Mercer Maids Links

Mercer' Maids
Read about the beginnings of this courageous group of ladies.

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Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ordway

Mary Elizabeth Ordway, Lizzie, is probably the most remembered "Mercer Girl".

Lizzie said that she was born on July 4, 1828. Her parents were Enouch and Mary Ordway. I haven't yet been able to locate a birth record for Lizzie, but I suspect that she was born in Derry, New Hampshire.

In the 1820 census for New Hampshire I found Enouch Ordway and family listed in Rockingham County, town of LondonDerry page 178. In the 1830 census for New Hampshire I again found Enoch in Rockingham County, town of Derry page 82. Also listed on page 82 was Enoch's mother Dorothy Ordway, widow.

In a death record I was able to locate for Lizzie's youngest brother, Charles, his birth place was listed as Derry, New Hampshire, May 1831. So from these clues I have placed Lizzie's place of birth as Derry, New Hampshire.

She had two other siblings that I know of. Ellen, born about 1833 and Frederick E. born 1827. Frederick was married in Lowell, Massachusetts on April 12, 1849 to Susan J. Buxton. Lizzie's mother died and her father married Harriet Heald on June 15, 1842 in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In the 1850 census for Lowell, Massachusetts I found Lizzie, age 21, listed in her father's household along with Harriet, age 34, and Ellen age 17.

Enoch Ordway was listed in the 1861 city directory of Lowell as a merchant living in house #88 South. Also in 1861 Lizzie is listed as a member of Ward 4 of the Lowell Soldiers Aid Association.

The Lowell Daily Courier newspaper had a paragraph on page one of the March 14, 1864 edition that listed Lizzie Ordway as a young lady under charge of Mr. Mercer who had started from this city for Washington Territory to be employed as a teacher.

After her arrival in Seattle Lizzie stayed at the home of Henry and Sarah Yesler until August when she took the teaching position at a school on Whidby Island made vacant by the death of another of the Mercer Girls, Josie Pearson.

Lizzie became a moving force in public education in Washington Territory. She taught in Coupeville, Port Madison, Seattle, Port Gamble and Port Blakely.

In 1871 when Susan B. Anthony made her Western speaking tour Lizzie joined her in San Francisco and journeyed north with her. Appearing side by side at the Brown Church in Seattle when Miss Anthony spoke were Lizzie and Mrs. Yesler. The two later formed a Female Suffrage Society and with a delegation of ladies visited Olympia to present the woman's suffrage issue to the State House of Representatives. The ladies winced when Kitsap's representative, C. J. Noyes moved to amend the bill by substituting the word "male" for "female" wherever it appeared. The motion was sustained with 16 of 26 votes in favor. This humiliating loss sent Lizzie off to San Francisco where she taught for a time at a young ladies seminary. But the climite did not agree with her so she returned to her family in Lowell but she found that she missed the Northwest. In 1874 she returned to the Northwest aboard the ship Wildwood.

In 1881 she ran for Kitsap County school superintendent and won 244 to 165. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer opposed her election. It printed in it editorial column "It may be a good joke to put a woman in nomination, but I do not regard the office of school superintendent of so little importance as to vote for a woman at the polls". Lizzie was paid an additional $58 a year and carried out these duties in addition to teaching at Port Madison.

After completeing her terms as superintendent she continued to act on the County Education Board which examines and certifies teachers.

In 1891 Lizzie assisted in the preparation of the state's educational exhibit for the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893.

In retirement Lizzied lived at the home of her dear friends, Captain Sylvanus Libby and his wife Sarah. When she died in September of 1897 the Libby family had her buried in their family plot at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle.

In 1953 the Retired Teachers Association placed a monument headstone on her grave.

In 1978 Ordway Elementary School on Baingridge Island, named for Lizzie, opened its doors.

In 1989, in preparation for the state centennial celebration, Lizzie was named to the Washington State Historical Society's Honor Roll.