Ethel May Parker

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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.

Photo Credit: Reno Evening Gazette

At a Glance: 
Born: August 13, 1891 in Utah
Died: October 31, 1970 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Maiden Name: Potter
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: J. Benjamin Parker
Children: Milton, Robert, Franklin, Ralph
Primary City: Reno, Nevada
Major Fields: Civic clubs, music, history, journalism


Reno clubwoman, musician, journalist helped preserve Bowers Mansion

An active mother of four boys, Ethel M. Parker was a whirlwind of civic activity in Reno.  She was an accomplished musician, a writer, a historian, and a political activist, a leader in the successful effort to preserve Bowers Mansion.

Born Ethel May Potter in August 1891 to James M. and Alice Potter, she is known to have moved around quite a bit, with the census listing her in Ogden, Utah; Owyhee and Wallace, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; and ultimately, Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada.  In 1911, she quietly wed J. Benjamin Parker on Christmas Day.  He was a chemistry and assaying major from the University of Idaho, leading to his profession of mining engineer, and leading to many of Ethel’s adventures and writing assignments connected to mining.

The couple had four boys, Milton, Robert, Franklin, and Ralph.  When they were young, they comprised a family band which Ethel directed, as part of her many activities as a musician.  She was an accomplished pianist, performing at various events in her different hometowns and representing musicians as a delegate at the Utah Federated Music Clubs convention in 1932.

In 1936, the Parkers moved to Nevada for J.B.’s mining business, Nevada Mineral Laboratories, and Ethel settled in with her family, including getting the oldest two sons into the University of Nevada.  In 1940, she formed a local chapter of the National Legion of the Mothers of America, which she described to a reporter as a “non-political, non-profit, non-partisan group of 3 million women who are interested in supporting a strong campaign for adequate national defense, but opposing the conscription of American troops overseas…”  She said the group was to encourage women to voice their opinions, to vote, and to study important public questions.  

It came as no surprise, then, that she helped form and was the first vice president of the prominent Reno Women’s Civic Club in 1944.  She was president by 1946 and encouraged public speakers such as prominent suffragist Anne Henrietta Martin.  In 1951, she met with several officials and groups to push the idea of building an underpass or overpass for the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks through Reno, an idea that finally came to fruition many years later.

Her music remained an important part of her life in Reno where, in 1947, she was elected president of the Nevada Repertoire Club, which put on many musical performances in the area.

Her husband’s work informed much of her work as historian and writer.  Ethel Parker was interviewed by the Nevada State Journal about her impressions of the mining ghost town of Bodie in 1936, and she gave such detailed information and impressions that she started writing articles for the paper about mining towns and characters.  One of her more personal and detailed stories recalled how she and her husband learned of the possibility of prospecting for uranium from an airplane.  They’d heard a talk on the subject at a convention and decided to take their small private plane, a 1936 Ercoupe, on an exploration of the idea.  They had done prospecting on burros before, but this was quite different.  She described having a nucleometer on her lap, which could detect uranium, and as her husband dipped the plane close to the mountains of the Sierra, the machine started making all sorts of noise, indicating it had worked and indeed detected uranium from the sky.

She was in the forefront of the civic club’s drive to purchase Bowers Mansion for preservation as a park and historic site.  One of the longest articles she wrote was her account of how the mansion was about to be snapped up by California developers for use as a bar and casino, when ladies from her civic club approached the owner and proposed its purchase for preservation instead of commercial use.  The club raised a quarter of the money needed, when the Washoe County Commission agreed to raise the rest and become the title owners of the park.  The club still had a prominent part in restoring and furnishing the mansion in the style it was originally intended.

She was interested in the beautification of downtown Reno, too.  In 1964, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Nevada State Journal on behalf of the civic club commending businesses who had worked to improve the exteriors of their businesses on Virginia and Fourth Streets.

In 1966, she moved to Las Vegas.  In 1970, she died there and had her funeral, but she was brought back to be buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Reno.

Researched by Patti Bernard and written by Kitty Falcone

Posted May 3, 2021

Sources of Information Year: 1900; Census Place: Silver City, Owyhee, Idaho; Page: 10, Enumeration District; 0117; FHL microfilm: 1240234. [Ethel Potter] Year: 1910; Census Place: Spokane Ward 5, Spokane, 

Washington; Roll: T624_1671; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0203; FHL microfilm: 1375684. [Ethel M. Parker] U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. [Ethel Parker]

“Chairman.” Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), March 15, 1951, p. 5.

“Couple Surprised Friends.”  The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), December 25, 1911, p. 12.

“Ethel May Parker.” Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nevada), November 2, 1970, p. 5.

“Keeping It All in the Family.” Salt Lake Tribune Junior, (Salt Lake, Utah), March 22, 1931, p. 58.

“Mrs. Parker Installed Civic Club President.” Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), June 4, 1964. p. 20.

Parker, Ethel M. “The Purchase of Bowers Mansion,” April 28, 1953, Washoe County Regional Park [Bowers Mansion], Washoe Valley, Nevada.

Parker, Mrs. Benjamin. “Burro to Plane Transition Made Easy as Nevada Pair Goes Uranium Prospecting.” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), December 10, 1954, p.2.

“Mothers Legion to Meet Here.” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) September 30, 1940, p.1.

“Women’s Civic Club to Be Organized.” Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), September 13, 1944, p.7.

“Repertoire Club Elects Officers.”  Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), April 26, 1947, p. 8.

Washington State Archives; Olympia, Washington, Washington Marriage Records, 1854-2013. {Ethel M. Potler]“Year’s Program Outlined at Club Gathering.” Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada), January 6, 1946, p. 6.