The Early Years

3 Seattle Pioneers You Need to Know

How Lizzie Ordway, Emily Inez Denny, and Princess Angeline made their marks before the turn of the century.

By Sam Jones, Allison Williams, and Rosin Saez November 26, 2019 Published in the December 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Princess Angeline was known as a friend to the settlers.

Princess Angeline

Bridge between Cultures

Captured in an Edward Curtis photograph, circa 1895: the daughter of Suquamish and Duwamish leader Chief Sealth, posed and poised. She has a soft smile and weathered skin, a red bandanna covering her head, and a ragged shawl over her shoulders. Princess Angeline, or Kikisoblu, lived in the quickly changing world of mid-nineteenth century Seattle, when urbanization chipped away at the heavily forested landscape of her childhood.

Though witness to a period of cultural erasure for the Northwest’s Native tribes, she was known as a friend to the settlers. Legend has it that back when the princess lived across Elliott Bay, she paddled over to warn of an impending attack by other tribes, what would later be known as the 1856 Battle of Seattle. Angeline lived in a cabin on the waterfront but refused to uproot as downtown was flooded with wealth and new, white arrivals. She sold handwoven baskets and took in laundry to support herself.

While not much is confirmed about Angeline—disagreements abound about her marriages, children born, and date of birth—we do know her place of rest, Lake View Cemetery, in a canoe-shaped coffin buried next to her dear friend, pioneer Henry Yesler. 

Lizzie Ordway was an unlikely bride but a determined pioneer

Image: MOHAI shs12

Lizzie Ordway

Indomitable Singleton

They were like mail-order brides, but in bulk. Lizzie Ordway was the oldest of the women Asa Mercer, one of Seattle’s early founders, gathered in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1864. He ostensibly invited the 11 “Mercer Girls” to the young timber town on Puget Sound to work as teachers and in other jobs, but “it was clearly also ‘wink wink, you should get married,’” says San Juan Island author Libbie Hawker, who wrote a novel about the famous cross-country brides.

Eager to escape a town crippled by the Civil War—men lost to soldierhood, Lowell’s mills starved of southern cotton—the cadre of spunky young women found Seattle’s bachelor surplus and boomtown prospects appealing. They traveled by ship to Panama, crossed Central America overland, then sailed again to the Northwest. Most of the Mercer Girls wed soon after taking up their west coast teaching positions (one to Mercer himself), but Lizzie never did.

At 35, Lizzie was an unlikely bride but a determined pioneer. “She quickly developed a reputation for being the best teacher in the territory,” says Hawker, one sent to problem schools. When she arrived at the notoriously ungovernable Port Gamble school on the Kitsap Peninsula, she wrote in her journal that she was disappointed it wasn’t worse.

Besides launching Seattle’s first dedicated school building, she took up the suffragette cause, appearing on stage with Susan B. Anthony when she came to town. In Olympia, as a delegate to 1871’s Women’s Suffrage Convention, she suggested they invite an “anti-suffragist” activist (for parity, or likely to change her mind). Lizzie may have been recruited to Seattle with matrimony in mind, but instead she made a lifetime commitment to the unformed Pacific Northwest

Emily Inez Denny

Corseted Fashion Police

Bonnets tied over kempt hair, elegant gloves, and form-hugging boned skirts—the attire of mid-nineteenth century women like Emily Inez Denny was as fine as it was confining. The daughter of prominent Seattle pioneers had to dress as such. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t complain about it.

In 1899, the socialite wrote a sartorial screed, calling for dress reform. “As for thee, O miserable misery-maker, murder of mothers and offspring, thou torturer of human vitals, crusher of stomachs, lungs, livers, and other viscera… O unutterably villainous corset, begone!” she wrote in Woman’s Century Club Magazine.

Beyond fashion criticism, Denny documented the Pacific Northwest’s early pioneer days. While she was born two years after her family traveled from Illinois to settle Seattle in 1851, her book Blazing the Way was her secondary account of the Denny party’s own journey to the city they’d call home: “…a long tongue of land, washed by the sparkling waves of Puget Sound, called Alki Point.”

Denny, thought to be one of the first white children born in Seattle, grew up rendering the region not only in words but in oil and pencil. She painted scenes of the pristine Pacific Northwest (wood cabins, encounters with indigenous leaders), recording a Seattle that has since changed as much as the restrictive fashion she modeled.

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