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A Deep Dive Into a Detroit Home’s History

Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Ward F. Seeley’s 1927 home in University District Detroit

A photo of downtown Detroit in the late 1920s from Windsor (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Why Do We Care?

Detroit has some of the best, most important, and oldest history that any American city has to offer. As someone who moved to Detroit from Cincinnati, Ohio where we have a rich, vibrant, German heritage that is always fun to explore, Detroit has a much deeper and more meaningful culture, connection, and history to America as a whole. Between the Automotive Industry, Racial Dynamics, Military and weapons building, Prohibition, Great Fires, Corporate Scandals, Government Corruption, the Unionization of the Middle Class, the Great Depression, Native Americans, our Canadian Border, Bankruptcy, and more, there’s a lot to be learned about the U.S.’s past, present, and future from Detroit.

Palmer Park, Detroit near our home in the early 1920s
Showing our contractor Cal the various old books we found in the home. Some were over 125 years old! Many had names of one of the home’s owners written inside.

When Brandon and I purchased our home, we started to quickly see some remnants of its history. Leftover signs of a live-in maid were seen first, like maid calling bells and buzzers on the dining room floor and doorways, private staircases for maid’s access to the kitchen, and dutch doors on the basement pantry. Then we started to see names written in old books we found in the attic and written on our old breaker panel. We decided to see what we could find, and we ended up discovering a much more interesting history in our home than we realized. I hope that our efforts show just how passionate University District as a historic Detroit neighborhood is about its past in cherishing and preserving its history.

Our home’s first family, the Seeleys and their servant, Hilda Oikarinen of Finland, found in the 1930 Census
1940 Census listing Ward’s mother, Hallie, and a new servant, Florence Young of England in the home
A search on Seeley’s mother, Hallie, turns up Ward’s father, Arthur, a Michigan surgeon in the early 1900s

Starting the Search

Our 1927 home has only 2 censuses to look through, the 1930 and 1940 US Census is all that is currently available in the public domain. In both records, Ward F. Seeley and his wife, Marion, are listed. Their children, John (14 years old) and Martha (11 years old) are listed in 1930, but not 1940. We later found out, this is because in the next 10 years, both John and Martha would find marriage and move out of the home during the 1930s. Ward’s mother, Hallie (78 years old) is listed in the 1940 census, living with her son presumably until her later death.

Ward F. Seeley during WWI

Dr. Ward F. Seeley (1888–1960)

The both the 1930 and 1940 Census confirmed that Ward was a physician, specifically a gynecologist, and after some digging we learned that he attended Albion College, and graduated in 1909 and received his M.D. in 1911 at the University of Michigan. He served his residency at University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., and later in 1911 joined the faculty of the University of Michigan. At the time of his death, Dr. Seeley was Senior Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Harper Hospital in Detroit, and a consulting obstetrician and gynecologist at various other Detroit hospitals.

Dr. Ward F. Seeley (Right) with Dr. Donald Morrill (Wayne State University Archives) & An amazing article interviewing Dr. Ward Seeley in a 1931 issue of the Detroit Free Press (center)

Besides his medical practice, Seeley devoted many years to teaching. In 1916 he became a faculty member of the Detroit College of Medicine and Surgery, later part of Wayne State University. He advanced to Professor and was made Chairman of the department in 1937.

During World War I, he served as a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was stationed at Base Hospital №33 in France. A member of the board of governors of the American College of Surgeons, Seeley also was a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a member of the American Medical Association, the American and Central associations of obstetricians and gynecologists, and Wayne County and Michigan State medical societies. He was a member of the Masonic order, and the Plum Hollow Golf and Detroit Athletic clubs of Detroit as well.

Marion D. Seeley (1892–1977)

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a photo of Mrs. Seeley, but I did find a lot of information regarding her social activities in Detroit. She served as President of the New Colony Club, a women-only social club that was very active politically in the 1920s and 30s. She was also a member of the Women’s City Club of Detroit. [edit 6/13/2017]: We were sent several images of Marion from her grandchildren. I will be adding them after some photo editing to retouch the old photos.

Marion D Seeley on a solo vacation to Egypt

Detroit women’s social clubs were very important political organizations compared to other regions of the U.S. during the boom of the automotive industry, WWI and WWII. Beyond women’s issues such as Suffrage, many women’s social clubs were active on issues such as the first child labor laws, war efforts like food preservation and canning, and working-class women’s rights in factories.

Politically active women of Detroit focused their efforts on family rights, successfully campaigning for the first public parks in Detroit in a time where children playing on the street were being killed daily by the first automobiles. I discovered Marion in a book on the subject, The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s. She is credited in the book along with many of Detroit’s other women’s social club presidents for their political activities during that time.

The Burton Historical Collection

The Burton Historical Collection

It was suggested to me to visit the Burton Historical Collection in the Detroit Public Library to see if I could find more information in their archives. Brandon and I stopped by to see what we could find and the staff was incredibly helpful in showing us how to use the type-written Dewey Decimal Catalog Card System. We found several New Colony Club Yearbooks that listed Mrs. Seeley with records of some of the events she hosted in our home.

The Burton Historical Collection had many years of New Colony Club Yearbooks in their Archives

Martha Ann Seeley (Mrs. Ray Colcord Jr.)

I haven’t found much on Martha Ann Seeley, but what I have found is pretty interesting. She was born in 1919, and after graduating from high school, Martha went to school in New York City at the American Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting. She met her husband, Ray Colcord Jr. there, and they both worked as actors and lived in New York.

Wedding announcements found in the Detroit Free Press from 1938
Martha’s husband was one of those who was lost in the Zamzam sunken steamliner in 1941

Shortly after their marriage, Ray became a volunteer ambulance driver for the French Military during WWII and hopped on an Egyptian steamship called the Zamzam. The Zamzam was filled with mostly civilians and missionaries, but was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans off the coast of Africa. While the Americans on board were sent back to the U.S. since America had yet to become involved in the war, Mr. Colcord, as a volunteer for the French Military, was captured and sent to a German prison camp in occupied France. He later escaped the camp and eventually returned back to the U.S.

At some point he and Martha must have either divorced, or Martha passed away, because he later went on to remarry two more times before his death in 1971. We have not been able to find any information about Martha Ann beyond the 1941 Zamzam disaster.

*(April 25, 2017)* Edit:
Visiting Grand Lawn Cemetery

Today, Brandon took a drive to Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit. He’d done some more research and discovered that Ward’s wife, Marion was buried there. A caretaker to the cemetery helped him locate the grave site and he was able to find more than just Marion. Ward, Marion, and Ward’s parents, Arthur and Hallie were all there together. We still don’t have anymore information on either of their children, but it’s nice to have found them so close to their home.

“Ward F. Seeley 1888–1960” and “Marion D. Seeley 1892–1977" of University District Detroit, Michigan
(Left) Locating the grave site (Right) Arthur and Hallie Seeley (our homeowner’s parents)


We recently found and got to meet the grandchildren of our home’s original owners! I wrote about it here!

If you have any more information or help you can offer in finding photos or items on the residents or history of our home itself, please send me a message and I’d love to continue to add to this collection of information!

Next Episode Here