Biographical Sketch of O'Rilla (Rilla) B. Willett Carmichael

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of O'Rilla (Rilla) B. Willett Carmichael, 1860-1940

By Mary Paynton Schaff, Reference Librarian at the Washington State Library

O'Rilla Bethia Willett was born May 30, 1860 in Springhills, Ohio to Richard and Sarah (Burtch) Willett. She married Daniel Lafayette Carmichael in Dekalb, Missouri in 1882. Daniel obtained his MD from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia around 1884 and the couple moved to Montana where four of their six children were born. During the Alaska Gold Rush, the Carmichael family relocated to the Yukon where Dr. Carmichael cared for miners and nearby Native Americans. Two of Daniel and O'Rilla's sons followed in their father's footsteps and also became physicians.

By 1909, the Carmichaels had moved to Seattle. O'Rilla became active in the suffrage movement and social groups like the Arctic Club, which based its membership on Gold Rush or Alaska connections. Little documentation of O'Rilla's suffrage movements appear in the Seattle Daily Times. In 1910, she hosted at least two regular meetings of the Seattle Suffrage Club and was listed as an assistant in the [Washington] State Equal Franchise Society. A February 11, 1936 society column indicates O'Rilla was "prominent in the cause" of suffrage but didn't provide any details.

No doubt seeking warmer weather, the Carmichaels spent time in Arizona in the early 1920s before relocating permanently to California. O'Rilla appears on the California voters lists as a registered Democrat between 1924 and 1938; in 1940 she was listed as a Republican. O'Rilla died October 24, 1940 in Los Angeles at the age of 80.


Seattle Times (1895 – current) online access through Newsbank.

United States Federal Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930. Online access through Accessed 16 March 2018.

Who's Who in the West (1913). Profile of Carmichael, Daniel Lafayette. p. 95.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK]

back to top