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Was your Grandmother a Mercer Girl?
Published: 08 June 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

As I have discussed in earlier articles there was a real shortage of women in the western part of the United States.

Many men had moved to the Puget Sound area to work in the fishing and lumbering operations. There were very few women living in the area who were not already married or engaged. By the age of 15 most young women were already spoken for.

Asa Shinn Mercer had a brilliant idea. He decided that he would travel east and try to convince women to travel to Washington state to become teachers or work in other respectable occupations. His hope, of course, was that they would marry some of the local men and stay and help settle and develop the area. Many people living in the Seattle, Washington area today descend from these women.

Asa Shinn Mercer
06 June 6 1839 - 10 August 10 1917

He knew that there were large numbers of women in the east who were widows because of the Civil War. He felt that some of these women would be happy to have the opportunity of starting a new life in a different location.

To make sure this was viewed as a respectable endeavor Mercer arranged for host families for these young women to live with upon their arrival. He knew that it was very important to protect their reputations.

The first group of "Mercer Girls" arrived in Seattle on 16 May 1864. As you can imagine their arrival was the cause for a large celebration. There were 11 women in the group and the women ranged in age from 15 to 35. Out of this group there was only one woman who didn't remain in the area.

Mercer made a second trip in 1866. He married Annie Stephens who was one of the young ladies who came on that trip.

The Mercer Girls
Source: Harper's Weekly magazine

Asa Mercer is mostly remembered for bringing these very welcome women to the west. However, he was also an author and publisher as well as the first President of the Territorial University of Washington and a Washington state senator.

The story of the "Mercer Girls" became the foundation of the television show "Here Comes the Brides."

If your Grandmother was a Mercer Girl make sure that you tell her story.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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