Lowell Women Go West As Teacher-Pioneers

MassMoments reminds us today that when Asa Mercer of Seattle set out to recruit young women of good character to travel to the Northwest and fill the need for teachers in the Washington Territory, he came first to Lowell, Massachusetts. Why New England? Why Lowell? His reasoning was pretty straightforward: “A scarcity of women existed in those far away and newly settled regions, while a superabundance of the fairer sex abounded in New England.” Lowell must have been seen as an opportune place given the way women had flocked to it in the 1830s to work in the mills. The Civil War and the lack of access to raw cotton caused a wide-spread loss of jobs in Lowell. Economic need and a religious zeal caused a small group to answer his call. The overall results of his mission to bring woman teachers – called the “Mercer Girls” –  to the west had mixed results – in two trips over 700 were recruited – but many did stay to teach…  “about 70% of the women who left New England to be teacher-pioneers remained in the west. Many of their daughters became the teachers of the next generation.”

On This Day...

     January 26 …in 1864, a visitor from Seattle held a meeting in Lowell. Asa Mercer explained to his largely female audience that there was a great scarcity of teachers in the Washington Territory. Jobs — and single men — were plentiful. Both were in short supply in Massachusetts. Any woman who could raise the money for her passage would readily find a teaching position — and soon a husband. Mercer also appealed to the women’s sense of duty: “their presence and influence were so much needed” in the West, he told them. In spite of the opportunities Seattle offered, it was unimaginably far away. Only 11 women chose to accompany Mercer on his journey home. These brave teacher-pioneers were long known as the “Mercer Girls.”
Read the full article here at Massmoments.com.
A century later it is claimed that the Mercer Girls’ tale inspired the 1968-1970 TV series “Here Come the  Brides.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_Come_the_Brides)
Eight ladies from Lowell accompanied by the father of two (Mr. Pearson) were joined by two ladies and a gentleman from Pepperell and one lady from Boston.
 From the Lowell Courier – Monday March 14, 1864: