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The great elevating, refining and moralizing element: true women

March 19th, 2004 · No Comments

An article in Thursday’s Seattle Times described how genealogist Peri Muhich has researched The Mercer Girls, a group of young women who came from the East Coast to Washington state in 1864:

The ratio of men to women in Seattle was 9 to 1 when Asa Mercer, president of Washington’s new Territorial University, first went to Lowell, Mass., in 1864. He talked “teachers,” not marriage, and told The New York Times he was seeking “the great elevating, refining, and moralizing element — true women.”

Eastern society was filled with “extra” women — unmarried sisters and aunts, and widows — thanks in part to the devastation of the Civil War.

The first women paid $250 each to travel by boat and train across the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco and then by lumber bark, a vessel, to Seattle.

Her website The Mercer Girls contains information she has collected about these women who came west, including newspaper sources, such as excerpts from a letter Asa Mercer wrote to the New York Times “to explain why he was taking women to Washington Territory”:

“Churches and school houses there are, but the great elevating, refining, and moralizing element – true women – are wanting. Not that the ladies of Washington Territory are less pure or high minded than those of any other land, but the limited number of them leave the good work greater than they can perform.”

” I appeal to high-minded women to go into the West to aid in throwing around those who have gone before the restraints of well-regulated society; to cultivate the higher and purer facilities of man by casting about him those refining influences that true women always carry with them; to build up happy homes, and let true sunlight shine round the hearthstone. It is simply a matter of duty on the part of Eastern woman to go to the West, where their presence and influence are so much needed.”

“Those who accompany me must not expect to occupy a flower garden, or to live upon sweet perfume, but must calculate that they are going into the vineyard to labor, and that their labor will be rewarded.”

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