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Nellie Mighels Davis

At a glance:

Born: September 10, 1844
Died: June 24, 1945
Maiden name: Verrill
Race/nationality/ethnic background: Caucasian
Married: Henry Rust Mighels, Sam P. Davis
Children: four Mighels children, two Davis children
Primary city and county of residence and work: Carson City (Ormsby)
Major fields of work: journalism (newspaper reporter, publisher)
Other role identities: wife, mother, civic worker

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Biography: Davis image

Nellie Verrill was born September 10, 1844 in Crestwood, Maine. She was sixteen when her parents died. Her father was a school teacher in his younger days and later conducted a general merchandise business. There were four brothers and two sisters. Her parents died within a few months of each other, leaving her to make a home and care for the younger brothers and sisters. She was prepared to enter Vassar at about the time of her mother’s death and was unable to do so.

She met Henry Rust Mighels when she was sixteen and lived in Maine. He was born in Norway, Maine and was twenty-nine when they met. He served in the Civil War and was wounded when his horse was shot out from under him. He later moved to Carson City. Henry proposed to Nellie the year that they met. She accepted and the wedding took place four years later when Nellie was 20 years old. Nellie traveled to the Isthmus of Panama from New York, then went across the Isthmus on narrow gauge railroad and by steamer to San Francisco where she was met by her fiancee. They were married in San Francisco. A successful newspaperman by this time, he promised to hire her as associate editor of the Carson City Morning Appeal for which he was the owner and editor.

Following their marriage, the Mighels traveled to Sacramento by boat, then to Placerville and stage to Carson City via Kingsbury Grade and Genoa. For part of the trip Nellie rode up in front with the driver, Hank Monk, a daring and dangerous feat for a woman in those days. Arriving in Carson City, she noted the rusticity of the mining town; horses and cows roamed freely in the streets, and pigs were wallowing in the open irrigation ditches. In preparation for their arrival in Carson City, Henry had rented a cottage. They later had a house built. Five children were born to them; three boys and two girls.

Nellie was the first woman to cover the Legislature, reporting in 1877 and 1879. Henry had taught her how to report by taking her to church and having her write down the sermons. They were reported in the Appeal much to the delight of churchgoers and ministers. "We couldn’t afford to pay a reporter $25 a month, so I did it myself," she recalled. "It wasn’t so hard - my husband had taught me to write down high spots of a speech. By the time the speaker had quit orating and had come to another high spot, I would be through writing the first high spot. By that method I managed to give an accurate account of the proceedings."

When Henry became very ill in 1879, Nellie moved the typesetting to their home so she could work and take care of him. He died that spring. Nellie was thirty-five when she became a widow and the proprietor of the Carson paper. She went on publishing and soon hired Samuel Post Davis as editor. They were married July 4, 1880. Sam and Nellie had two children, both girls. They bought a ranch and raised Holstein cattle. Sam ran the paper; Nellie ran the ranch.

In 1897 she was the first woman to report a prize fight when her husband was out of town and she took his place as reporter at the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight held in Carson City. She was paid $50 for the story by a Chicago newspaper. "I was for Fitzsimmons and I had a bet on with Mr. Woodburn," Nellie recounted. Nevada was the only state in the Union where prize fighting was legal. Not only was Nellie the only woman reporter there, she was one of only a few women - mostly prostitutes - in the entire audience. She used her maiden name on her fight story to avoid "disgracing" herself and her friends by her acknowledgment of being present at the fight.

In 1899, during the Spanish-American War, Nellie organized the Red Cross in Nevada and became the first State President. She was involved in the Leisure Hour Club of Carson City in the early 1900s; she became its President for the first time in 1906. Instrumental in the building of a club house for the Leisure Hour Club, she was affectionately called "The Mother of the Leisure Hour Club House." The cornerstone was laid in 1913 after seven years of planning.

Nellie was President of the Leisure Hour Club again in 1909, followed by her two daughters, Lucy Crowell in 1925, Ethel Waite in 1953, and her grand-daughter-in-law (H.R. Mighel’s wife Barbara) in 1927 and 1952. The family members attended and were supporters of the Club for over fifty years.

In 1908 the Twentieth Century Club issued a call for a convention of the state’s women’s clubs for the purpose of forming a State Federation. Nellie was elected President of the State Federation which was instrumental in helping to pass a state legislative bill giving equal rights to mothers as well as fathers in the care and custody of a child, as well as another bill establishing a home for delinquent children at Elko. The Federation raised $100 towards the General Fund Endowment and continued to raise approximately $1,000 for a loan-fund to assist girls with education.

An interesting sidelight was the fight over whether the Leisure Hour Club would be allowed to join the State Federation; the Federation didn’t allow clubs with male members and the Leisure Hour Club’s membership included men. A compromise was struck; the Leisure Hour Club would be allowed to join but the men would have no vote in Federation activities.

Nellie was left a widow again in 1919 when Sam Davis passed away. She continued her interest in Carson City and the political welfare of the state. At the age of ninety she said, "...Why do I feel young at ninety? Goodness knows. Because I am interested in everything that’s going on. I have no recipe for youth. I eat whatever I like and plenty of it. I have never used cosmetics. When I was a girl, we did not use rouge or lipstick. Nice girls didn’t."

Nellie Davis celebrated her 100th birthday before her death on June 24, 1945.

Biographical sketch by Sally Wilkins from an unpublished report by Susan J. Ballew; corrections and additional information given by Sylvia Crowell Stoddard to Kay Sanders, Fall 1998.

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Sources of Information:

Daily Morning Appeal, Carson City, February 18, 1878.

Daily Morning Appeal, March 18, 1897.

Davis, Sam. History of Nevada, Vol. I and II, The Elms Publishing Company, 1913.

Davis, Sam Post, Papers, 1865-1960 and microfilm, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno.

Dolan, William, Oral interview with Pages from the Past editor, October 2, 1996.

Doten, Alfred, The Journals of Alfred Doten, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973.

Gardner, Paul K. History of the Leisure Hour Club, 1896-1969, Manuscript. Carson City, Nevada.

Historical Society Papers, 1917-1920, Reno: A. Carlisle, 1920.

Kintop, Jeffrey M. and Guy L. Rocha, The Earps Last Frontier, Reno:Great Basin Press, 1989.

Letters from Henry R. Mighels to Nellie Verrill (Mighels) 1830-1879, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno.

Mighels, Henry Rust III, Reflections of Carson City, Oral interview with Barbara K. Zernickow.

Morning Appeal, February 10, 1897.

Stoddard, Sylvia Crowell, Sam Knew Them When, Great Basin Press, 1996.

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