Mary Boman: Seattle and Beyond

George Boman was only 46 years old when he died in Seattle on December 19, 1890.  He had grown up in Tennessee and after fighting in the Union Army in the Civil War, he never went back home.  He journeyed across the USA and spent the last fifteen years of his life in Seattle, where he became a prosperous businessman with investments in real estate.  He married for the third time in 1885 and seemed happy, but Boman’s life and his marriage were cut short by death.

After George’s death, the widowed Mary Boman, age 35, was able to continue on much as before, because George had left her in comfortable financial circumstances.  George & Mary had a house on Woodland Park Avenue North on the edge of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. They lived together with Mary’s parents, her brother Edward, and her nine-year-old son from a previous marriage.

Early in the year 1891, Mary Boman kept herself busy with completing the plan which George had started, for an even larger new house on the same street.  In the process of buying furniture for the new house, Mary became romantically involved with the salesman at the furniture store, Harry Donald.

This blog post is the fifth and final article in the series about the life of George Boman.  In this article we will see what happened to his widow Mary after his death.

Mary Boman’s card of thanks published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper, December 22, 1890.

The house 

The Boman’s new house completed in 1891, was still extant in 1938, photographed here by the King County Tax Assessors Office.

Mary Boman had to contend with public scrutiny of her as “the wealthy widow,” referred to as such in newspaper reports of the estate left to her by George Boman.  This unwanted publicity may have led to a nighttime burglary at her big new house in 1891.

A few weeks later, police recovered the silverware and candlesticks which had been taken from Mary’s dining room.  The loot was discovered buried at the beach near the cabin of a vagrant who was new to Seattle.  Police theorized that he didn’t yet have contacts for selling his ill-gotten gains so he had buried the treasure to be dealt with later.

It is possible that Mary Boman was also targeted by other kinds of “fortune hunters” such as men who would be interested in gaining a wealthy wife.

The hotel

Washington Hotel circa 1903, showing the tram which would carry guests up from the street. Photo courtesy of MOHAI.

In March 1889 George Boman’s name had appeared on a list of subscribers to a new hotel project, to be called the Denny Hotel because Seattle patriarch Arthur Denny was the main sponsor.  Enough money had been pledged to begin construction of the hotel that year.

The hotel building was completed but never opened, because the project was snarled in disagreements among the sponsors. More than ten years later the hotel finally opened under a different owner, who renamed it the Washington Hotel.

One of the lawsuits brought against the Boman estate after George’s death, was a suit saying that he’d failed to actually give the money that he had pledged for the Denny Hotel.  I didn’t find any decree of outcome for this suit and I suspect that it was not successful.  An unfulfilled pledge toward a project probably did not have legal grounds for collection.

The heirs 

Unlike the hotel pledge, another suit brought against George Boman’s estate was long-running in the courts and brought up serious legal issues with huge financial implications.  On December 1, 1890, Boman had dictated and signed a simple will leaving everything to his wife Mary.  He also included a statement (Item #1) that he was leaving $1 each to his heirs, whose names he did not give.


We don’t know whether George Boman had kept in touch with his two children who he had left behind in Tennessee, but we know that his attorney, Junius Rochester, must have been successful in contacting them about the death of their father.  Albert Boman, age 28, and his sister Arissa Boman Bilbrey, age 27, then launched an aggressive lawsuit challenging the will.  Their contention was that since their names were not mentioned, the will was not valid, and therefore they were legally entitled to their share of the estate.

George Boman’s will, dated December 1, 1890, was witnessed by Junius Rochester and Charles B. Reynolds. Boman died on December 19th.

The Boman v. Boman inheritance lawsuit was a “landmark ruling” in the newly-created Court of Appeals of Washington State.  Judge Hanford ruled that a property owner has the right to dispose of his property as he pleases and is not obligated to leave an inheritance to his children. The judge’s ruling was that George Boman’s intent was clearly to acknowledge his two children by designating just $1 each for them. (United States Court of Appeals 47F 849, Boman v Boman, decided October 27, 1891.)

Albert and his sister then took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals at San Francisco.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 1, 1891, page 5.

The U.S. Court of Appeals at San Francisco reversed the ruling and sent it back to Washington State for a re-hearing. The case was still pending in the summer of 1893 when the contestants agreed to a compromise.  Mary Boman deeded over $60,000 worth of property to Albert & Arissa as a final settlement with the agreement that they would drop their suit.  The value of the property today would be about two million dollars.  In years following the settlement, the Boman name was often listed in property sales transactions as Albert and Arissa derived income from their Seattle holdings, though they never came to Seattle themselves.

The house-warming 

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper of the 1880s and 1890s printed social notices like George Boman’s birthday party of May 1890, often with long lists of guests’ names.  In July 1891 an item was printed about a dinner party hosted by Mary Boman to welcome her friends to her new house.  Harry Donald, the furniture salesman, was one of the guests.

Mary Boman’s dinner party was described in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper on July 5, 1891.

Harry Donald was included in the list of guests’ names at another event at the Boman house in November 1891, for Mary’s 36th birthday.  Mary had been to dinner at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Junius Rochester at Sixth & Columbia Streets (present site of the Seattle Municipal Tower).  Mary returned to her home at Fremont via streetcar.  As Mary approached her house, from a distance she saw so much light that she feared the house was on fire.  As she got closer she saw Chinese lanterns hung along the front walk, more light coming from the upper story of the house and that the house had been decorated for a party.  While she was out at the Rochester home, friends had prepared a surprise party in celebration of her birthday.

It had been nearly a year since the death of Mary’s husband George Boman, and the year had been full of ups and downs.  The “heirs” lawsuit still hung over her head, but in 1891 Mary still had financial security.  She had also fallen in love.

Mary’s birthday party, with Harry Donald present, might have been Mary’s last happy event before a season of uncertainty about what she would do next.  At the time of the party in November 1891, Mary herself might not have yet realized that she was already pregnant by Harry Donald.

The ex-husband 

During the five years of Mary’s marriage to George Boman, 1885 to 1890, there is no record of any disputes with her ex-husband William Seymour.  We don’t know if he had any visitation rights with their son Ralph Waldo Seymour, who had been born in 1881.  In 1891-1892 William Seymour again started keeping track of what Mary Boman, his ex-wife, was doing.  He soon heard the rumors about her relationship with Harry Donald, and Seymour renewed his efforts to get custody of his son Ralph, this time on the basis that Mary was an unfit mother.

Sometime in early 1892, now realizing that she was pregnant, Mary left town, taking her son Ralph with her.  William Seymour hired a detective to watch the comings and goings from the Boman house on the north side of Lake Union.  In August 1892 the detective saw Mary’s mother, Mrs. Selleck, leave the house and go to the downtown Seattle train station.  The detective boarded the same train, which traveled to Portland, Oregon.

Arriving in Portland, the detective offered to share a “hack” (carriage service as a taxi) with Mrs. Selleck and in this way he identified the house where she went.  The detective returned later and could see that the boy, Ralph, was present at the house with Harry Donald, Mary Boman, and a newborn baby.  The detective submitted written testimony for William Seymour’s custody case.

Mr. Holden described following Mary Boman’s mother to Portland, Oregon, where he saw her enter a house where Mary, her son Ralph, her new baby and her lover Harry Donald were living.

The crescendo of court cases

On September 7, 1892, Harry Donald was back in Seattle and appeared in court, asking the judge to grant him a divorce from his wife who had been left behind in Chicago.  Mr. Donald’s assertion was that his wife Harriet had deserted him (not the other way around!) because Harriet had refused to come out to Seattle with him.  The judge was not satisfied with the evidence and continued the case to permit Mr. Donald to submit further testimony.  The news article which appeared the next day, September 8, 1892, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said,

“The plaintiff in this case has become notorious by reason of a remarkable connection with a wealthy widow in this city.  He was a clerk in a store, and in that capacity met Mrs. Mary Boman, widow of George Boman, who was having her residence refurnished…. He took up his abode at her house… they went to Portland where, it is claimed, a child was born to Mrs. Boman.  A detective followed to Portland and caused their arrest… the object being to show that Mrs. Boman was an unfit person to have charge of her eleven-year-old child, the custody of whom Capt. Seymour, the child’s father and Mrs. Boman’s former husband, wanted to secure….  the presumption is that if Mr. Donald obtains a divorce from his Chicago wife he will marry Mrs. Boman.”  (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 8, 1892, page 5)

The Selleck and Boman families move to California

Mary Boman’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. John Selleck, had been born in Connecticut as had her older brother Edward.  Mary was born in Wisconsin as the family migrated westward.  Including their time in Cherry Valley near Duvall, and in Seattle, the Selleck family had spent about twenty years in Washington State.  We don’t know what Mary’s parents thought of her situation with her ex-husband William Seymour, her lover Harry Donald and the new baby boy, but the Sellecks and Mary Boman stuck together and planned to leave Seattle.

Sometime around 1893, the Sellecks, Mary Boman and her two sons all moved to California.  In 1894 John Selleck and his son Edward registered to vote in Sonora, Tuolumne County, a mining area which had first been established during the California Gold Rush of 1849.  Residence in this far West outpost seemed a fitting end to the transcontinental migration journey of the Selleck family.

We don’t know whether Mary was able to keep her new location a secret from William Seymour, or if he finally just gave up pursuing her.  Mary did keep in touch with her attorney, Junius Rochester, as the several court cases played out during the 1890s.

Later residents of the Boman house in Seattle

In the 1890s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper printed notices of comings-and-goings, visitors to town and social events.  In 1895 a notice appeared in the Seattle newspaper that “Capt. & Mrs. Wilson” were occupying the Boman house.   We don’t know if Mary Boman was collecting rent from the Wilsons or if they were friends who were helping her by maintaining the property as house-sitters.  We may wonder whether Mary ever hoped to come back to Seattle or if she had determined that she would never come back.

January 6, 1895

We know that after she left Seattle, Mary did keep in touch with some friends.

Charles B. Reynolds was a friend who had signed George Boman’s will as a witness.  When Reynolds died in 1896, Mary provided a burial place for him in what had been intended to be the Boman plot at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle.

The stone obelisk marking the gravesite, had four sides and the custom was that these would be marked with names of family members buried there.  Now the only names on the obelisk are those of George Boman and the friend of the Boman family, Charles B. Reynolds.

Emily Inez Denny 1853-1918

The census of the year 1900 in Seattle showed that the David Denny family were living in the Boman house.  The occupants were David, age 68, and his wife Louisa Boren Denny age 72; unmarried daughter Emily Inez Denny, age 46; two married sons: Thomas Denny, age 32, his wife Nellie and three children; and Victor Denny, age 30, his wife Lillie and four children.

David Denny, younger brother of Arthur, was one of the pioneers of 1851 who founded the City of Seattle.  He lost everything in the economic crash called the Panic of 1893.  After three years of litigation, the bank repossessed the home of the David Denny family which was located at today’s Seattle Center.

It appears that Mary Boman wanted to help the Dennys by arranging that the Dennys would stay at her house and represent her to sell the remaining house lots on the Boman blocks.  Newspaper advertisements in the year 1900 listed Emily Inez Denny as contact for real estate sales at “southwest corner Boman and Kilbourne Avenues” (36th & Woodland Park Ave).

Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, November 12, 1900, page 11.

Mary Boman’s final years in California

On the census of 1900 in Sonora, Tuolumne County, California, 44-year-old Mary Donald was listed as head of her household.  Mary’s father, John Selleck, had died the year before.  As of 1900, the members of Mary’s household were her mother M.A. Selleck, age 75; her brother Edward Selleck age 52; and her two sons, listed as Ralph Donald, age 19, and Harry Donald Jr., age 8.

Harry C. Donald, Sr., the former furniture salesman, was in California by or before 1898 when he registered to vote in Kern County, California, located in the Mojave Desert, about 200 miles from the Sellecks & Mary Boman Donald in Sonora, southeast of Sacramento, CA.  On the census of 1900 Harry Donald was listed as age 37 and a boarder in a household in Kern, where everyone was working in the mining industry.  He listed himself as having been married for eight years, though we know that he was not officially married to Mary Boman as of 1892.  We don’t know whether they ever were legally married, although Mary had begun listing herself as Mary Donald and gave both of her sons that last name, as well.

Mary’s house in San Diego

By 1910 all of the Selleck family members were deceased.  Mary and her two sons had moved to a house at 3544 Pershing Avenue in San Diego, California.    Her younger son Harry Donald, Jr., died of a ruptured appendix at age 29 in 1921. He had been a sales manager at a lumber company and was very active in clubs and organizations, such as Elks and the San Diego Rowing Club.

Mary’s older son, whose name was listed as Ralph Selleck Donald, worked as a foreman in a commercial laundry in San Diego.  Ralph died in June 1939 at age 58; Mary died in December 1939 at age 84, the last in her family.

All the Selleck & Donald family members are buried at the Sonora City Cemetery.  Original records for the cemetery have been lost, and only through the work of volunteers have some of the grave markers been inventoried, and notes from other genealogical records listed.

The Sonora burial records note that Harry Donald Sr. died by suicide at age 40 in Reno, Nevada, on November 17, 1903.  The newspaper death notice for Harry Donald Jr., in San Diego in 1921, said that he would be buried beside his father at the Sonora City Cemetery.

Some of the Sonora City Cemetery grave markers are no longer visible but some have been photographed and listed on the website Find A Grave.

It seems that the hiddenness of their gravesites represents the passage of time which has obscured details of the lives of the Boman, Selleck and Donald family members who we have traced in this series of articles.  They made the classic western migration like many others after the Civil War, but like waves which have washed away writing in the sand, we have only a few markers left to trace them.  Their story is that of the extreme ups and downs of early years in Seattle history.


In the years 1937-1940 the Property Tax Assessors Office endeavored to photograph every building in King County, to more accurately assess property taxes. (See:  HistoryLink Essay #3692)

Property Record Cards were created like the one here, showing the Boman house as it looked in 1938.  The records show that the Boman house had been turned into a nursing home.   These Property Record Cards are kept at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, WA.  The PSRA also has original Frontier Justice Files which are the court cases prior to statehood in 1889.







About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Civil War, Seattle History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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