New Hampshire and Portsmouth’s First Woman Mayor: Mary Ellen (Carey) Dondero (1894-1960)

Residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire are familiar with the Dondero name. A beloved former mayor, Eileen Dondero Foley, just passed away in February of this year (2016). Less known these days, but historically important, was Eileen’s mother, Mary Ellen (Carey) Dondero. She was a daughter, mother, sister, wife, business woman, politician, civic leader and pacesetter. She is the focus of this story.

She was born Mary Ellen Carey on March 16, 1894 in Portsmouth NH, the daughter of Denis and Nora (Leary) Carey, both of whom were Irish immigrants who lived in Portsmouth. Mary grew up in, and attended schools there, graduating from high school.  She was just 19 years old when she married in 1913 to Charles A. Dondero, a young man of Italian origin, and also a native of Portsmouth. They had five children, four daughters living into adulthood. She also ran two convalescent nursing homes in Portsmouth and Stratham NH.

Mary (Carey) Dondero being sworn in in 1946 from a local newspaper.

Mayor Mary C. Dondero swearing in her daughter, Eileen as City Clerk in 1946 from a local newspaper.

According to her obituary, she was “already the mother of two children,” when we have selected as the first Miss Portsmouth in 1918. That was the same year as the influenza pandemic, so one would have to wonder if anyone attended her selection event. During World War 1 she performed Red Cross work and also participated in promoting the Liberty Loan drives, and other club work.

Her first involvement in politics was when she was elected in 1934 to serve in New Hampshire’s General Court (state legislature), serving eleven terms. In 1940 she was the first woman elected to serve on Portsmouth NH’s City Council. From this point on she became greatly active in Portsmouth’s and New Hampshire’s Democratic political life. She was elected Portsmouth NH’s first Mayor for two terms, a difficult war-time position in 1945-46-47. She was well known for her presence at the train station to see every Portsmouth military youth off, for her attention to bereaved families, and for her efforts with the USO. In 1948 she ran for State Senate, “an effort which she lost by one vote after a recount.” In 1957 the Portsmouth Exchange Club honored her with that organization’s “Golden Deeds” award.

Additional political involvements include being a delegate to the NH Constitutional Convention, postmaster of Portsmouth, chairman of the School Board, Democratic State Chairman, Clerk of Democrat County Group, delegate Democratic National Convention.

Club Work: She was a member of the Women’s City Club, American Legion Auxiliary, past president of the Knights of Columbus auxiliary, charter member and past president of the Emblem Club, president of the Portsmouth Shelter for Small Animals, member of the Service Mothers Club, honorary member of two chapters of Beta Sigma Phi and of the Gold Star Mothers. She also was a member of the Hospital Guild, the American Red Cross, the YMCA, the Order of Women Legislators, the Altar Society and the Adult CYO Council. She was annual chairman of the Tag Dag for Crippled Children and Handicapped Persons.

In April of 1960, a month after her death, William F. Keefe, City Councilman at first proposed that “Mayor Robert A. Shaines…appoint a committee to study the establishment of a memorial enterprise to Mrs. Mary C. Dondero… Portsmouth’s greatest woman legislator and governmental figure.” This recommendation came to fruition in 1961 when a school was named in her honor.

April 6, 1961 – Ceremonies of the new Mary C. Dondero Memorial School at Elwyn Park [Portsmouth Herald] At the dedication ceremony, speaker Gov. Wesley Powell said, “She was a friend of mine, a friend of our home town and the State of New Hampshire.” He praised her “devotion to her neighbors, the community and the state,” and especially to men who served in the armed forces. The governor said Mrs. Dondero as a state representative “fought hard for the party of her persuasion” but once the campaigns were over put the interests of the state first, with the interests of her party and herself secondary. [Portsmouth Herald, 8 April 1961]

With such an incredible example and mentor, is it any wonder that her daughter, Eileen (Dondero) Foley also entered the political arena, and served the public for so many years?  Mary (Carey) Dondero is a role model for all of us.


Dennis & Margaret (Foley) Carey of Ireland
Children of Dennis & Margaret (Foley) Carey:
1. Catherine Carey, b. abt 1853, d. 19 March 1920 in Northampton MA; She m. Jeremiah Lucey
2. Michael D. Carey, b. Sept 1861 Ireland, m. 21 April 1884 in Portsmouth NH to Catherine Matthews, dau of Thomas Matthews. She was b. abt 1862 in Ireland. He was a brewer. Arrived in the US circa 1880. They had a daughter, Mary E. Carey, b. abt 1887, d. 9 Aug 1905 in Portsmouth NH, aged 18 years, of dysentery.
3. +Dennis M. Carey, b 12 Dec 1864 Ireland, d. 31 July 1894 Portsmouth NH
4. Nicholas Carey, b. abt 1868, d. 30 July 1890, aged 22, in Portsmouth NH, single. [May 2, 1889 NH Patriot & State Gazette, Portsmouth NH “Nicholas Carey, an employee at the brewery, had oe of his legs broken, repeatedly, by a barrel of malt falling from a wheelbarrow upo him. Dr. Whittier was at once summoned to set the broken bone.”

Dennis M. Carey, son of Dennis & Margaret (Foley) Carey, b. 12 December 1864 in  Ireland, d 31 July 1894 in Portsmouth NH, aged 28, killed by a fall from the steamer, “Charles H. Meyers”; He m. 16 June 1891 in Portsmouth NH to Nora Leary, daughter of Jeremiah & Ellen (Luce) Leary. She b. abt May 1870 in Ireland and died 8 May 1924. She married 2nd) John Wade, son of John & Nora (Leary) Wade. He was b. May 1873 in Newfoundland Canada and d. 12 April 1945 in Portsmouth NH. They are all buried in Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth NH.
1900 US Census > NH > Rockingham > Portsmouth > 5 Green Street
Wade, John Head W M May 1873 23 married yrs Canada-East C-E C-E; immigrated 1882, 7 yrs in US, alient, Farm Laborer
Wade, Nora L. wife W F May 1870 30 married 4 yrs 4 ch 4 living Ire Ire Ire Imm 1889 10 yrs in US
Carey, Dennis stepson W M Oct 1892 7 single NH Ire Ire
Carey, Mary E. Step dau W F March 1894 6 single NH Ire Ire
Wade, Jane daughter W F Nov 1896 3 single NH Can-Ire Ire
Wade, John E., son W M Aug 1899 1 single NH Can-Ire Ire
Portsmouth Herald, May 13, 1924 // OBSEQUIES: Mrs. Nora Wade
The funeral of Mrs. Nora Wade took place Monday morning at 8:30 o’clock at the Church of the Immaculate Conception with requiem high mass; Rev. Father Sullivan officiating. The services at the grave were in charge of Father Hackett. Acting as pall bearers were three sons of the deceased, Dennis Carey, Herman Wade, John Wade, and also Charles A. Dondero, Edward Sadler and Peter Woods.  [a list of floral tributes followed but not included here].
Portsmouth Herald, April 13 1945
JOHN MINARD WADE of Portsmouth, stepfather of Mayor Mary C. Dondero, died last evening at his late home, 7 Melcher street. He was born at Naples Valley Newfoundland, but had resided in Portsmouth for 60 years.
Mr. Wade is survived by his two daughters, Mrs. Ann Sadler and Mrs. Robert Murphy, and Mayor Dondero all of Portsmouth; three sons, John E. Wade of Newbury, Mass; Hermand L. Wade and Ernest J. Wade, both of Portsmouth, and one step-son, Dennis J. Carey of Tulsa, Oklahoma, several grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Dennis Joseph Carey, in WW1 uniform

Dennis Joseph Carey, in WW1 uniform

Children of Dennis & Nora (Leary) Carey:
1. Dennis Joseph Carey, b. 8 Oct 1892 Portsmouth NH, christening 31 July 1894; attended local schools, graduating from high school in 1911. In 1916 a shoeworker, later employed as a file clerk at the navy yard. Enlisted in WW1, sent to camp at Syracuse NY and transferred to Astorla, LI, NY. At that time had been living with his mother on Court Street. Resided Oklahoma.
2. +Mary Ellen Carey, b. 16 March 1894 Portsmouth, Rockingham Co. NH
Children of John & Nora (Leary) Wade:
3. Nora June “Jane” Wade, b. November 1896 Portsmouth NH
4. John E. Wade, b. 15 August 1899 Portsmouth NH
5. Ann Agnes Wade, b. 30 Aug 1901 Portsmouth NH; She m. Edward Paul Sadler, son of Anton & Ida (Baush) Sadler
6. Marguerite E. Wade, b. 17 August 1903 Portsmouth NH; She m. 17 Aug 1925 in Portsmouth NH to Robert J. Murphy, son of Robert & Mary A. (Maguire) Murphy
7. Herman L. Wade, b. 18 July 1905 Portsmouth NH; m1st) 18 July 1928 in Portsmouth NH to Nora M. Killilea, daughter of John & Delia (Horrigan) Killilea; He m2d) 15 Sep 1931 in Portsmouth NH to Helena A. Hoyt, dau of William & Margaret (Elwood) Hoyt.
8. Ernest Joseph Wade, b abt 1908 Portsmouth NH; m. 9 Jan 1942 in Portsmouth NH to Eleanor Josephine Hannah, dau of George & Helen Edwina (Locke) Hannan

Mary Ellen Carey [this story is about her, read above], daughter of Dennis & Nora (Leary) Carey, b March 16, 1894 in Portsmouth NH, d 24 March 1960. She married 4 July 1914 to Charles Anthony Dondero, son of Joseph & Anna (Sbarboro) Dondero. He b 22 April 1883 in Portsmouth NH [per WW Draft Card] and died 14 February 1944. He studied at Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Portsmouth NH.
Portsmouth Herald, 26 June 1924: Obituary
Highly Respected Citizen Was One of Portsmouth’s Oldest Business Men.
Joseph Dondero passed away last night at his home, 79 Wibird street, after a lingering illness, in his seventy-either year. Mr. Dondero was one of Portsmouth’s oldest business men and in his long business experience in this city had own the respect of the entire community for his integrity and honorable business methods. Mr. Dondero, who was born in Genoa, Italy, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Dondero, had lived in Portsmouth for the past 43 years. He is survived by one daughter, Miss Magdalene Dondero, two sons, Augustine Dondero and Charles A. Dondero, four grandchildren, all of this city, and one sister who resides in Italy. Mr. and Mrs. Dondero celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on Monday, Feb. 14, 1921. At this time their hosts of friends in the city joined in celebrating the couple, wishing them as great happiness in the future as they had realized in the past. When Mr. Dondero first came to Portsmouth he started in business in a small way, carrying on a fruit and peanut stand for some years and was a time located near the corner of Congress and Chestnut Street. His business prospered and later he opened the store at 109 Congress street, which he has occupied as a fruit and confectionery store for the past 38 years and up to the time of his death carried on a thriving business there. At the present time there is but one storekeeper on the entire street who was there when Mr. Dondero started business, this being Fred B. Coleman, who still conducts the drug store at the corner of Vaughan and Congress streets. In his business Mr. Dondero had been assisted for many years by his son, Augustine Dondero. The younger son, Charles Dondero, is employed by the Internal Revenue office as deputy collector. A daughter, Miss Magdalene Dondero, a well known vocalist, also assists in the store. An older daughter, Mrs. Mary Connors, died four years ago. Mr. Dondero was one of Portsmouth’s oldest business men and most respected citizens and will be greatly missed by the people who were in the habit of seeing him busy about his store daily and coming into contact with his congenial personality and jovial smile.
1920 US Census > NH > Rockingham > Portsmouth > Congress Street
Charles A. Dondero 35 New Hampshire Italy Italy Deputy Collector, Internal Revenue
Mary E. Dondero 25
Anna G. Dondero 5
Mary J. Dondero 3-11/12
Helen A. Dondero 1-11/12
1930 US Census > NH > Rockingham > Portsmouth
Charles A. Dondero 45 Salesman Fruit Store
Mary E. Dondero 34
Anna G. Dondero 15
Mary J. Dondero 14
Helen E. Dondero 12
Carlotta C. Dondero 5-6/12
OXON HILL, Md. – Carlotta (Charlotte) D. (Dondero) Bailey, 75, of Oxon Hill and formerly of Portsmouth, died Monday, Jan. 3, 2000. Born Nov. 2, 1924, in Portsmouth, she was the daughter of Charles Anthony Dondero and Mary Ellen Carey.
She served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War. She retired from the federal government, where she worked as a records maintenance officer. She was the wife of Ernest M. Bailey. In addition to her husband, survivors include four children, Mary Ellen Bailey, John C. Bailey, Robert A. Bailey and Marcy A. Bailey; two sisters, Eileen Foley of Portsmouth, and Jacqueline Michener; and six grandchildren. She was predeceased by a daughter, Eileen Marie Bailey.
Children of Charles A. and Mary E. (Carey) Dondero:
1. Anna Geraldine Dondero, b 1914 Portsmouth NH, died 15 March 1997 in Falmouth, MA; m. 11 June 1938 in Portsmouth to Ralph Lawrence Sylvia, son of Antone & Mary (Costa) Sylvia; resided Falmouth, MA;  children: Lawrence, and Susan (Sally) NH

Eileen Dondero as new City Clerk.

Eileen Dondero as new Portsmouth City Clerk.

2. Mary Jacqueline Dondero, b. 1916 Portsmouth NH; m. 12 May 1937 in Maine to Allan E. Mitchener/Michener; resided Sacramento, California. Children: Brace, Richard B.
3. Eileen G. “Helen A.” Dondero, b February 1918, died 22 February 2016; graduate of Syracuse University. She worked as an assistant in the Portsmouth NH office of the poor, and then enlisted as a WAC during WW2. [1945 Cpl. at Grenier Field, Manchester]. She married John Foley, a WW2 Veteran and shipyard worker. Children: Mary Carey Foley and Barry Foley. At age 5 she was chosen to cut the ribbon for the original Memorial Bridge on 17 August 1923. When a replacement bridge was opened, she again cut the ribbon. While her mother was Mayor of Portsmouth, at the same time she served as city clerk. She served eight terms as city mayor, and seven times in the state Senate.
3. Male child, premature, b. and d. 24 June 1921 Portsmouth NH
4. Carlotta Constance Dondero, b. 2 Nov 1924 Portsmouth NH, d. 3 January 2000 Washington DC; m. Ernest Manford Bailey; four children.


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