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: 4 Apr 1916 (Yerington NV)
Marjorie Ann Guild was born in Yerington, Nevada, on April 16, 1916. She came from a long line of native Nevadans dating back to the 1860’s. Her paternal grandfather, Lucius A. (Brad) Guild traveled from western New York State to Dayton in the 1860’s and settled in the area. Her father, Clark J. Guild, was one of eleven children born to Lucius and his English immigrant wife, Maria Varley Wheatley. Clark J. later moved to Yerington where he practiced law, became a judge, and met and married Virginia Carroll. Virginia (“Virgie”) was known for her beauty and also her love of music. She was a very accomplished musician.
Virgie’s maternal grandfather was J. S. Craig, a pioneer Nevadan who was one of the founders of a community near Yerington called Greenfield. He later became Justice of the Peace there. Marjorie named one of her twin sons Craig in honor of his memory.
At the age of fourteen, Marjorie’s life changed dramatically. Her mother, who had been ill for several months, died. She and her brother Clark Jr. briefly spent some time at the Guild family ranch in Yerington where her mother’s sisters often stopped by to help out. Her father decided to send Marjorie to the Castilleja School for Girls in Palo Alto, California, to finish high school. She graduated from there and was accepted to Mills College. At Mills, she majored in Speech and Dramatic Art. She became an accomplished pianist and performed in many of Mills’ drama productions including the opera version of Hansel and Gretel. Many of her lifelong friends were those she met at Mills College. During that time her father had relocated to Carson City where he held the position of District Court Judge. Upon graduation she obtained a teaching job in the nearby community of Silver City. The Nevada State Legislature went into session in Carson City that year and Marjorie was introduced to a highly sought-after and dashing White Pine County State Assemblyman by the name of Charles Russell.
Charles was editor of the Ely Record and much involved in local politics. Marjorie took a teaching job in Ruth, Nevada, near Ely, and the romance blossomed. They were married in 1939. Clark was born in Ely in 1940, followed by Virginia in 1942. After winning a White Pine State Senate seat in 1944, Charles went on to claim Nevada’s U. S. Congressional position (1946-1949). Twins Craig and David were born in Reno in 1945 and James Todd was born in Washington, D.C. in 1947.
After his congressional term, Charles accepted a position that took him overseas in assisting in the implementation of the Marshall Plan. This was a major United States aid program designed to assist in the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. He traveled throughout Europe while Marjorie remained in Washington with their five children. Mildred and Lucy Novich, who were friends of hers from McGill, came to Washington to help her with the children while he was away. Charles returned from Europe and, in 1949, the family moved back to Carson City where they temporarily resided with Judge Guild. While Marjorie set about enrolling the children into school, Charles reentered Nevada politics by running against incumbent Governor Vail Pittman.
Charles was elected Governor of Nevada in 1950 and re-elected to that position in 1954. During those years the Mansion did not resemble the beautiful structure that exists today. The Mansion’s roof leaked. There was a lack of furniture and Marjorie found herself on a tight budget with no resources to purchase new furniture. She had to resort to borrowing furniture from local churches in order to hold some state functions. Her official role was to entertain and attend the many state functions, be available for interviews, preside over teas and charities, and to travel throughout the state’s seventeen counties representing her office as First Lady of the State. In addition to those duties, she was also expected to keep the Governor’s Mansion open for public tours. All of this was in addition to her role of wife and mother to five young children in whose many activities she participated in or supervised.
The Mansion became a real home for the Russell family. Football was played on the front lawn; neighborhood basketball games were an ongoing activity in the back driveway; and cardboard boxes were flattened to use to slide down the Mansion’s grand staircase. There was almost always an extra child or multiple children at the dinner table. There were Scout meetings, slumber parties, and other family activities being held continuously. The Mansion may have been a state house, but “Marge” and “Charlie” made it a home for their family.
James Todd Russell wrote of his mother’s patience in meeting unexpected challenges in fulfilling her “First Lady” duties:
Daughter Virginia Russell Sakal added, “I can just see her descending the basement stairs and seeing the tub empty …worried about her gown…”
Marjorie handled those years as the lady that she always was, with grace and dignity. (On September 13th, 1989, Marjorie and Charles Russell celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at their former home, the Governor’s Mansion.)
In 1960 Charles was offered the post of Director of the United States Operations Mission, now called the A.I.D. Mission, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The entire family relocated to Asuncion, Paraguay. Marjorie continued her role as mother and public servant in her new position as U.S.O.M. Director’s wife. She traveled with Charles throughout South America and into the interior of Paraguay. She entertained ambassadors and diplomats, belonged to an American Wives Club, studied Spanish, and became an accomplished golfer. The Russell family flourished in their new environment. Marjorie set an example for her children by thriving in each new experience and encouraging her children to do the same. This included shopping at open-air markets and tolerating strange animals. Charles often brought home such animals as a carpanico, a large rodent, and an armadillo from the Chaco, located in the interior of Paraguay.
Moving back to Carson City in 1963 brought new challenges. Charles took a position with the University of Nevada. After the purchase of their first house in Carson City, the family settled into a more traditional routine. Marjorie became a very active member of the Nevada State Museum’s Board of Trustees. Her father, Clark Guild, founded the State Museum in 1941. She remained an active board member for twenty-two years (1977-1992). When Marjorie finally decided to retire from this position, then Governor Bob Miller showed his refusal to accept her resignation by tearing up the resignation letter at a luncheon held for her in honor of her many years of dedicated service work.
Her love of Nevada’s history, and her personal passion for historical textiles and clothes, led her to assist in the creation of a new branch of the State Museum. The Nevada State Museum’s Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center was established and named in her honor. Many donations of historical importance have been made to this state facility because of her. Today, this museum preserves and houses thousands of items that were important and illustrative of Nevada’s textile history. With the realization of the new museum branch, her passion became a reality.
In later years Marjorie’s love of needlepoint became a way of using her creative talent, although this skill was made increasingly more difficult by the rheumatoid arthritis that she endured. Many of her beautiful needlepoint pieces are now in the homes of her children. Her unique needlepoint of the State Seal of Nevada resides on the wall of attorney son David’s law office.
The phrase used to describe Marjorie again and again is that she was “a lady full of grace and style”. She liked roses in the garden, fresh flowers on her coffee-table and the ever-present dish of lemon drops. She had thirteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. Marjorie died on March 3, 1997. She is buried in Dayton, Nevada beside her beloved husband Charles and generations of family members.
Perhaps Governor Michael O’Callaghan’s tribute spoke to Marjorie Russell’s contributions to the state best when he described her as:
Written and researched by Virginia Russell Sakal. Posted to NWHP Web site June 2009.