In May 1862, Eliza Ann Woodard Hurd married Rev. Dr. Charles Henry DeWolfe in a ceremony held at Eliza's parents’ house on Budd Inlet, outside of Olympia, Washington Territory. Olympia was scandalized! Their "conjugal alliance and matrimonial co-partnership" was not officiated, making the couple criminally liable for offenses against morality and decency.
A few days after their marriage, a crowd of citizens gathered on the Olympia wharf as the couple were arrested attempting to board a boat destined for Victoria. At court Charles Henry exclaimed that future generations would "look upon him as a martyr and reverence his memory." This sensational marriage was reported in local, regional, and national newspapers, and recalled in history books for decades.
Four days after her marriage, Eliza was seen riding a horse through town while wearing "bloomers." Bloomers were considered practical attire by early feminists, but conservative Americans considered them immodest. The Washington Standard mocked Eliza as a "weak, silly woman" for her Strong-minded protest, five years before other Olympia women would start protesting suffrage. The DeWolfes left Olympia for Victoria. Following the suspicious death of an actor at DeWolfe's hydrotherapy establishment, the couple relocated to San Francisco. In San Francisco, Eliza violated a law prohibiting cross-dressing, further securing her place in history.
This is the story of Eliza Ann and Charles Henry DeWolfe, told through newspaper articles, letters, images from the period, and a selection of entertaining "vinegar" valentines inspired by their lives.
Eliza Ann Woodard emigrated to Olympia, Washington Territory with her extended family in early 1853. She married respected butcher James Hurd in 1855, and the couple had two children before James died in the fall of 1857. The following spring the Hurd’s infant daughter died. Eliza lived independently with her young daughter Ella, renting out her properties and working as a dressmaker. Eliza’s father Harvey Rice Woodard served as Ella’s guardian until 1859, indicating Eliza or her family may have worried about her being a single parent. Based on her letters, it seems Eliza was close to her mother Salome Eaton Woodard in the years after her husband’s death.
By early 1860, Eliza befriended Seattleite Sarah Yesler. Sarah, wife of Seattle millwright Henry Yesler, had arrived in Washington Territory in the summer of 1858 after being separated from her husband for seven years. In her absence Henry had a long-term affair with the Duwamish hereditary chief’s daughter Susan. The couple had a daughter. Sarah’s only son Henry George died at the age of twelve in the summer of 1859.
With less than one-thousand American women residing between Olympia and Seattle it is easy to see how Eliza and Sarah would become fast friends: Like many mothers of the time, they both experienced devastating loss in their families. They were both Spiritualists from the Midwest, and would go on to become suffrage leaders in the 1860s. And perhaps because they were not hindered by oppressive traditions and sought happy healthy lives, they were both the subject of local gossip. The pair exchanged letters and visits from at least March 1860 to June 1862. Historians have suggested Eliza and Sarah had a romantic affair but their letter exchange only reveals a close, supportive— and occasionally naughty in a Victorian kind of way— friendship between two intelligent ladies.
Eliza met and married Charles Henry DeWolfe, a sensational character in Northwest history who was not accepted by Olympia’s conservative society. The DeWolfe family left Olympia only days after their marriage, and Eliza may have lost touch with Sarah shortly after.
Sarah saved at least eleven letters from Eliza and her friends and family from this period. These letters are archived at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma.
Set of 10 zines
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the Undertold Histories Project is producing a series of 10 zines on the lives of Washington’s “feme sole” independent women homesteaders, to be released from November 2019 to August 2020. This project is supported in part by Humanities Washington and the Association for Washington Archaeology.
Zine 3: Washington’s First Feme Sole Homesteader: Mary Marvin, Clark County, 1870
Zine 4: From Donation Land Claim Settler’s Wife to Widowed Homesteader: Elizabeth Simmons, Lewis County, 1879
Zine 5: Shipwreck Survivor, Settler’s Daughter, Homesteading Spinster: Clara Goodwin, Clallam County, 1888
Zine 6: Desert Homestead Dynasty: Eliza Yarwood, Lincoln County, 1889
Zine 7: Mountaineer, Teacher, Farmer: Edith Corbett, Thurston County, 1898
Zine 8: Farmerette and Divorcee: Hattie Tedrow, Okanogan County, 1905
Zine 9: Homesteader at the Dawn of Washington Women’s Suffrage: Theodosia Etta Bromley, Klickitat County, 1910
Zine 10: Scandalous Trailblazer: Dr. Mary Latham, Spokane County, 1917
Zine 11: Homesteading in the Suffrage Era: Harriet Lee Culp Cummings, Walla Walla County, 1920
Zine 12: Head of Household and Last Female Homestead Claimant: Mae Inez Smith, Kittitas County, 1949