Scope and Contents
Personal correspondence, legal and financial papers, diary, and newspaper clippings of Mrs. Sallie Maxwell Bennett of Weston, wife of Louis Bennett, Sr., the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1908. The collection concerns the career of her son, Louis Bennett, Jr., particularly his student days at Yale, his pioneer efforts to organize the West Virginia Flying Corps, his service in the Royal Air Force [RAF], and his subsequent death in World War I. Additional topics include Mrs. Bennett's effort to memorialize her son, family affairs, and a South American trip in 1915. Correspondents include Louis Bennett, Sr. and Jr., and John W. Davis.
See also C619 of Oral History Sound Archives, which contains one audio cassette and typed transcript of an interview with David B. McKinley by Wayne Sheets regarding the life and times of Sallie Maxwell Bennett. Louis Bennett, Jr. and Agra are discussed as well.
Series 1. Biographical Information; 1917-1919, 1980-ca. 2000 (includes facsimiles); box 1, folder 1. Includes mostly photocopies of narrative information on the life of Louis Bennett, Jr. For more historical narrative of Louis Bennett, Jr. and the Bennett family, consult the Newspaper Clippings series.
Series 2. General Correspondence; 1908-1917; box 1, folders 2-13. Includes letters, telegrams, clippings, receipts, etc. Topics include family affairs, Yale College, and the West Virginia Flying Corps in 1917, among other subjects. Correspondents include primarily Mr. Louis Bennett, Mrs. Louis Bennett [Sallie], their son Louis Bennett, Jr., and daughter Agra.
Series 3. Outgoing Letters; 1917-1918; box 1, folders 14-18. Includes primarily letters by Louis Bennett, Jr. on Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force [RAF] stationery describing adventures in London, military matters, impatience in Shotwick, and military life and combat on the Western Front as a pilot in the 40th Squadron, RAF.
Series 4. Incoming Letters; 1918; box 1, folder 19 - box 2, folder 3. Includes letters, clippings, photographs, and other material. Letters are from Louis Bennett, Jr.'s immediate family, friends, fellow aviators, girl friends, and others regarding personal and military matters, etc.
Series 5. General; 1914-1920, undated; box 2, folders 4-9. Includes miscellaneous material regarding Louis Bennett, Jr., such as combat reports, personal ephemera, RAF Graduation Certificate, transit and burial permit, etc.
Series 6. General Correspondence--Bennett Family; 1915-1926; box 2, folder 10 - box 7, folder 2. Includes primarily letters to and from Mrs. Louis Bennett, but other family members as well, about the personal, financial, and legal affairs of the Bennett family. Many letters are testimonials and condolences regarding Louis Bennett, Jr. by his friends in England and the military. Correspondence after 1918 primarily documents Mrs. Louis Bennett's efforts in England and Europe to find the facts regarding her son's fate, and her efforts to memorialize her son and other aviators of WWI; for the latter, she corresponded with the British Air Ministry, among other military and governmental authorities. The variety of letterhead of US east coast, British Isles, and European hotels document a very peripatetic Mrs. Bennett. Letters are arranged in chronological order. Also includes a travel diary of Mrs. Bennett.
Series 7. Newspaper Clippings; 1914-1925, 1960 (includes facsimiles); box 7, folders 3-11. Contains loose clippings and clippings in scrapbook pages which document both Louis Bennett, Jr. and the Bennett family.
Series 8. Legal Papers; ca. 1918-1923; box 7, folder 12. Includes information on deeds and power of attorney; also includes agreement with the sculptor Augustus Lukeman for "heroic bronze statue".
Series 9. Financial Records; 1916-1926; box 7, folder 13 - box 8, folder 2. Includes appraisement and other documents relating to the Louis Bennett estate, insurance records, real estate records, balance sheets, receipts, etc.
Series 10. Publications; 1873-1882, 1907-1924; box 8, folders 3-5. Includes books and periodicals, mostly material about Louis Bennett, Jr.
Series 11. Greeting Cards; 1920, undated; box 8, folder 6.
Series 12. Calling Cards/Business Cards; ca. 1910-1925; box 8, folder 7. These cards appear to document primarily the personal and professional contacts of Mrs. Bennett, Louis Bennett, Jr.'s mother.
Series 13. Postcards; ca. 1910-1925; box 8, folder 8. Includes photo postcards. Subjects include portraits, landscapes, and WWI images.
Series 14. Ephemera; 1899-1924, undated (includes facsimiles); box 9, folders 1-4. Includes much Louis Bennett, Jr.-related material, such as his RAF Wallet (for wallet, see box 12).
Series 15. Photographs; 1904-1920, undated; box 9, folders 5-17. Includes photographs, postcards, and negatives. Subjects include a diverse range of material recording Louis Bennett, Jr.'s involvement in WWI, as well as the Bennett family. Mrs. Bennett's 1915 trip to South America is extensively documented.
Series 16. Artifacts; 1890s-1925, undated; boxes 10-10a. Includes checkbooks, a pin cushion, a sketchbook, newspaper clippings, a lock of hair, and other items.
Series 17. Dissertation; 2009; box 11. Contains Charles D. Dusch's Great War Aviation and Commemoration: Louis Bennett, Jr., Commander of the West Virginia Flying Corps (also available as an electronic resource at WVU Libraries).
Series 18. Miscellaneous; ca. 1916-1919; box 12. Contains glass plate negatives, Louis Bennett, Jr.'s RAF wallet, and his memo book.
Biographical / Historical
Louis Bennett, Jr. became World War I's 12th ranked American flying ace. In his brief, meteoric career, he scored three aircraft and nine balloons in ten days, described by one author as "undoubtedly, one of the most brilliant records of the air war".
Louis Bennett, Jr. was born 22 September 1894 in Weston, West Virginia, son of Louis Bennett and Sallie Maxwell Bennett. It was a West Virginia family of wealth and prominence. Growing up in Weston, he was described as bright, likeable, and headstrong, with mechanical inclinations. He had his own car and motorcycle when 12 years old, and is said to have frequently raised the dust on his town's dirt streets with best friend Paul Hoskins.
He attended Cutler and St. Luke's preparatory schools in Pennsylvania, entering Yale University in 1913. He was apparently active in athletics and popular with women.
Interested in early aviation, Louis took pilot training from the Burgess Company at Marblehead, Massachusetts. In 1917 the Governor of West Virginia approved Louis Bennett's idea of a West Virginia Flying Corps, with intent of joining the unit to the United States Air Service. Refused by the US Army, the unit disbanded. Impatient to join the air war, Louis decided to join the British Royal Flying Corps, departing for Toronto on 5 October 1917 for training. Receiving his commission on 21 January 1918, he sailed for England.
Arriving in London on 25 February, he was sent to Flying School, receiving his Graduation Certificate on 6 March. Stationed to No. 90 Squadron, a Home Defense unit of little action, Bennett became impatient and sought transfer to a fighting squadron on the Western Front. His efforts rewarded, Louis received assignment to No. 40 Squadron at Bryas on 21 July 1918, and flew his first offensive patrol on 30 July.
The fireworks really began on 15 August when Bennett began his impressive string of victories. After killing a German balloon on the 17th, Bennett caught "balloon fever". "He (Bennett) immediately set out to down every captive balloon in the area and we were all talking about it in the squadron ... each of us knew he was expendable". With his solo destruction of four balloons on 19 August, Louis Bennett had become an ace in the space of only four days!
His final sortie on the 24th cost the enemy two balloons before anti-aircraft brought his machine down in flames. Apparently the Germans so respected his courage that they burned their hands pulling him out of his burning aircraft. He died in a German field hospital at Wavrin, with burns from waist to neck, a head wound, and a broken leg, calling for his parents.
Historical information for this biography was obtained from: Williams, George H. "Louis Bennett, Jr.; No. 40 Squadron, RFC/RAF," Cross & Cockade Journal 21 (1980): 331-351.
4.75 Linear Feet (Summary: 4 ft. 8 1/2 in. (9 doc cases, 5 in. each); (3 doc cases, 2 1/2 in. each); (1 artifact box, 4 in.))