Libbie Conover Booth
At a glance:
Born: April 12, 1856, Monterey, California
Washoe County has named thirty-one** schools after early women educators. Sadly, some of the schools are now gone and with them the memories of those women who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of educating Reno’s youth. These ladies and their contributions to the Reno/Sparks communities should not be forgotten.
Mary Elizabeth Conover Booth, an early Reno educator for whom Libby Booth Elementary School was named, is one of those pioneer women. Most evidence points to a birth date of April 12, 1856, for Libbie Conover in the Monterey, California, area where she and her three siblings (two sisters and one brother) grew up. The early deaths of her parents necessitated that she begin her teaching career in nearby Hollister, California, in 1873 at the age of fifteen. Eleven of her first students were older than she. On her twentieth birthday in 1876, she married brick mason George Booth. She continued to pursue her academic proficiency credentials while teaching and earned her California Life Teaching Certificate in 1885. This certificate was also honored by the State of Nevada. Three years later, in 1888, the couple decided to move to Reno. Libbie immediately obtained a teaching position while George became engaged in the brick and contracting professions.
Reno had only one school and a staff of nine teachers at the time Mrs. Booth was hired. For the next twenty years she taught at the Central School. In 1904 she left that school to become the first principal of the new Southside School. There is some uncertainly as to what her professional status was during the years of 1908-1909. The Reno Evening Gazette’s (6-28-1948) obituary states, “In 1908 and 1909 she was principal of the Whitaker School on Ralston Hill, which previously had been a seminary and was operated later as a public school.”
The Nevada State Journal (6-29-1948) states, “She left the public school system for a time in 1908 when she was principal of Whitaker’s seminary which was then operating here.”
No additional information has been found to clarify these statements, however. The Episcopal Church owned Whitaker Women’s Seminary. Later referred to as the Whitaker School, it closed its doors in 1894. It then was rented out and later leased for a hospital in 1902. The Church Diocese completed the sale of Whitaker School to the hospital in 1910 and this land was later sold in 1922 to the City of Reno. The Washoe County School District then used Whitaker Hall for a period of time before the city developed Whitaker Park on the parcel. It is unclear if the district used one of the school buildings for a school during the earlier years of 1909-1910 before the school property was sold to the hospital.
What is an undisputable fact though is that Libbie Booth was involved in the planning and then was appointed to the position of principal at the newly constructed Orvis Ring School in 1910. She remained in that position for the next twenty-five years. Libbie was instrumental in the naming of that school and also of the Mary S. Doten School. Both of those individuals had been her early teaching peers.
1917 saw Libbie and staff member Jennie Logan start a tradition of fundraising at Orvis Ring that remained a popular Reno community activity into the 1970’s. Some of the money generated from this fundraiser was used for upgrading school playground equipment and the purchase of new technology such as movie cameras and projectors. However, the fundraising also had a more serious component. Well aware of the needs of some of her less fortunate students, profits were allocated towards one of the first school district hot lunch programs. A fund dedicated to aiding needy children and their families was also kept. Both of these activities were financed, in great part, by this annual Orvis Ring Pet Parade. Each fall students paraded down Virginia Street with their costumed pet animals in tow down to Powning Park where booths had been set up for the traditional spaghetti feed and games. This immensely popular event generated much community support.
Mrs. Booth twice served as a representative to the National Education Association (NEA) conventions and was a two time appointee to the post of Nevada State NEA director. In recognition of her teaching service, Libbie was awarded the “American Youth and American Teacher Award” at the Philadelphia Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in 1926. She was selected for this honor by a group of Nevadans as the teacher who had, “accomplished the greatest good for the greatest number of pupils of her state.” After accepting this award in Philadelphia, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive her medal and meet with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
Libbie’s activism extended into the community as well as to her profession. She initially joined the Hollister, California, “Athena” Chapter of Eastern Star and transferred to Reno’s “Ada” chapter soon after moving to the community. In addition to serving in the highest offices of both of those chapters, she served one year as the “Grand Chaplain of the Grand Chapter of Nevada.” She also filled the position of “Acting Worthy Grand Matron” when the “Martha” chapter of Wadsworth, Nevada, was instituted in 1906. This chapter was later moved to Sparks. Other major areas of civic involvement included being an active member of the Trinity Episcopal Church and one of the founders, a past president and lifetime member of the Reno Twentieth Century Women’s Club.
Senator Pat McCarran, on the eve of his election to Congress in 1933, wired Libbie, ”I have been elected United States Senator. For all the honors that come to me, I am indebted to you for your good and careful training and guidance in the years when my life was in the making.” He not only acknowledged his gratitude to her by telegraph message, but he also included his admiration for his former teacher in remarks read into the U.S. Congressional Record. She was quite proud of this honor and rightly so.
In a tribute paid to Libbie upon her retirement, it was said that she had an almost unbroken record of attendance at Orvis Ring and perhaps a little known fact about this dedicated educator best illustrates her passion to education. For many years Mrs. Booth tutored Reno’s academically talented boys for their West Point and Annapolis military entrance exams, but she also taught “Americanization” (citizenship) classes to Reno’s immigrant population in their quest to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Although Libbie Booth officially retired in 1935, she remained involved in many educational and civic affairs until her health became a factor. Husband George had previously died in 1907 and they had no children of their own. In 1944, and in ill health, she moved to San Jose, California, to be closer to extended family members. Libbie died on June 27, 1948. Her body was returned to Reno to be buried beside her husband in Reno’s Mountain View Cemetery.
The Washoe County School District named a school after Libbie Both in 1955. The Libby Booth Elementary School remains a vibrant center of student learning to this day. Although, unbelievably, the school district misspelled her name, that tangible honor to her memory still successfully carries on her lifetime commitment of educating Reno’s youth to the best of their abilities.
In 1936 the Nevada State Journal described Libbie Booth as having, “executed her duties with the firm dispatch of an unquenchable spirit and there are those who say she has whipped a rowdy boy on occasion; kept perfect discipline in the schoolroom and always carried herself with the vivacity of youth, which she still does.” This article continues, “Her heart will always be with the youth of America.” Although she and most of her former students have passed on, her life’s passion continues to mold future generations. What a wonderful legacy!
Researched and written by Patti Bernard. September 2008.
* See paragraph 3.
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