Clara Antoinette McCarty Wilt (1858–1929) was the first graduate of the University of Washington and the first woman superintendent of the Pierce County School District.
McCarty was born in 1858 in Steilacoom, Washington. She was born to Jonathan Warren and Ruth Jane Kincaid McCarty. Jonathan and Ruth were two of the original settlers of the town of Sumner, Washington. They were married on January 7, 1855 in the Sumner area. Clara was the second of five children: Charles C., Laura Candace, Mary Estelle, William W., and Frank Truman. In the years following their marriage, Jonathan and Ruth, along with Ruth’s family moved to Fort Steilacoom when Sumner was threatened by Indians. While in Fort Steilacoom, Ruth had Clara in 1858. In 1859, Clara’s family went back to their settlement to find it completely destroyed by the Indians. They started a new farm, and Clara’s father worked as mailman servicing Seattle and other places around the area, as well as keeping up the farm. When Clara reached her preteens, she and her family moved to Seattle so that she and her siblings could receive a better education there. There, Clara’s father was a storekeeper.
Clara married John Henry Wilt (1852–1907) in 1882. Together, they had one child, Clara May Wilt.
Clara was a woman of many firsts. She is even recognized for purchasing the first typewriter in Pierce County.
University of Washington Graduate
In 1876, Clara Antoinette McCarty Wilt graduated from the Territorial University, now known as the University of Washington. She was the first person to successfully graduate from the University, let alone the first woman graduate. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science. At the time, the Territorial University was located in what is now downtown Seattle, wedged between 4th and 6th Avenues on the west and east and Union and Seneca Streets on the north and south. In 1861, the first University building had four floors, and thirty-five rooms. Tuition was thirty dollars per year when Clara attended the University. After graduating from the University, Clara taught in various schools, and then she attended the University of California. In her honor, McCarty Hall, a dormitory on the current UW campus is named after her.
Superintendent of Pierce County Schools
On November 2, 1880, Clara was elected Superintendent of Pierce County Schools. With this achievement, she was the first Superintendent of Pierce County Schools, as well as being the first woman to hold office in the Washington Territory.
Later Years and Death
In her later years, Clara worked a lot in her community, including working as a YMCA secretary and also working actively in her church and historical society. She died in 1929, at 71 years of age.