Mercer Girls by Libbie Hawker (Historical Fiction)
In 1864, Asa Mercer traveled from his home in Seattle to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he sought marriageable women of good character who would be willing to move to Washington Territory. Large numbers of men had migrated to this furthest frontier, but few women had done so, and the growing city needed the positive influence of “true women.” At the same time, lack of cotton due to the Civil War had silenced Lowell’s textile mills, impoverishing female mill workers as well as the families of mill owners.
Mercer Girls is a fictionalized account of three women who join Mercer’s group—Jo, Dovey, and Sophronia. Each has a different background, a different disposition, and a different reason for making the trip west. They endure hardship together and become fast friends as they travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, primarily by paddleboat with overland travel through Panama, and finally arrive in Seattle to a mixed reception from various levels of society. The book then follows them for the next seven years.
I found Mercer Girls to be an enjoyable read for the most part. The characters are well-developed, and I became invested in finding out their fates. For me, it bogged down a bit when the women’s suffrage movement and Susan Anthony’s appearance before the Washington legislature became the focus, but I stuck with it, and in the end the inclusion of suffrage was significant to the futures of the three women. The research conducted by the author is impressive, and the book is well-written. As one unfamiliar with the history of Seattle, it provided me with new knowledge, a welcome secondary benefit.
Grandma gives Mercer Girls four stars.