Joined: Dec 2004
Jan 25, 2005 19:28 modified on Jan 25, 2005 19:43
John J. Donovan
In 1846, at age thirteen, John J. Donovan came to Lowell, Massachusetts from Yonkers, New York. His widowed mother, who was born in Ireland, worked hard in Lowell to support him while he attended public schools. As a young boy he saw many poor and hungry Irish people coming to Lowell, escaping the horrific famine in their homeland. He went to Lowell High School, which was somewhat unusual but not impossible for an Irish lad, and after graduation, worked in a grocery store on Central Street. The store's owner, David Gove, was an old Yankee from New Hampshire. In the late 1860s, Gove took Donovan in as a partner. A few years later he owned the entire business. In 1873, he built a new grocery store on Central Street. This 3 1/2 story brick building was one of the fanciest stores in the neighborhood. Eventually, he invested in other businesses, including a paper mill in nearby Dracut.
Donovan became active in city politics in the early 1880s, serving as a board member for Lowell's overseers of the poor. In 1882 he ran for mayor on the Democratic ticket. He won a close election, becoming Lowell's first Irish-American mayor. He was re-elected by an even larger vote the following year. With his wife, Mary E. Seede, he settled in a home on Branch Street. They had a son and three daughters. Two of their girls graduated from Smith College.
In the 1890s he devoted time to new business ventures, as president of the Washington Bank and manager of the Coburn Bobbin & Shuttle Company. Some said of him, "Look what has become of this once-poor Irish boy from Lowell."
Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell by George Francis O'Dwyer, 1920.