Mary R. Smith
photo from the Oakland History Room
Mary Rebecca Thompson (1846-1905), known as Mollie, was the first wife of F.M. “Borax” Smith. She was a young divorcée (Wright) from Brooklyn, NY when she met Smith at a ball at the Tubbs Hotel. They married (in her hometown) in 1875, and for their first few years lived in Nevada near his borax operation before settling in Oakland in 1881.

Mary became inspired by Benjamin Farjeon's Blade O' Grass about orphans in London, and she and Frank took in and adopted a number of homeless girls. In 1897, Mary took in Evelyn Ellis, whose parents lived nearby, as a ward. In 1901 the Smiths started an orphanage, the Home for Friendless Girls. In May of 1901, Mary was elected a life member of the Children’s Protective Association.

In July 1905, Mary and Frank celebrated 30 years of marriage. That year, on December 31, she died of a stroke at age 59.

Legacy

Mary Smith may be remembered for her grand charity fundraising parties at Arbor Villa, her orphanage system, and the Home Club. But less obvious, though probably more important, was the influence this exceptional woman wielded on her husband’s general direction: while he may have already felt an urge to “give back to the community”, she helped strengthen and reinforce his determination to do so, while shaping the direction it took. When she died, he continued doing more or less as she would have wanted, and the benefits to Oakland were huge.

Mary R. “Mollie” Smith and Frank "Borax" Smith at Ram Island - 1905 1

References

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