Rita Agnes Cannan


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: December 24, 1893
Died: October 26, 1981
Maiden Name: Rita Agnes Cannan
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Marrried: No
Children: None
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Reno, Nevada
Major Fields of Work: Teacher, School Principal
Other Role Identities: Educator


Rita Agnes Cannan was born in Aspen, Colorado on Christmas Eve to Michael and Mary Cannan in 1893. Her older siblings were Ellen (nicknamed Nellie), Erma and James Clyde. Years later Clyde was well known in Reno for his drugstore on Commercial Row. Henry Lester, Frances, Joseph and Roger all became younger siblings to Rita. They were a very loving family and faithful members of the Catholic Church.

Rita’s father was the foreman of the Smuggler Mine in Aspen until the mine caught on fire. The family moved to Goldfield, Nevada in 1905 where Rita’s father became Shift Manager at the Mohawk Mine.

Following High School, Rita attended and graduated from the first class of Nye County Normal school in 1914, with seven other students. Normal School, or Teaching College, lasted only one year and the class work consisted mostly of subject on “how to teach…” The subjects they taught were those learned in grammar and high schools.

The high school class subjects taught in those days are listed in the Thesis of Procter Hug (1955), titled “The Development of the High School in Nevada.” They were Latin I, II, III, IV, Elementary Algebra, Plane and Solid Geometry, Bookkeeping, and History of England, Greece, Rome and the United States. Also taught were English classes in Learning the Meaning of Thoughts, Figures of Speech (which emphasized Metaphors and mythical spellings), and Morals and Manners.

Most areas of our country then required entrance exams to be taken prior to admitting a student to high school. The Nevada Legislature passed such a law in 1895, but there is no record of the examination in Nevada State Records and Archives.

After graduating from Normal school in 1914, Rita taught one year in the mining camp of Columbia, Nevada, considered a suburb of Goldfield. She then moved to Round Mountain to teach for five years.

Miss Cannan traveled each summer to Reno to take additional education classes at the University in order to obtain a more advanced university teaching credential. She received her University of Nevada Normal Teaching Degree May 7th, 1918. This degree required two years of university coursework.

Moving back to Goldfield, she taught there for ten years. One of the students Miss Cannan taught was Zenia Loncar Baird. Now in her nineties, Miss Zenia remembers her well. “She was a damned good teacher. She taught me in the seventh and eighth grades. I can still see her moving up and down the aisles correcting each student’s spelling at their desks.”

Miss Cannan’s father, Michael, died in Goldfield in 1916, which left her mother a widow. Teachers were not expected to marry then (or perhaps were not allowed to teach if married). Rita made the decision at that time to stay single so she could take care for of her mother.

In 1930 her family moved to Reno where Rita taught fifth and sixth grades at the Mary S. Doten School for one year. She was appointed School Principal in 1931 and held that position for 27 years. For some of those years she was a teaching principal. Half of her day was spent teaching and the remainder was filled with administrative duties. One of the teachers who graduated from the University of Nevada spent her first year (1945) at the Mary S. Doten School. Marisquirena Olinghouse attributed her love of teaching to the excellent supervision of Rita Cannan. Kay Sanders, NWHP Website Editor and a former student at Mary S. Doten, also remembers Miss Cannan as her principal in the 1940s. “She was strict but kind and students respected her.”

After her formal retirement in 1959, Miss Cannan was a substitute teacher at Mary S. Doten for three more years, as well as one year at Sierra Vista Grammar School. Former students of hers who became well known politicians were Alan Bible, former Nevada Attorney General (1942-1950), and U.S. Senator (1954-1974), and Nevada Congressman Walter Baring (1948-1952).

In her honor and memory, a grammar school in Reno was named for her in 1961 because she was so admired and loved. Her students fondly nicknamed her “the Cannan Ball”.

The State of Nevada was proud to have this excellent educator in our state. Although she started her education in Colorado, she received most of her education in Nevada. During her entire lifetime, she modeled the manners and morals that she taught her to her students. For most of her life her world revolved around Mary S. Doten School, its students, and parents.

Rita Cannan passed away in Reno, Nevada in October 26, 1981. She was mourned by many hundreds of students, parents and educators, and personified a true educator in every sense of the word.

Researched by Martha Goodrich. Written by Martha Goodrich. Updated (research) and edited by Patti Bernard. Posted to Website July 2017.

Sources of Information:

  • Oral interview, Josie Olinghouse [Conducted by Martha Goodrich], undated.
  • Oral Interview, Xenia Baird [Conducted by Martha Goodrich], undated.
  • Oral Interviews with Rita Cannan family members [Conducted by Martha Goodrich], undated.
  • “Goldfield News”, Nevada State Journal [Reno[, September 26, 1926, p3:3.
  • “School Faculty Selected at Goldfield”, Reno Evening Gazette, May 13, 1929 p3:5.
  • Many Coloradoans Attend Reunion and Picnic Held at Bowers Mansion”, Nevada State Journal [Reno], June 8, 1931 p6:5.
  • “Mary S. Doten Carnival Big Success”, Nevada State Journal, March 17, 1932, p2:4.
  • “The Development of the High School in Nevada”, Proctor C. Hug, Master’s Thesis, 1955, University of Nevada, Reno, Special Collections.
  • “Past Presidents Honored at Tea”, Nevada State Journal [Reno], February 24, 1951, p5:4.
  • “Two Retiring School Administrators”, Reno Evening Gazette, June 5, 1959, p2:4.