two estates—Maymont and Swannanoa, their summer home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A serious student of horticulture, Sallie Dooley played an active role in developing the estate gardens and supervising their care. She was also known for her lavish entertaining at Maymont.
The Dooleys' Legacy
Having no children to inherit their wealth, the Dooleys left significant bequests to several Richmond organizations. In 1922, James Dooley bequeathed $3,000,000 to build St. Joseph's Villa—the largest gift to a Roman Catholic charity in the United States at that time.
In 1925, Sallie Dooley's public bequests were considered the largest ever made by a Virginia woman. They included funds to build the Children's Hospital and the Richmond Public Library, and a fund for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. In accordance with her husband's will, she left Maymont to the City of Richmond to be used as a museum and park; however, no endowment was made for its ongoing care.
Maymont opened to the public in 1926. In 1975, the nonprofit Maymont Foundation accepted responsibility for Maymont's operation, maintenance, and long-term preservation. With donations from visitors like you, Maymont will be preserved for future generations as Virginia's Gilded Age treasure.
James Henry Dooley by William Carl Brown, oil on canvas, 1889
Sally May Dooley by William Carl Brown, oil on canvas, 1889
An inscription made by James Dooley at age fourteen in his Latin dictionary
Lady in the Garden by Suzanne Gutherz, watercolor, 1889, an illustration in Sallie Dooley's book, 1906