The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: July 1868
Died: October 30, 1945
Maiden Name: Lewers
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian (Irish/Scottish)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Washoe Valley, Nevada and Reno, Nevada
Major Fields of Work: Education, Art
University art professor led an independent, inventive life
Katherine Lewers was born in July 1868 at the family ranch in Washoe Valley, Nevada. Her father, Ross Lewer, had emigrated from County Armagh, Ireland in 1849 and established himself as a miner and lumberman in California. When Virginia City, NV entered the silver boom, he moved his sawmill to Mill City, NV and when the silver boom was exhausted and logging was no longer financially feasible, Mr. Lewers turned to farming and cattle ranching on his Washoe Valley property. In 1861, he returned to Ireland for a bride and brought Catherine Taggart Lewers back to his Washoe Valley, Nevada ranch. The Lewers produced seven children – five boys, Robert, Edward, Charles, Harry and Edward as well as two girls, Katherine and Ellen. For over fifty years the Lewers also produced cattle, apples and flowers which were sold throughout the Reno area. The November 13, 1939 edition of the Reno Evening Gazette reported Her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria had even ordered from the Lewers’ Washoe Valley farm.Katherine and her siblings attended the one room schoolhouse at Mill Station in Washoe Valley and then the University of Nevada, Reno. She began teaching in the Reno area. In 1900, at the age of 32, she was awarded a two year scholarship to the New York School of Design. She subsequently trained at the Howard Helmick Art School in Washington, D.C. – Georgetown where she became aware of the Scottish painter-etcher movement and chose to enroll in St. George’s Art School in Glasgow Scotland. Upon completion of her studies there, she was hired by the University of Nevada to teach drawing classes and by September 1905, she “had been granted a letter of appointment to teach drawing and biology, at a yearly salary of $1,500”. (1) During the period she had been away from home her family had suffered two great tragedies. On May 30, 1903, her brother Edward had been mortally injured while working in a small quartz mine near the family ranch. Two days later on June 02, 1903, Ellen Lewers died suddenly from typhoid fever while at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California where she had been studying. Needless to say, the entire family was devastated from these deaths and it was said the mother, Catherine, never did recover as she became reclusive and died just a few years later in 1907.
That year Katherine was granted an assistant professorship and she also moved back to the ranch to live with her father. She remained at the ranch until her death. According to Margaret Ann Riley’s article in the 1990 Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Volume 33, Katherine Lewers took a sabbatical to Paris, France in 1912, but information about that sabbatical was not forthcoming. In 1914, Miss Lewers became a full professor at the University of Nevada. She had a thirty-four year association with the University before her retirement in 1939.
During her tenure at the University, she had the “distinction of having created her own formulas for mixing paint. Her method in oil eliminates the shine which is often a disadvantage of viewing ordinary oil paintings: (2) other accomplishments credited to Katherine Lewers were “national recognition for a special method of blending wax crayons which was reported in the April 12, 1942 “Remember When – 20 years ago” section of the Nevada State Journal. Aside from her interests in art and painting and photography, Katherine invented an attachment for embroidering on the sewing machine. (3)
During her working years, Katherine Lewers was an active participant in University life. She remained single at a time when that was not considered the norm for young women. However, as a single woman with financial resources she was able to travel and pursue her many interests. Newspapers from the era document that she judged many art exhibits throughout the Reno area. A March 27, 1915 Reno Gazette article reported that her exhibition, which was forwarded from the University of Nevada to the San Francisco “Palace of Adoration”, had been given a prominent place in the exposition. Other newspaper articles show that she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta fraternity, an active participant in the Latimer Art Club, and a member of the Junior American Legion Auxiliary. In 1937, she served on Governor Richard Kirman’s art committee, whose mission was to select paintings, etchings and sculpture for the 2nd annual National Exhibition of American Art in New York City. Other notables on that committee were Robert Coles Caples, Charles Cutts and Willa Church. (4)
Her father, Ross, died in 1918. Katherine remained on the ranch until her death. She continued the family tradition of making and selling apple cider. She gave private painting lessons. She raised white ducks for many years. This author found an article in the October 16, 1928 edition of the San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas that had been sent via the Associated Press and written by Miss Mildred Duff. Miss Duff reported a local 11 year old girl, Mildred Cliff of Washoe Valley, NV., had “dug and delivered” 720 angleworms to Katherine Lewers of Washoe Valley which she used to feed her “prized ducks”. Miss Cliff was a participant in the 4-H program in Washoe Valley and selling angleworms helped her generate funds for the summer 4-H camp.
Margaret Ann Riley’s biography of Katherine Lewers notes Katherine was a well-liked professor and that she was described as a “total character” who was “petite, wiry, always in a hat with a veil and old-fashioned dress, walking briskly” which appears quite a contrast to the pictures of her in early news articles. Both Margaret Ann Riley and Myra Sauer Ratay (Pioneers of the Ponderosa) portray Katherine as living almost a hermit’s life at the Washoe Valley ranch after her retirement from the University.
After months of failing health, the October 30, 1945 Reno Evening Gazette reported: “Miss Katherine Lewers Dies After Long Career”. She had been hospitalized in Reno for two weeks prior to her death. She was seventy-seven years of age. She is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Reno, NV.
Researched and written by Marcia Bernard Cuccaro. Uploaded to Website December 2015
Sources of Information:
- Riley, Margaret Ann, “Katherine Lewers (1868-1945), Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Volume 33, Summer 1990, page 94
- “Remember When – 20 Years Ago”, April 12, 1944, Nevada State Journal, Reno, NV.
- “Historical Tour – Lewers Ranch”, Reno Evening Gazette, March 21, 1942
- Mrs. Thurlow Douglas, “Family of Lewers Early Settlers in Washoe Valley”, Reno Evening Gazette, November 13, 1939.
- “Governor Kirman Selects Art Committee” – Nevada State Journal, April 29, 1937.
- Ratay, Myra Sauer, “Pioneers of the Ponderosa – How Washoe Valley Rescued the Comstock”, Western Printing and Publishing Company, Sparks, NV. 1973 pages 72 – 80
- Philip I. Earl, “This was Nevada” – Henderson Home News, Boulder City News and Grass Valley News, Thursday, Friday, October 18, 1996
- “Art Exhibit has Position of Honor”, March 27, 1915, Reno Evening Gazette, (Reno, Nevada)
- “Miss Mildred Duff, by Associated Press” to San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas, October 16, 1928 article on Mildred Cliff and angleworms
- “Miss Katherine Lewers Dies After Long Career”, October 30, 1945, Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada)
- 1880 U.S. Census, Franktown, Washoe, Nevada, Roll: 759; Family History Film: 1254759, Page 307sB, Enumeration District: 053, image: 0620 (via Ancestry.com)