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Treasures of the Archives: Clara McCarty Wilt

King County federal census record of McCarty family in 1870, Census Records, 1870 King County Federal Census, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.

King County federal census record of McCarty family in 1870, Census Records, 1870 King County Federal Census, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.

The University of Washington is older than the state itself. UW opened in 1861 under the territorial government. Though forced to close three times between 1863 and 1876 due to deficient financial and enrollment numbers, residents in Territorial Washington were committed to building a strong institution of higher learning. One woman, Clara McCarty Wilt, took advantage of all the University had to offer and became its first graduate—of either sex.

Wilt’s parents, Jonathan and Ruth McCarty, married in 1855 and helped found the town of Sumner, Washington. In 1858, due to Native American unrest the couple fled their home to Fort Steilacoom where Ruth gave birth to the second of what would be six children, Clara Antoinette. The family eventually moved into Seattle when Clara was twelve years old. She enrolled at the University of Washington where tuition was $12.00 per term, and became the University’s first ever graduate with her Bachelor of Science degree in 1876. She briefly taught school in Seattle before continuing her education at the University of California, Berkeley. She then moved back to Washington to teach in the Tacoma area. In 1880, at the young age of twenty-two, Clara became the first woman to win elective office in Pierce County as the superintendent of schools. Also in 1880, she married John Henry Wilt, a twenty-seven year old Ohioan. John served in many prominent positions throughout their marriage including deputy district court clerk, sheriff, and attorney. They had one daughter together, Clara May Wilt, born in 1886. After John’s death in 1907, Clara moved to Seattle and bought a large home near the University of Washington where she took in boarders and also worked as a librarian. Clara died in Tacoma in 1929.

Census records trace Clara’s life throughout the west side of the state including the 1870 Census pictured above, the 1885 Census, the 1892 Census, and the 1910 Census. Census records can provide researchers with a wealth of information about individuals, and we have many available on our website through 1910. For other census records and census records after 1910, please contact the National Archives.