Emma Vanderlieth
Photo Credit:
Courtesy Nevada Historical Society


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: 1864 in San Francisco, Calif.
Died: February 28, 1920 in San Francisco, Calif.
Maiden Name: Emma Vanderleith
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: No
Children: None
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Carson City and Reno, Nevada
Major Fields of Work: Red Cross, State Federation of Women, Eastern Star, Twentieth Century Club and Leisure Hour Club
Other Role Identities: Daughter, sister, foster mother

Northern Nevada clubwoman chaired longstanding student loan fund

Among the many contributions to her state and community, the State Federation of Women’s Clubs Student Loan Fund initiated and chaired during her lifetime by member Emma Vanderleith made higher education possible for at least three-quarters of a century to about 2,000 University of Nevada students.

Emma Vanderleith was born August 6, 1864 in Missouri Bar, a small mining camp near Nevada City, Calif., to German immigrants Jacob and Elizabeth “Meta” Vanderleith. Jacob had been employed there as a hotel keeper for a number of years. Emma was the youngest of three children, her older siblings being Edward and Julia.

By 1885, the Vanderleiths had relocated to Eureka, Nevada, where Mr. Vanderleith once again owned a hotel. Emma was now 16 years old. In August 1880, a fire, the second in two years, essentially destroyed 50 acres in the heart of downtown Eureka. Losses were valued at over one million dollars, which included the Vanderleith home valued at $1,750.

In 1887, Jacob Vanderleith succumbed to apoplexy leaving 23-year-old Emma and her mother living in Eureka. They remained in Eureka because Emma’s brother, Edward, had returned to Nevada and become Deputy County Clerk and later Clerk of the Eureka District Court. They later moved to Carson City, Nev., when Edward became Chief Clerk of the Nevada State Legislature.

At the turn of the century, Carson City was participating “vicariously in the Tonopah and Goldfield booms far to the south. Much of the freight and passenger traffic bound for those two celebrated cities was rerouted to Reno and then through Carson City to Mound House on the V&T railroad.” The Vanderleiths had moved into a home at 314 North Nevada Street. Brother Edward was working in the Nevada Legislature and practicing law. Emma and her mother were involved in the good works of church and community. In 1900, they had a ward, Abraham Goodman, age 14, living with them.

Emma Vanderleith was very active in the Leisure Hour Club and the Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs and was founder and chair of the “Student Loan Fund” during her many years in Carson City and continuing after she and her brother Edward had moved to Reno, Nev. The fund’s mission, begun in 1912 and formalized in the 1921 Nevada State Education Legislative Statutes was to raise money in order to provide “deserving girls and boys” with financial assistance (loans) in order they might continue their education at the University of Nevada. The Carson City Daily Appeal in March 1919 reported 35 students had been provided financial assistance since the fund’s inception in 1913 and only two “so far have failed to repay the money advanced to them. One was taken by death; the other has been unfortunate but insists that some-day repayment will be made.”

Emma was also active in the Red Cross and in July 1917 formed the Carson Unit, Nevada Division, National Council of Women with a goal of helping make articles for the sick and convalescent soldiers of World War I. She was also in the Twentieth Century Club in Reno and was a member of the Order of Eastern Star as well as a member of the Episcopal Church in both Carson City and Reno.

Through Emma’s association with the Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs in Nevada, she had been a supporter of women’s suffrage. In 1911 both houses of the Nevada Legislature had passed a resolution to amend the State Constitution to allow women the right to vote. The voters approved the resolution on November 7, 1914.

On February 7, 1920 Governor Emmet Boyle signed the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United State Constitution which gave all U.S. women the right to vote. Emma, as a member in the Nevada Federation of Women, was a proponent of its passage.

Emma was a staunch supporter of education and providing opportunities for young people who might not have had them. She was relentless in lobbying Nevada communities to donate to the Federation of Women’s Clubs student loan fund. In 1921 a Nevada State Education statute included: “upon a written request of Miss Emma Vanderleith, chairman of the student loan fund of the Federation of Women’s Clubs of Nevada, the controller is to authorize and direct a warrant in favor of the Federation of Women’s Clubs of Nevada for the sum of $2,000.” In response to an inquiry to the University of Nevada Las Vegas Special Collections by the NWHP Chair regarding the Student Loan Fund records, it was learned their records (September 1962 – June 30, 1988) showed 1,838 loans had been made from the fund totaling $107,278.00. Loans had continued from 1919 to 1962 but unfortunately documentation as to the number of student loans made and the money paid out during this time has not been found. However, we know loans were made and money paid because UNLV was able to provide documentation of loans made from 1962 to 1988. Based on the above it seems safe to say that Emma Vanderlieth was responsible for the disbursement of well over $110,000.00 to over 2,000 young University of Nevada applicants. An exact accounting would require delving into records that were not available at this time.

She and her brother Edward provided homes to at least two young people during their years in Carson City and Reno. Abraham Goodman, age 14, was living with them in 1910 in Carson City and her ward, Ella M. Porkh, had been living with them in Reno at the time of Emma’s death. Ella was with Emma when she passed away on February 29, 1920 in San Francisco, California after having been hospitalized there for some weeks.

Emma’s legacy will be remembered as chairman of the Nevada Federation of Women’s student fund which carried on for some decades after her death and benefited countless young Nevadans in obtaining their higher education degrees. It is likely Emma Vanderleith would never have imagined the impact of the scholarship fund she initiated in 1912.

She is buried in the family plot in Sacramento, Calif., per a March 6, 1920 article in the Mason Valley News (Yerington, Nevada).
Researched by Patti Bernard and written by Marcia Cuccaro

Sources of Information:

  • “Club Woman Crosses Over”. Mason Valley News (Yerington, Nevada), March 5, 1920, p2:3.
  • Chrisler, Clara M. “Federation of Women’s Clubs.” The Pioche Record (Pioche, Nevada), May 28, 1920. p. 3:6.
  • “Death of Mrs. M.E. Vanderleith”. The Eureka Sentinel. (Eureka, Nev.), Jan. 22, 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
    Accessed May 5, 2019.
  • ”Emma Vanderlieth Fund To Have Added Donation”. Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), May 26, 1920, p. 9:7.
  • “History”. Carson City – Capital of Nevada, https://carson.org/residents/history, accessed June 4, 2019.
  • “Leisure Hour Officers”. Morning Appeal (Carson City, Nev.) ,May 5. 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. >https://chroniclingamericahttps://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86076999/1904-05-05/ed-1seq-3/#date1=1900&index=12&rows=20&words=Emma+Vanderleith&searchType+basic&sequence-0&state=&date2=1921&protext-emma+vanderleith&u=16&x-22&dateFilterType-yearRange&page-1> Accessed April 4, 2019.
  • “Nevada Clubs Lend $3000 To Students”. Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), August 4, 1920, p. 6:5.
  • “Nevada Federation Meets Wednesday”. Carson City Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nev.), October 23, 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn8607524/1915-20-23/ed-1/seq-4#date1=1900&index=8&rows=20&words=Emma+Vanderleith&searchType=basic&sequence-0&state=&date2=1921&protext=emma+vanderleith&u=16&x=22&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1> Accessed July 1, 2019.
  • “Official Notes of the Federated Club by the Secretary”. Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), November 19, 1916, p. 7:3.
  • “Official Club Notes Nevada Federation of Women’s Clubs”. The Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune (Goldfield, Nevada), November 10, 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
  • “Prominent Women To Be In Convention”. Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), October 24, 1915, p. 6:4.
  • “Personal Mention: Miss Emma Vanderleith returning from the Suffragette convention at Reno”, Carson City Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nevada). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress..< https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86076241/1914-02-26/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=1908&index=1&rows=20&words=Emma+Vanderleith&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=Nevada&date2=1915&proxtext=emma+vanderleith&y=5&x=19&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1> Accessed May 20, 2019
  • “Mrs. C.P. Squires of Las Vegas Heads Women’s Clubs of State”, Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), November 9, 1915, p. 3:1.
  • “Mrs. Meta E. Vanderleith is Called By Death Yesterday”. The Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nevada), January 17, 1910, p. 1:3.
  • “Student Loans Is One Project of State Women”. Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), March 27, 1938, p. 10:2.