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: May 10, 1893 (Bevier MO)
Ida Louise (Liz) Pittman was born on May 10, 1893, to Dr. George and Rose Brewington in Macon, Missouri. Her early years were dedicated to music. She became a very accomplished pianist and was employed as a music teacher in Centralia, Missouri. Surprising her family, she applied for a teaching position in Tonopah, Nevada, and was accepted. It must have been quite a change for a reserved young southern lady, but she adapted very well to her new surroundings, except the night when a burro thrust his head in her window and brayed. She almost left Tonopah the next day but was persuaded to stay.
During this time there was a very successful businessman in Tonopah by the name of Vail Pittman. He was a typical southern gentleman. Liz and Vail met at a Saturday night dance in Tonopah. Even though Liz told her friends that she had never been allowed to attend a dance at home, they insisted that she go with them. Following their first meeting, Vail walked her home and the romance began. Liz was to say later, “I was just lucky. I have been lucky all my life.” After the school year ended on May 20, 1919, the couple traveled to Reno where they were married and began a long and happy life together.
At the time of their marriage Vail was attempting to buy a paper in Nevada. He had been involved in managing the Tonopah Times and was interested in buying it, but the owner refused to sell. So, after several attempts to find a paper, Vail succeeded in purchasing the Ely Daily Times in Ely, Nevada. However, there was a copper mine strike in Ely at that time, so he delayed publishing until the strike was settled. In April of 1920, the young couple arrived in Ely to find that the equipment needed a great deal of improvement before they could begin work. However, with Liz at his side helping him in every way, they began what was to be a very successful business.
Liz immediately began to assist Vail in organizing and publishing the paper, despite the fact that her career had been in teaching. Alongside her husband she learned the hard work and deadlines of the newspaper business. At the same time, this lovely, beautifully dressed lady was welcomed into the cosmopolitan social circle of Ely which consisted mostly of families of mining company officials. At that time there was some conversation about her name and she remarked that she had never liked her name. Her friends suggested the name “Liz” and that stayed with her for the rest of her life.
In 1942 Vail became involved in politics. When he ran for Lt. Governor he was elected. During those years he had to spend a considerable amount of time in Carson City. Liz was left alone in Ely to run their paper. At the time Vail was elected, Ted Carville of Elko was elected Governor. Following the death of U.S. Senator James Scrugham on June 23, 1945, Governor Carville appointed himself to the Senate post, leaving Vail as Governor of Nevada.
At this time things became very hectic for Liz as she was running the paper and at the same time was First Lady of Nevada. For several years the state had neglected to provide funds for the Governor’s Mansion. As a result it presented quite a problem for Liz. The furniture was in deplorable condition and the building itself in desperate need of repair.
While she was still tending the paper in Ely, her husband called and told her they were going to have to have a party in the Mansion on Admission Day. After arranging for help with the paper, she moved her furniture to Carson City and installed it in the Mansion, which certainly improved the interior. She had only five days to prepare for the party, but in her usual efficient manner, she accomplished all that was necessary.
For six months Liz traveled between Carson City and Ely, successfully fulfilling her two careers. Eventually she found a manager for their paper and was able to move into the Mansion. Liz proved to be very talented in restoring and refurbishing the Mansion in order to make it an attractive place. Since she believed that it belonged to all Nevadans, she opened it to the public. Many local organizations took advantage of her generosity and held fundraisers and parties there. Liz also began a tradition of decorating the Mansion both inside and outdoors during the holiday seasons.
In 1946 Vail ran for Governor and was elected. But in 1950, when he ran for reelection, he was defeated, due mostly to the widely held belief in Nevada that a Governor should not serve more than two terms. When his term in office expired, they returned to Ely and continued operating their newspaper. However, during this time they traveled extensively. In 1951 they sold their paper and moved to Las Vegas where Liz rejoined her parents and her sisters. For the first time in many years, she was able to enjoy some leisure time. She became very active in the social life of Las Vegas where she was very popular.
In the early 1960’s when Vail was serving as Democratic National Committeeman for Nevada, he was stricken with cancer and died at the age of 80 in San Francisco. At his request he was buried at the Mt. View Cemetery in Reno. This was a sad time for Liz and she spent the next year, with the help of her sister Ann, going through Vail’s personal papers, manuscripts, and pictures. She then donated this completed project to the Special Collections at the Library of the University of Nevada. Liz also donated her Inaugural Ball gowns, slippers, and accessories, together with several other gowns she had worn on state occasions, to the Nevada State Museum where they were added to the collection of First Ladies’ gowns.
Liz then began a life of travel in which she made two trips around the world and several ones to exotic places. Her friends often received cards from her from such places as Bora Bora, Tahiti, and the South Pole. In her elaborate clothes, and as the wife of a former Governor, she often found herself actively participating in the social life offered aboard ships. In the early 1980’s, her eyes began to bother her. Liz had eye surgery which was unsuccessful. She began to lose her eyesight which caused her great anxiety. She spent some time at a hospital in Chula Vista, California, going back occasionally to visit friends and family in Las Vegas. Liz passed away on October 11, 1984, in Chula Vista and is now reunited with Vail at the Mt. View Cemetery in Reno. Nevada residents were indeed fortunate to have had this lovely, charming woman as one of their First Ladies. The author had known Liz Pittman since she was a small child and remembers in her teen years, “thinking that she was the epitome of the perfect lady. She was really an exceptional woman. Besides being most attractive, and always beautifully dressed, she was very kind and thoughtful with everyone.”
Researched and written by Gertrude Gottschalk. Posted to NWHP Web site December 2009.