Willie Mae Benge Devault

Honored by:Linda Wild
Brick location:G:24  map

Willie Mae Benge DeVault was born December 6, 1890 to Jessie and Bessie Bell Benge on a farm near Bloomfield, Davis County. She lived 83 years dying March 3, 1974 at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Burial is in I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Bloomfield.

She was named Willie in honor of her two grandfathers, William Benge and William Bell, but went by Mae for most of her life. She had four brothers and three sisters:  Bryan, Horace,  Herbert,  Frank Dewitt (Dick), Beatrice Belle,  Bessie Faye and Miriam Letitia. As the oldest child she helped raise her youngest brother and sisters. They looked up to her as they would a mother.

The Benge and Bell's were Scotch-English in heritage and family legend says that they are descendants of (the poet) Robert Burn's sister. The family considered Robert Burns to be a good-for-nothing and drunkard and did not claim descent from him.

Mae attended school through the 8th grade then went on to Iowa Southern Normal School in Bloomfield to become a school teacher. She taught for one year in a one room country school, then married Raleigh (Rollie) Hiram Miller DeVault, who was also a school teacher. Raleigh was 14 years older than Mae. They began their married life as farmers in the S.E. Bloomfield area and had three children: Donald Rollie (1916) Dorothy Mae (1918) and Mary Lucille (1920).

In 1922 they moved to town.  Mae cared for her children and her invalid mother-in-law. During the Depression she and her husband lost their farm and garage business. Her husband sold Maxwells and Saxon cars. For 20 years prior to 1952 they had only kerosene lamps and a coal-wood burning stove to cook on. It would not be until the 1960s that Mae would have the conveniences of running water an indoor toilet, gas stove and thermostat controlled heat. Raleigh worked for the WPA, sold cars, soaps--Watkin Stuart Togstad and Dr. Sayman's products and eventually ran a greenhouse which was still in operation at his death in 1959.

Mae was a housewife responsible for all of the household chores and child raising. She kept a large garden for both the family and to sell produce from.  She milked the family's cows. She canned vegetables, raised chicken and eggs for money and food. She helped her husband in the greenhouse. In the days when men and women's work was separate if there was a dirty job such as cleaning out the chicken house she was expected to do it. She did as she was told which was much the way things were then. Her husband did not manage money well and spent the family income on books rather than clothes for the children. Mae became expert in making over hand-me-down clothes from relatives for her children. Although both encouraged their children to complete high school, Raleigh did not think it was necessary to continue beyond that. When their oldest daughter went off to Iowa City for nursing college Mae snuck an occasional $5 bill into her letters to Dorothy despite being told by Raleigh that they were not to give any support to help their daughter through school. In later life Mae lived in Ottumwa with her daughter Lucille and eventually became a resident at the Keystone Care Center in Keystone IA. She was a member of the Bloomfield Methodist Church and had been a member of the Rebeccah Lodge in earlier years.

In the time period Mae was growing up and going to school in southern Iowa, country pupils received as much education beyond 8th grade as the teacher was able to give them. They attended school past age 14 as long as they wished or were able. Boys may have attended only so much of the year in order to help do farm work during planting and harvesting seasons. In the Bloomfield area they had the Southern Iowa Normal School. Mae only attended it for one year and then taught school one year. She had what was called a Third Grade Certificate.

She quit teaching to help with family members. Her Grandfather Benge had died and she spent a good deal of time with her Grandmother Benge and also helped her own mother. She would often take her little sisters with her to visit Grandmother Benge. From the time that she was fourteen when her brother Frank Dewitt was born she had to care for her mother who was bedfast for a period and her infant brother. Her last brother was stillborn around the time that Mae turned 20 years of age. Her youngest sister was born when she was 19.

She is a direct descendant through the Bell's of an officer who served in the Revolutionary War (Robert Bell born 1731 at Caswell N.C). The Bell family has been traced back to Colerain County Londary Kirk Connell on the River Neth about 1677 (Matthew Bell). I remember visiting my grandmother Mae DeVault at her home in Bloomfield during the late 1950s and 1960s. The house was very old and gray but set back from the street in a large yard with tall trees. I think the address was 602 North Washington. I remember stumbling out to the outhouse at night in the  summer and using commodes at night in the winter, and if you wanted a drink of water you went  to the well and used the hand pump to draw water into an old tin cup which hung there (and which was used by everyone). We ate at the old kitchen table food cooked on a wood/coal stove. Grandma made egg noodles from scratch and cut them into strips and hung them on strings to dry before cooking. As she grew older she kept everything handy in the kitchen and so it always appeared that her house was crowded and nothing was ever put away. She was a gentle person, very tolerant of her many noisy and loud grandchildren who seemed always to be scrapping over something.

Submitted 12/21/1994