Sunday, May 25, 2014

150th Anniversary of Mercer Girls' Arrival in Seattle

If you know anything about Asa S. Mercer, it is probably that he was the first President of the Territorial University of Washington.  While that is an interesting factoid, perhaps more interesting is his so-called "Mercer Girls" or "Mercer's Belles" project. 
Asa Mercer, First President of the Territorial University of Washington
Asa Mercer, First President of the Territorial University of Washington. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Because of the ravages of the U.S. Civil War, in the mid-1860's the East Coast was left with a gender imbalance where women outnumbered men.  And because the Pacific Northwest was still being settled primarily by loggers and fishermen during that time, there was a gender imbalance where men far outnumbered women.  Asa Mercer decided to do something about this, and undertook a project to bring eligible women to Seattle.  The men of Seattle would pay Mercer a fee, and the women of the East Coast would get a free ride through the Panama Canal and to the great Northwest (and a husband, for whatever that's worth).  Whether this was the 1860's equivalent of mail-order brides or a practically-minded attempt at population planning is still a topic for debate.

Mercer made two trips, and the first batch of "Mercer Girls" arrived in Seattle 150 years ago this month, on May 16, 1864, to a grand welcome on the grounds of the University.  Mercer even married one of the Mercer Girls himself!  You can learn more by checking out Mercer's Belles: The Journal of a Reporter from Suzzallo Library or an article entitled "The Story of the Mercer Expeditions" from the Washington Historical Quarterly.

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