Louisa Boren (pronounced Louiza) was one of the Washington Territory pioneers and a founder of the city of Seattle.
It’s fitting that STEM is located in the Louisa Boren building because Louisa herself loved science, particularly chemistry, botany and astronomy. “Liza” had a love of learning and a natural curiosity about the world.
The youngest of three children, Louisa was born in Illinois. Her father died when she was young and her mother was left to raise Louisa, brother Carson and sister Mary Ann. Louisa’s mother Sarah Boren later married widower John Denny.
In 1851 Louisa’s stepbrother Arthur Denny led the family west on the Oregon Trail. Louisa was 23 years old, and “teaching school,” when she embarked on this journey. The “Denny Party” traveled by covered wagon, boat, and eventually on foot, across the treacherous and often hostile terrain.
Louisa endured many challenges on the trail. At one point she was pursued by an Indian brave who offered to trade several horses for her. She also saved the party on the Columbia River, when she prevented their boat from going over Cascade Falls.
The Denny Party reached Portland on August 17, 1851. After recuperating from their journey in the welcoming communities of the Willamette Valley, the party headed north in search of a place to call their own. Arthur’s youngest son David and two other men were sent ahead to scout the land and build a cabin. The rest of the group followed, after finding passage on a mining schooner heading for Alaska.
The schooner Exact dropped the party on the beach at what would become Alki Point on November 13, 1851. The group was comprised of seven men, five women, and twelve children. The oldest child was nine, the youngest not even a year-old. They arrived to find David Denny seriously ill; the cabin partially built and without a roof. The pioneers found shelter as best they could, spending the first night under a cedar tree, and struggled to finish the cabin in the cold, wet northwest November.
They named their new home “New York Alki,” which means “New York by and by” in the Chinook language. But the Denny Party would eventually move to Elliott Bay realizing its deeper harbor was more conducive to industry and trade than the shallow waters off Alki.
Sisters Louisa and Mary Ann Boren married their stepbrothers David and Arthur Denny. While Mary Ann and Arthur married in Illinois before the journey west, Louisa and David’s civil ceremony was performed by “Doc” Maynard and was the city’s first non-Indian wedding. They were to have eight children, including Emily Inez Denny. Their tract of land extended from what is now the Seattle Center to the north, south to Denny Way, and east to Lake Union.
After marrying David in 1853, Liza took the sweetbrier seed seeds she had carried over the two-thousand miles and planted them outside their newly built cabin on what is now Denny Way, prompting some to call her the “Sweetbrier Bride.” The sweetly fragrant plant, previously unknown in the Northwest, is now frequently found all along the shores of Puget Sound.
Louisa Boren’s legacy continues today. Not only in the city of Seattle and the pioneering spirit she engendered, but also in her hard work supporting the women’s suffrage movement and her advocacy for Chinese workers settling in the area.
HistoryLink.org Pioneer Women of Seattle by Dorothea Nordstrand
Women of our History: Louisa Boren Denny, Evergreen Washelli