William Joseph Donovan - LINKS ..... Rumsey Family -LINKS

William Joseph Donovan
By Edward T. Dunn

The text below is excerpted from
Buffalo's Delaware Avenue: Mansions and Families
, by Edward T. Dunn. Pub. by
Canisius College Press, 2003, pp. 157-161

Click on illustrations for larger size -- and additional information

Painting of Donovan in the Connecticut Street Armory in the Buffalo Cavalry Association Museum. Donovan was elected captain by Troop 1 in 1912,

# 742 Delaware. Demolished.

The house was built by Dexter Rumsey. His third wife was Susan Fiske, Ruth's mother.
Bill and Ruth lived here in 1920.

# 742 Delaware.
The house was closed by Ruth after her mother (Susan Fiske Rumsey) died in 1941.

Bill gave the Buffalo Club as his voting address, and stayed there when he returned to the city without Ruth.

The Buffalo Cavalry Association Museum in the Connecticut Street Armory.

Major General William J. Donovan after a December 9, 1952 address at Barnard College

Major General William J. Donovan after a December 9, 1952 address at Barnard College

On July 15, 1914, Ruth Rumsey took an unusual step for a Delaware Avenue girl. She married William Joseph Donovan, son of a first-generation Irish-American and sometime New York Central yardmaster.

Bill's family

The Donovans lived on lower Michigan Avenue in the First Ward. By 1915 the Donovans had moved to Prospect Avenue where Tim Donovan, Bill's father, could be closer to Saint Joseph's Cathedral where he had become secretary of Holy Cross Cemetery.

After attending Saint Bridget's School, Saint Joseph's Collegiate Institute, and Nardin Academy, Bill enrolled in Niagara intending to study for the priesthood, but was dissuaded by a priest there, and transferred to Columbia from which he graduated in 1905, and from which he received a law degree in 1907.


He began practice with a small firm in Buffalo; but in 1912 he and Bradley Goodyear, scion of a wealthy Delaware family, formed a partnership that merged with the city's leading law firm, O'Brian, Hamlin, Donovan & Goodyear. Donovan had successfully engineered a social switchover:

The mansions of the well-to-do-and-privileged lined Delaware Avenue, and Donovan made every effort to win friends among them and gain access to their drawing rooms.

Donovan, a strong oarsman, rowed for the Celtic Rowing Club, pride of the First Ward Irish, for which his father had once rowed, and on occasion he stroked the team to victory over a Canadian club in a 15-man war canoe event. Then Donovan changed his allegiance and became captain of a war canoe crew at the Buffalo Canoe Club at Crystal Beach, Ontario, some 25 miles away from Buffalo by road, but in plain sight of Buffalo's downtown towers across Lake Erie. The Buffalo Canoe Club, then and now a haunt of Buffalo's blue bloods, still keeps one of the old war canoes in its boathouse, although the club no longer enters a team in war events.

Like sports, the military was another access to the Avenue:

Theodore Roosevelt had ridden to fame as a Rough Rider, and Bill Donovan was delighted to hear early in 1912 that the State of New York had decided to increase the cavalry units of the National Guard. When Col. Oliver B. Bridgman of the First Cavalry of theNew York National Guard and Capt. Lincoln G. Andrews of the Second Cavalry, U.S. Army, called a meeting of interested young men from the Buffalo area at the University Club on Delaware Avenue, Donovan was among them. So were many other members of the Buffalo Canoe Club who, listening to Donovan's enthusiastic talk about military service, had decided to come along.

Donovan had never ridden a horse, but with his usual determination he rose early every morning and cantered through rain or sunshine along Humboldt Parkway, every day becoming surer of himself, until he could ride as well as any of the young aristocrats whom he had induced to sign on with Troop 1. Evenings he studied cavalry tactics and strategy. His company elected him captain in October 1912, after their first encampment. In the summer of 1913 he organized a week's march from Buffalo to Orchard Park, Springville, Lake View, and back to Buffalo. Troop I was recognized as one of the top cavalry units in the state.

Donovan also spoke at Republican gatherings and attended amateur theatricals, an activity favored by the local gentry:

There he met Ruth Rumsey, a tall girl with blue eyes who was counted among the most beautiful of Delaware Avenue's young women. The daughter of the city's first citizen, the late Dexter Rumsey, she had an air of assurance that might have been a trifle overpowering, except that it was lightened by a certain genial charm and wit. Being fond of riding and fox hunting, she had an outdoorswoman's complexion. Bill Donovan was drawn to this girl, who was not only beautiful but had both intellect and his zest for the active life.


The Donovans, who would live apart much of their married life, lived with the Laurence Rumseys in 1915. Bill and Ruth had two children, David, born in 1915, and Patricia in 1917.

World War I

Bill was called for duty on the Mexican border in 1916. Returning, he joined the Guard's "Fighting Irish" 69th Regiment which became the 165th Regiment in the Rainbow Division of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. He was several times wounded and showed such leadership that he became a national hero under the sobriquet "Wild Bill," the antithesis of his character, and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to be worn with it, the Italian War Cross, and the highest American military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

After the war, Ruth expected a return to a normal family life, but Bill left herin Tokyo on what was to have been a second honeymoon and set out to investigate conditions in Siberia, suggesting she wait for him in Japan. Frustrated, she returned to Buffalo and her children. In 1920 the Donovans resided with Ruth's mother at #742 [Delaware Avenue].

U. S. District Attorney

President Harding appointed Donovan U. S. District Attorney for Western New York in 1922. He was fierce in his prosecution of bootleggers, drug runners, and Mayor Frank Schwab, who continued to run a brewery. However Donovan's raids on the Saturn and the Country Clubs, which consisted in breaking into members' lockers searching for forbidden liquor and giving the press a list of the lawbreakers, which read like a Who's Who of Buffalo, permanently hurt his standing with both Delaware Avenue and the First Ward.

"What kind of a man would raid his own club? " asked his erstwhile friend, Bradley Goodyear, who broke up their partnership and never spoke to Donovan again. Ruth's brother, Dexter Rumsey, II, explained that the raid was just what might be expected from a moralisticIrishman with no sense of the proprieties.

Ruth never forgave Bill for embarrassing her family andfriends. He seemed a traitor to the class he had so arduously sought to enter. Other enemies spread the story that he wasn't moralistic after all but a philanderer. When the gossip reached his wife, "her embarrassment and anger increased. She was left with a lasting wound when it became clear that there was more than a little truth to the rumors." "

Washington, D. C.

In 1924 Donovan moved to Washington when he joined the justice Department as assistant attorney general. He ran the Criminal Division for a year and the Anti-Trust Division until 1928. He had hoped to be appointed attorney general when Herbert Hoover became president, but did not get thejob.

Disappointed, he moved to New York and formed a law firm, Donovan, Leisure, Newton, Lumbard and Irvine.

In October 1932 he received the Republican nomination for governor at the Broadway Armory. At a parade in support of his candidacy he received the greatest ovation in the city's history. The previous afternoon Ruth and Susan gave a tea at #742 for the convention delegates and stood two hours shaking hands. But 1932 was not a Republican year. Donovan lost, dragged down by
Hoover's lackluster campaign and the Depression.

After World War II broke out, Frank Knox, a Republican whom Roosevelt had made Secretary of the Navy, sent Donovan, now an ardent anglophile, to England to assess its survivability. But the Buffalo connection lasted as long as Susan Rumsey lived:

Throughout these hectic years of public service and private law practice in Washington and New York, Donovan continued to think of himself as a Buffalonian. He gave the Buffalo Club as his voting address, and stayed there when he returned to the city without Ruth. "He had a room on the top floor," said Phil Impelliteri, the club manager. "He would have breakfast at the club and then be gone all day, return for dinner and then go for a long walk. "

Bill Donovan would walk up Delaware Avenue past the big Rumsey house, where he had courted Ruth, or down to the waterfront and the grain elevators that he had known as a boy. At Christmastime Ruth and Bill and their children would arrive in Buffalo for the holidays. They stayed in the house on Delaware Avenue, and there was much good cheerand singing around the piano. Then the children would return to school, Ruth would goback to New York, and Bill more often than not would go to Washington.


The death of their daughter Patricia in an automobile accident in 1940 and of Susan [Ruth's mother] at seventy-four in 1941, after which #742 [Delaware Avenue] was closed, changed even this. As Dunlop noted [Richard Dunlop, Donovan, America's Master Spy (New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1982) ]

Donovan had always liked his mother-in-law, but he had little time for grief. Since Patricia's death, he had given less and less time to his family. Now he scarcely saw Ruth,who stayed either in the New York duplex or on the Massachusetts coast. Even when Donovan found it necessary to go to Manhattan, he now occupied a suite that he kept at the St. Regis Hotel.

After America had entered the war, Donovan planned with the assistance of British intelligence the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to carry out research and analysis, sabotage, subversion, economic warfare, propaganda broadcasts, and commando operations. President Truman, ever ready to shoot from the hip, shut it down abruptly after the war, but Donovan's brainchild was the blueprint for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947. His last mission was ambassador to Thailand at age seventy. III health forced him to retire after a year, but all was not lost:

Ruth Donovan, who in these last years of Donovan'slife had drawn close to him again, was with him in Bangkok, and he now showed her the courtly attention and concern that had never failed to win a woman. They enjoyed their time together and this was to remain soafter their return to New York .

Donovan had come a long way from the First Ward, though he went by way of Delaware Avenue to do it. A hero in two world wars, he died at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington on February 8, 1959, at seventy-six. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery, after a requiem mass at Saint Matthew's Cathedral celebrated by his brother, Rev. Vincent Donovan, 0. P, a chaplain at Sing Sing.

Ruth died at eighty-six in 1977.

Color photos and their arrangement 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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