summary of exhibit at Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Bennett gained fame as an innovative exhibition designer, employing the newest display and lighting techniques for decorative art objects. She also was a frequent lecturer all over the country, speaking on subjects as wide ranging as "Industrial Art in the U.S.," "Historical Silver," and "The Ancient Art of Weaving." During WWI she curated an exhibition on French design and was decorated by the French government for her efforts in 1919. Similarly, in 1927 she arranged an outstanding exhibition of Swedish decorative arts, and in 1928 King Gustav V of Sweden presented her with the Golden Wasa Medal, one of the highest distinctions given to a Non-Swedish national.
During her 39-year career at the Art Institute of Chicago Bennett sought to add to the museum's decorative arts collections and to increase the exhibition space for them. The new Allerton Wing, exclusively built for the Decorative Arts Department, was nearing completion at the time of her death in 1939.
Raised in wealthy surroundings, she moved comfortably in Chicago's highest financial and social circles. Kate Buckingham, Martin Ryerson, and Robert Allerton sought her advice and expertise in developing and expanding their own personal collections. Gradually most of these private collections were donated to the Art Institute.
Bessie Bennett was the last stereotypical connoisseur-curator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and at the same time, an inspiring example to other women who were gradually moving into positions of responsibility in America's cultural institutions.