Katherine Pearl Seeley was born on October 4 in Albany New York. Her birth year is in question. The 1880 census lists her as “Kitty”, born in 1871 and the Illinois Death Certificate states her year of birth as 1867. In the family history book, Our Archipelago, her son William “Bill” Holman listed it as 1869, with her birthplace incorrectly listed as New Canaan, CT. (Note: all information written “within quotes” is taken directly from Bill’s book.)
Katherine was my husband’s paternal grandmother. She was the second daughter of William Seeley and Catherine Fitz-Allen. The Seeleys were a long-standing family in Connecticut. Reportedly, Katherine was “ashamed that five generations of her family had been born in the same family home.”
At some point before 1880, the Seeleys moved to the Albany, NY area, where her father worked as a cattle trader.
Despite her strong opinion that decorum was “…a primary attribute of a lady or gentleman”, Katherine did partake in some activity that ran contrary to her views. One event involved her tying bed sheets together to lower herself out the dorm window after hours.
While in Albany, Katherine’s father developed a friendly competition with a gentleman by the name of Gus Swift. Gus develop the idea of slaughtering cattle in Chicago and shipping the meat east. He invited William Seeley to join him in Chicago as a partner. William declined the invitation but did lend him money for the new venture. When Swift opened the Chicago operation, he hired William as manager and the family moved to the mid-west.
Her father’s success at Swift & Co. affected Katherine to the point where anything associated with the company “...was sterling silver” as was anyone who worked for Swift & Co. On the other hand, anything labeled Armour & Company was not to be trusted, including the Armour family itself. Katherine also felt that “…meat was essential to the daily diet and that her boys were to learn to carve meat properly before they finished high school.” A legacy that continues to this day is the Holman men’s ability to carve. This love of meat has certainly been passed down to my husband, Scott. To him, it is not a proper dinner unless there is a serving of meat included. I, on the other hand could live on pasta!
|418 Oakdale Ave. (Google Maps image)|
On June 22, 1900 Katherine married John Winchester Holman. She and her husband, “Jack” lived in their spacious home at 418 Oakdale Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. (Jack is profiled in an earlier blog post: John "Jack" Winchester Holman
Over the next ten years the couple had three children: Kathryn Winchester (April 17, 1902), John Winchester, Jr. (December 6, 1904) and William Winchester (June 12, 1910).
Bill wrote that “…Mother and Dad were very close and had a truly great marriage.”
Bill shared many details about his mother in the family history book. She certainly had very strong opinions and definite preferences, “…the morning Tribune and afternoon Daily News were the only proper papers. In her view the Herald-Examiner and the Evening American…were yellow scandal sheets.” Katherine was a “…life-long Republican, straight-ticket voter…regarded Taft far greater than such unworthies as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.” Bill also described his mother as “…a woman of strong character and determination.”
With the financial backing of her mother, Katherine’s husband, John built a large three-story apartment building at 540-542 Roscoe Street. More about this project can be found in Our Archipelago.
In 1908, Katherine’s husband, John suffered a heart attack, after which his doctor reportedly said there was nothing more medicine could do for him. Katherine turned to prayer and Christian Science. John died in 1918, 10 days after the death of her mother. She became a widow with three children aged 14, 11 and 5.
Life following the death of her husband on whom she had so depended was, of course, different. Katherine’s sister, Ida came to live them and was a great support. Katherine devoted her life to raising her three children. As a devout Christian Scientist, coffee, aspirin, and liquor were to be shunned. On Sundays, Katherine and the children attended services.
Describing his now single mother, Bill wrote, “Mother had strong ideas about deportment, manners, decorum, religion, and life objectives, and insisted that we toe the line. And yet, that is only part of the story. Above all else, gentleness and love were the highest virtues. She lived accordingly and expected us to also.”
As she became older, Katherine became hard of hearing. She had by then adjusted her Christian Science views to allow medical care when necessary and agreed to use a hearing aid. In her later years, she had surgery for a malignancy.
Katherine suffered a stroke shortly before the Hiroshima bombings in August 1945 and died on April 13, 1946 at the age of 78. At the time of her death, she was living in Highland Park, Illinois. She was buried on April 15, 1946 in Rosehill Cemetery.
More on the Seeley genealogy can be found in the Newberry Library in Chicago.