Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Ada McPherson Morley (Jarrett), 1852-1917

By Meredith Ross Machen, Ph.D., LWVNM Former President; LWVNM Director and Chair of Education, History, and Immigration Committees; Santa Fe Community College, VP for Educational Leadership (retired).

New Mexico Suffragist

Ada McPherson was born on August 26, 1852, in Winterset, Iowa. Growing up, she was a voracious reader of the classics and her father's law books. In 1872, she earned a degree in English Literature, one of two women in the inaugural class of the first co-ed land grant college, now called Iowa State University. She married William Raymond Morley, whom she had met in college, and moved to Cimarron, New Mexico Territory, where he was working as general manager, surveyor, and chief engineer of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company. The Company had claimed 1.7 million acres without regard to Native American and Hispanic land rights. Thomas B. Catron, who would become Ada's nemesis, the most powerful of the company's owners, was at one time the largest private landholder in the United States. Catron served as US Attorney for the New Mexico Territory from 1872-78, and his name was associated with many of the land swindles, murders, crimes, and disappearances that led to the bloody Colfax County War (1873-1888). The Morleys covered some of these stories in the Cimarron News, which they co-edited. Ada was arrested at the post office after stealing and attempting to mail to Congress incriminating evidence about Catron. He accused her of mail fraud and filed legal charges that took years to resolve. The Morleys moved to Las Vegas, NM, out of fear for their daughter's lives and their own, and then to Datil, 140 miles south of Albuquerque and 80 miles west of Socorro.

Ray Morley died in 1883 under mysterious circumstances while doing engineering work in Mexico. Family members were convinced that he had been murdered at the behest of the Santa Fe Ring, which Catron still controlled. Ada's second husband, Floyd Jarrett, a cattle investor, persuaded her to spend her inheritance on a vast cattle ranch in the remote Datil Mountains. Six years later, after he had squandered most of her money, Jarrett disappeared.

Ada continued her activism while raising her three children and managing the ranch and cattle business. She hosted many visitors working on women's rights and other causes at the "White House of Datil Canyon," her two-story house with many bedrooms. Suffrage leaders came to New Mexico to speak about discriminatory property laws and voting rights for women, with a goal of improving governmental policies and rectifying societal ills.

Ada kept in touch with suffragists in Iowa, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. As a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she worked with Carrie Chapman Catt, who also graduated from Iowa Agricultural College, Ada's alma mater. By the 1890's Ada was very active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the largest women's organization in the world, and served as Superintendent of Franchise of the New Mexico chapter. Later as NM WCTU state president, Ada epitomized WCTU leader Frances Willard's "Do Everything" philosophy, developing women's leadership skills through women's clubs, literary societies, and church groups.

Despite the vast distances, she traveled frequently throughout New Mexico advocating for improvements in public health, education, and funding for libraries. she was successful in campaigning for laws to protect children from dangerous working conditions and sexual exploitation. She fought for the vote as the only way to advance women's rights and enlightened policies.

Though blind from 1905 on, Ada organized and led the NM WCTU's debate on women's suffrage at the Chautauqua held in Mountainair, NM, in August 1910. Her efforts, along with those of Nina Otero-Warren, Julia Brown Asplund, and others, were instrumental in getting very limited school suffrage into the New Mexico's 1910 Constitution. After the New Mexico legislators failed to include full suffrage in the constitution, Ada ramped up efforts to get the federal amendment passed. She assisted suffragists, writers, and leaders around the country in promoting the women's vote as a means of making social and moral reforms.

Ada joined the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1914 and collaborated with national leaders on strategies to get Congress to pass the 19th Amendment. Declaring that "Disenfranchisement is a disgrace," she organized suffragists from around the country to "bombard" Catron (NM's senator 1912-17) who headed the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage. He sabotaged all efforts to let legislation advance out of his committee to the Senate floor. Catron argued that women were too delicate and sensitive to be capable of handling politics and duties outside of the home.

Over thirty-five years, Ada Morley wrote hundreds of letters to Congress advocating for the women's vote. By the 1916 election, both parties in New Mexico were pro-suffrage, so Catron's obstruction of the women's vote lost him the primary. Undaunted, just days before leaving office, Catron railed on the Senate floor about the immense dangers to family life and societal norms if women were granted the vote. Fortunately, Ada lived long enough to see Senator Andrieus A. Jones of Las Vegas, NM, replace Catron as Chair of the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

Ada MacPherson Morley died on December 9, 1917 and is buried in Datil, Catron County. She would have exulted in Jones's success in getting the 19th Amendment to the Senate floor in 1919, earning him Catt's praise as the most important member in Congress for advancing women's suffrage. August 26, 1920, the official date of the Amendment's ratification, enfranchising 27 million women, would have been Ada's 68th birthday.

The Evening Herald declared Ada Morley's death a major loss to New Mexico, California, and Colorado. "The blind author, lecturer, philanthropist, suffragist" always used "her trenchant pen...for uplift and reforms." "No more brainy idealist ever lived than this Tolstoi of the Datils." "The emancipation of women by enfranchisement" was her life's work. Even after becoming blind, "she continued writing and distributing crates of literature for the advancement of the equal suffrage cause." Her daughters and granddaughters carried on her legacy and her interests in women's rights, civic participation, history, and literature.


"Great Woman Gone," The Evening Herald, 15 December 1917, (Albuquerque, NM), p. 13, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Find a Grave: Ada McPherson Morley.

Jensen, Joan M. "'Disfranchisement is a Disgrace:' Women and Politics in New Mexico, 1900-1940," New Mexico Historical Review, Winter 1981. The quotation in the title was taken from a letter from Morley to Anne Martin, head of the Congressional Union/National Women's Party. This letter and some others Ada wrote are in National Women's Party papers, Library of Congress, Tray 12, Box 1.

Miller, Darlis A. Open Range: The Life of Agnes Morley Cleaveland University of Oklahoma Press, 2010). Miller discusses Ada's daughter's harsh portrayal of her mother in No Life for a Lady. Cleaveland criticizes her mother's choice to bring up her children on a large cattle ranch in a remote, rural spot in New Mexico. She also became a woman's rights advocate as did her daughter, Morley's granddaughter, Loraine Cleaveland Lavendar.

Cleaveland, Norman. "Some Omissions in Las Vegas History," La Cronica de Nuevo Mexico, No. 26, Historical Society of New Mexico, October 1987. Morley's grandson provides evidence to prove that the Santa Fe Ring had Ray Morley murdered in Mexico because they suspected that he would reveal their crimes. Norman and Loraine were the children of Agnes Morley Cleaveland. This issue also includes a tribute to Loraine for her lifetime of civic contributions.

Many useful articles are available as PDFs and linked in Morley organized several Chautauqua workshops on women's issues and the WCTU debate on women's suffrage held in August 1910 in advance of NM's first Constitutional Convention.

'"Let the Women Stay Home, Have Children and Wash Dishes, Catron Idea," Arguments Medieval.' 22 October 1915, Santa Fe New Mexican, p. 7. See this and other October 1915 articles and opinions linked at

Machen, Meredith. La Palabra - Summer 2020. League of Women Voters of New Mexico,, pp. 5-7.

Catron, Hon. Thomas B. "Article on Woman Suffrage Introduced in United States Senate, Feb. 19, 1917." Catron's last official act before Sen. A. A. Jones took office was this resolution, vehemently opposing suffrage. , pp. 3579-84

Cahill, Cathleen. Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2020, pp. 47-56.

Young, Janine A. "'For the Best Interests of the Community'": The Origins and Impact of the Women's Suffrage Movement in New Mexico, 1900-1930." (1984).

New Mexico Historic Women Markers, {sic}

Caffey, David L. Chasing the Santa Fe Ring: Power and Privilege in Territorial New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014).

Simmons, Marc. "Trail Dust: Last Survivor of the 'Old Days'" 17 June 2011, Santa Fe New Mexican,

Montoya, Maria E. Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict over Land in the American West, 1840-1900. University of California Press (2002). pp. 107-13. ASIN B003AU4HFQ.

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