Lake View Cemetery Seattle, King County, Washington, USA
Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Ordway (July 4, 1828 – September 22, 1897), an early advocate for woman suffrage in Washington territory, was one of the first group of young women recruited to become teachers and wives in pioneer Seattle in the 1860s. Despite the expectation that these "Mercer Girls" would marry, Ordway remained single and became a successful teacher, school administrator, and suffrage activist. The suffrage activism of Ordway and some of the other "Mercer Girls" reflected their educational levels, professional status, and the values associated with personal autonomy that promoted their decisions to migrate across the continent to build new lives.
Ordway received a good education for a woman of her time, matriculating at the Ipswich Academy in Massachusetts with Mary Abigail Dodge (an American writer and essyist better known as Gail Hamilton). She taught in Lowell Massachusetts before migrating to Washington when she was in her mid-30s. In March of 1864 she left Lowell with 10 other ladies, known as Seattle's Mercer Girls, and went to Washington Territory where she continued to teach.
She taught first in schools in Beginning in Coupeville, Washington on Whidbey Island and in the lumber communities of Port Gamble and Port Madison on the Kitsap Peninsula. She developed a reputation as the best teacher in the territory, according to author Libbie Hawker, and traveled around the area to turn around problem schools. She also launched and taught in Seattle's first dedicated school building.
In 1867 she was teaching at Port Madison and then in August of 1870 she became the first pulbic school teacher in Seattle.
In 1871 Ordway appeared on stage with Susan B. Anthony in Seattle during Anthony's tour of the Northwest promoting the cause of women voting. Ordway became active in the Female Suffrage Association formed after Anthony spoke and served as a delegate to the territorial suffrage convention. Anthony formed the Washington Territory Woman Suffrage Association, a crucial vehicle for suffrage lobbying in the ensuing decades. Thereafter, Ordway returned to teaching in Kitsap County and, in 1881, became the first woman to be elected as a school superintendent in territorial Washington. She served Kitsap County in that position for eight years, solidifying her position as a builder of public schools in Washington territory.
In 1891 she moved to Seattle and assisted the prepartation of the Washingtons educational exhibit for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
A woman friend described Ordway as "admired for her charm and wit, a clever and interesting conversationalist who loved a good argument, and Washington's first career woman." Ordway died in Seattle the at age 69, and is remembered by a description she applied to herself: "The Mercer Girl who reserved her affections for her students." In 1953 the Retired Teachers Association placed a monument headstone on her grave in the Captain Sylvanus Libby family plot.
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