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This site is the grave of Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway who died on September 11th, 1897 at 69 years old. After moving to Seattle with ten other women known as the Mercer Girls, she was the only one of them who did not marry and is considered Seattle's first career woman. She was a teacher, the founder of Seattle’s first public school, a superintendent, and an active member of the County Education Board. Ordway fought for women's rights and, along with Susan B. Anthony, was the founder of Seattle’s Female Suffrage Society. Lizzie Ordway, the Mercer Girls, and many other women around the nation, changed education from a privilege of the elite, to a right of the people.

  • Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway was a Mercer Girl, the founder of Seattle’s first public school, and a female rights activist.
  • Lizzie Ordway’s grave plaque in Lake View Cemetery, Seattle, Washington. She died on September 11th, 1897 at 69 years old.
  • Actors Bobby Sherman, Bridget Hanley, David Soul, Robert Brown, and Joan Blondell from the comedy Western Here Come the Brides. The series loosely depicts the Mercer Girls’ journey to Seattle and aired from September 25, 1968 to April 3, 1970.

Asa Mercer, the newly elected president of the University of Washington, went on a mission to bring young, unmarried women to Seattle. Seattle was a growing city with lots of young men, and not many women. Asa Mercer wanted to bring these women to Seattle to “civilize” the city. He, along with others in the area, were worried that the lack of marriageable women would encourage interracial marriage. To avoid members of the Duwamish tribe from mingling with the white settlers of Seattle, Mercer set out to bring hundreds of women to expand the city’s population and push the native people off their land. They also hoped to gain statehood as a result, as Washington was still only a territory at the time. However, he only got 11 women to join him on his first trip out, and 34 on his second. These women are known as the Mercer Girls. 

When searching for his Mercer Girls, Asa Mercer looked for teachers, refined women to uphold a standard for the growing and rambunctious city. Mary Elizabeth, or “Lizzie” Ordway and ten other young women joined him, following his claims to educate young people in Seattle. Though his true motives were most likely hidden from them, as well as the harsh journey ahead, they gladly followed, leaving for Seattle in March, 1864 from their original home of Massachusetts. Not much is known of each of their personal reasons for going, as their lives - according to recorded history - started when they were recruited by Mercer. They had given up everything in their lives to go on this journey. After hopping from ship to ship, they finally reached Seattle. 

After arriving in Seattle, Lizzie Ordway opened its first public school, the Central School. The school was for all ages, and Ordway was the only teacher in the beginning. On the first day of it’s opening, over a hundred kids came, and Ordway had to send some of the younger ones home until they could build another classroom. She continued on her path of education, rejecting Asa Mercer’s original intent in bringing her and was the only Mercer Girl who did not marry. She became the superintendent of Kitsap County schools and later continued to act on the County Education Board. Ordway, along with the other Mercer Girls, were a part of a generation of young women all across the nation that were founding public schools and educating young people. The spread of education in the 1950s led to the expansion of Seattle, molding it into a real city and attracting people and businesses from all over. 

In addition to making education more accessible in the Puget Sound area, Lizzie Ordway was an advocate for women’s suffrage. She was one of the first activists in the region and she and Susan B. Anthony formed Seattle’s Female Suffrage Society that frequently lobbied in Olympia. 

In 1883, women in Washington got the right to vote, however the Washington Territorial Supreme Court voided the decision in 1887. It was only by 1910 that women gained suffrage again in Washington. It was, however, only for people who could read and speak English. Asian immigrants and Native American women were also denied the right to vote. Despite the victory for women’s suffrage, many people were still excluded. Ordway died on September 11th, 1897 at 69 years old, only thirteen years before women got the right to vote in Washington permanently. She was buried in Lake View Cemetery. 

The Mercer Girls were an incredibly influential part of the Puget Sound area’s history and shaped the foundations of our city. Lizzie Ordway fought for women's right to vote and the people’s right to an education. The Mercer Girls, along with many other women around the nation, with Ordway at their head, changed education from a privilege of the elite, to a right of the people. They were a turning point for Seattle and made it into the city it has become today. 

1. ABOUT OUR "NAMESAKE”, Ordway Elementary School. Accessed April 24th 2020.

2. Andrea and Leela. Life’s Weary Way, Rainy Day History Podcast. October 18th 2019.

3. Muhich, Peri. Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway, Find a Grave. June 5th 2009.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Muhich, Peri. Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway, Find a Grave. June 5th 2009.

Muhich, Peri. Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway, Find a Grave. June 5th 2009.

Here Come the Brides, Wikipedia. Accessed April 24th 2020.