Ada McPherson Morley

Photo Credit: James N. Furlong. Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA)

Ada McPherson Morley

Rancher, women’s rights crusader, Agnes Morley Cleaveland’s mother.

Ada McPherson Morley
Installation of Ada McPherson Morley historic marker.
Ada McPherson Morley historic marker.

She ran the ranch and raised three children, all of whom became prominent figures in New Mexico history, including Agnes Morley Cleaveland, author of No Life for a Lady.

Ada McPherson Morley came to New Mexico as a young newlywed and settled in Cimarron, New Mexico. Her husband was an engineer and, like her, a crusader. They openly opposed the infamous Santa Fe Ring, a Santa Fe based group of corrupt politicians who were not above sending hired gunmen after their enemies. She moved with her husband to a ranch near Datil, New Mexico, where they constructed and lived in the “White House of Datil Canyon.” Shortly after their move to Datil, her husband took a job in Mexico, where he died under mysterious circumstances. She ran the ranch the rest of her life. She also raised three children, all of whom were college educated and became prominent contributors to New Mexico’s history.

Family and ranch duties aside, Morley remained a crusader. She became the president of the New Mexico Chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and formed New Mexico chapters of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She worked for women’s suffrage for 35 years and wrote hundreds of letters to congressmen and New Mexican women, urging them to press for women’s right to vote.

Her daughter Agnes Morley Cleaveland was born in 1874 and spent her early years on the family ranch and in the town of Datil. Her mother sent her to school in Philadelphia, after which she continued her education in California, where she lived most of her adult life. She became a successful and noted author. Her book No Life For a Lady, first published in 1941, is an autobiographical story of a woman’s life on a turn-of-the-century ranch. The book has been an invaluable resource to subsequent generations of scholars interested in the ranching West.

Cleaveland returned to Datil throughout her life. She spent the final few years of her life with her sister Lorraine Lavender on the ranch, where she died on March 8, 1958.


Foote, Cheryl J. Women of the New Mexico Frontier, 1846-1912. Niwot, NM: University of Colorado Press, 1990.

Cleaveland, Norman. The Morley’s – Young Upstarts on the Southwest Frontier. Albuquerque, NM: Calvin Horn Press, 1971.

Morris Bakkem, Morris, and Brenda Farmington. Encyclopedia of Women in the American West. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.


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