RUTH DAVIS SULLIVAN
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: June 15, 1896, Lovelock, Nevada
Died: February 17, 1991, Reno, Nevada
Maiden Name: Ruth L. Davis
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Edgar Hollingsworth, Eugene E. Sullivan
Children: Eight (four boys and four girls)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Lovelock (Pershing County), and Reno (Washoe County); also lived in Austin, Nevada.
Major Fields of Work: Teacher of piano, Practical nurse
Other Role Identities: Band Leader, Music for dancing, Composer, ESL Teacher, Artist.
Ruth Davis Sullivan was born on June 15, 1896 in Lovelock, Nevada to Walter H. and Julia Dunham Davis. Her rich pioneering heritage included her great-uncle Brigham Young, her great-grandfather, Martin Harris, and an aunt, Clara Dunham Crowell of Austin, who was appointed Sheriff of Lander County in 1880 – the first woman sheriff in Nevada.
Walter Davis was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and came to Lovelock in 1894. He was a painter and wallpaper hanger and one of the original developers of the Seven Troughs, Scossa, and Rochester Mines. Mr. Davis passed away in 1943. Her mother Julia was born in Austin, Nevada. Julia’s mother came from Vermont to San Francisco in a covered wagon and remembered being hidden from Indians. Julia was married to Walter H. Davis in Austin, Nevada . She passed away in 1899 and Katie Green, Julia’s sister, became a parent to Ruth.
Ruth Davis attended schools in Lovelock and received her Bachelor of Science and Master’s degree in music from Kingston Conservatory of Music in San Jose, California. She wrote her Masters’ thesis on “Jazz versus Classical Music.”
Miss Davis was first married to Edgar Hollingsworth. He was born in Redding, California. Ruth and Edgar had three children, Leola, LaVerne, and Edgar. All three children were accomplished musicians in the fields of violin, piano, and trumpet. Leola was Secretary of the Nevada State Senate for many years and received the Distinguished Nevadan Award. Edgar attended law school and became a highly acclaimed attorney in the field of mining. LaVerne passed away at the age of seventeen.
Ruth’s second marriage was to Eugene Sullivan, son of Peter and Anna M. Clark Sullivan. Gene’s parents were both born in Ireland. They were married in Winnemucca, Nevada. Ruth and Gene Sullivan had five children – Nancy, Eugene, Walter, Marilyn, and Terry. Nancy was a member of the Washoe County School Board and later was elected to the Nevada State Assembly. Nancy received the Distinguished Nevadan Award from the University of Nevada. The Nancy Gomes Elementary School was named in her memory. Eugene was a high school registrar and Terry was director of General Services for the State of Nevada and later became Sergeant of Arms for the Nevada State Assembly. Walter, the infant, died at the age of three days. Ruth instilled a strong sense of patriotism and community service in her children.
Ruth Davis Sullivan was a well-known citizen of Lovelock and Reno. As an accomplished musician and music teacher she lived most of her life in Lovelock providing piano and organ music for the local churches, high school dances, weddings and funerals. She formed a popular dance band named the “Lovelock Four” which performed in small towns and mining camps in Nevada during the 20s and 30s. She began teaching piano in 1919. Eventually, she gave her love of music to seven generations of children in Lovelock and Reno including many of her nineteen grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
During the early 1940s, because of the war and nursing shortage, she became a practical nurse and worked at Pershing General Hospital in Lovelock and St. Mary’s Hospital in Reno.
She was president and one of the three founders of the Pershing County High School Alumni Association. She was president of the Eagles Auxiliary and member and past president of the Business and Professional Women and the Parent Teacher Association. She was a member of the League of Women Voters and the Washoe County Democratic Party, St. John’s Catholic Church in Lovelock, and the Church of the Little Flower in Reno. She belonged to the Lovelock Study Club and the Soroptimist Club. She was not only the organist for the choirs, but also a fine music teacher and active leader in all of the groups of which she was a member.
At the age of 91 this dynamic woman, who had never painted a picture, decided to take art lessons along with computer lessons, Spanish and geology. Betty Mills of the Senior Center moved her up on a waiting list for the classes and a new career began. She loved painting landscapes, flowers, or anything of beauty that caught her attention. Her paintings were put on exhibit at Rancho San Rafael. A reception honoring her and her works of art was held. She painted like she played her beloved piano, with a lot of passion.
Her teaching skills extended to a small family of Chinese immigrants who needed to learn English in order to become citizens. Using a small English grammar book, she taught three young Chinese men, ages 12, 14, and 18, to become proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English. She, in turn, learned to communicate in Chinese.
For 95 years she lived and breathed spirit into her family, friends, and community. Her lifetime contributions were both distinguished and memorable.
Researched and written by Marilyn Sullivan Cervantes, her daughter. June 2007.
Sources of Information:
- Oral History given to Marilyn Cervantes by Ruth Sullivan.
- Hadley, C.J., “Tales for Ruth D. Sullivan”, 6-15-1896 to 2-17-1991 . Copyright 1991.
- Reno Gazette-Journal article. March 1, 1987.
- State of Nevada – Assembly Resolution No. 41, April 4, 1991.