Eva Bertrand Adams
Adams was the daughter of Cora (Varble) and Verner Lauer
Adams. Her father worked for George Wingfield, the mining
magnate. Her father was hired to set up various facilities
in mining camps for Wingfield, including hotels, commissaries,
and bars. The family would go and stay until the camp was
running and then move on to other locations. Therefore,
the Adams family moved around the state of Nevada frequently.
Adams won a scholarship to Vassar but decided to stay in Reno to attend the University of Nevada. In addition to her academic abilities, she joined many campus organizations and became editor of the campus newspaper, the “Sagebrush”. She became known as a real “workhorse”, stating that many of the male students recognized her work ethic and allowed her to do most of the work.
After graduating from the University of Nevada, in 1928, she began teaching at age 19 at Las Vegas High School. While she was there, she became so annoyed with the makeshift city library, which had no card file on its contents that she persuaded local Camp Fire Girls to create the first index of books and other materials.
While she lived in Las Vegas, her landlady introduced her to political activists in the community including Ed Clark who headed the Clark County Democratic Party. She was introduced to Patrick McCarran on a holiday journey home, when a snowstorm stranded about 40 motorists at the Goldfield Hotel. “He came in and he bought drinks for everybody, and he wasn’t running, and I thought what a nice man.”2
After teaching high school in Las Vegas, she attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York.
She was on the English faculty at the University of Nevada in 1940 when Nevada Senator Pat McCarran asked her to join his staff in Washington D.C. She became his Administrative Assistant and remained in that position until Senator McCarran’s death in 1954. She quickly found herself to be in charge of the office and had the wisdom to know how to handle many difficult situations that arose.
“The Secretary of the Senate had an open bar,” Adams recalls, “which created problems, frequently, and this night it was a great problem because Senator McCarran had been at this open bar. He came stomping into the office.” He then dictated a number of rude telegrams to some of the most important people in the aviation industry, ordering them to be in his office at 10 a.m. the following morning. She stared at the telegrams, decided not to send them and cleaned out her desk for her pending discharge. McCarran didn’t even show up till 10:30, and later recalled he had ordered something done. When she showed the telegrams, he gasped, “My God, did you send those?”
Adams had a special relationship with McCarran. Many found his personality to be intimidating and sometimes frightening. She was able to intercede on his behalf to facilitate smooth working conditions with other dignitaries and citizens. She quietly protected McCarran from his worst character traits and let the best shine. The office developed a reputation as the most efficient in the Senate building, and she was called upon to teach other senator’s staffs how to run their offices.
Adams attended law school while working in Washington D.C. for Senator McCarran. She received an LL.B. degree at Washington College of Law, American University, Washington D.C. and a Master’s degree in law from George Washington University. She became a member of the Nevada and District of Columbia Bars and was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court in 1954.
Altogether, Adams received four degrees in addition to her University of Nevada degree:
After Senator McCarran’s death she remained as Administrative Assistant to Senator Ernest Brown who was appointed to succeed McCarran. She continued as Administrative Assistant to Senator Alan Bible who was elected U.S. Senator from Nevada in 1954.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy invited her to have lunch in the Senate cafeteria and asked her to be Director of the U.S. Mint. Her Nevada background helped give her an understanding of precious metals and the mining processes. While growing up in Wonder, she had watched the miners process silver ore until it was converted into small bars and sent off to the mint. She had been fascinated with this process her entire life.
Adams was reappointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 and remained in that position until 1969. Adams reported that she had no problem being accepted into this position. She was the second woman to have the position of Mint Director, following the May 1933 – April 1953 tenure of Nellie Taylor Ross. As director of the U.S. Mint for eight years, she had the highest public position ever reached by a Nevada woman.
When she took over the mint, it was in need of reorganization. New presses had not been ordered and there was a looming coin shortage created by coin-operated machines and an economy surging back from a recession.
Because it was difficult to purchase new coin presses, workers had to modify existing machines to produce more coins. They raided government arsenals for machines, originally designed for making jackets for rifle bullets and turned those into coin presses. They even took the presses from the old Carson City Mint, still maintained for their historical interest, and refurbished them to be used in production.
At the same time Congress ordered that silver be taken out of coins. This was necessary because the price of silver tended to stay higher than the face value of the coins. The mint began issuing “sandwich money” made of common metals. Once that happened, the older silver coins were bought and hoarded by collectors and silver coins disappeared from common circulation. The short-term result was that coins were in even shorter supply. Under her direction, the Mint was able to find an adequate substitute for silver in coinage by employing copper-nickel clad composition.
Adams was director of the Mint during its fastest-growing period, authorizing and supervising the construction of a new mint in Philadelphia, which was said to be her proudest and most lasting accomplishment of her career.
She was quoted in 1983 at a reception to honor
the publishing of her oral history,
Dress like a queen
She served on boards of directors of several corporations and foundations and was a consultant to the Chairman of the Board of Mutual of Omaha. In 1969 she resigned from the U.S. Mint when President Nixon came into office and wanted a Republican for the position. After retirement she continued working for Mutual of Omaha in Washington for a time, but ultimately retired to Reno.
In 1963 she received a Distinguished Nevadan Award at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1966 she was presented with the Treasury Department’s Exceptional Service Award. In 1973 she was named one of Nevada’s Outstanding Women of the Century, and in 1985 was inducted into the Nevada Women’s Fund Hall of Fame. In 1982 she completed an oral history entitled, “Windows of Washington, Nevada Education, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Mint.”
She died in Reno on August 23, 1991. At her funeral, former Nevada congressman Ralph Denton spoke eloquently of Adams. “Pride and loyalty were the noble qualities that epitomized her life. In this 20th century, she was truly a pioneer woman, encompassed with binding family ties from her earliest years, yet liberated in the strongest contemporary sense.”
Researched and written by Nancy Oakley
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