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Olga A. Wuertz Reifschneider

At a glance:

Born: 1900 (exact date unknown)
Died: 1978
Maiden Name: Wuertz
Race/nationality/ethnic background:  Caucasian (German)
Married: John C. (Jack) Reifschneider
Children: one daughter
Primary city and county of residence and work: Reno (Washoe)
Major fields of work: science (botanist), writing (author), business (financial manager of auto body shop)
Other role identities: wife, mother, club leader

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Biography: Reifschneider image

Olga Reifschneider was born Olga Augusta Wuertz on a farm in Illinois in 1900. She grew up and attended school in St. Louis, Missouri, reaching the eleventh grade. She then married John C. (Jack) Reifschneider, and in 1920 the two moved to Ukiah, California. Nine years later, they settled in Reno and opened an auto body shop, which prospered. In her first 20 years in Nevada, she pursued botany as a hobby, learning the common names of many of Nevada's plants.

Reifschneider took occasional college classes, but did not enroll full-time at UNR until 1944, the year her daughter Nita Reifschneider Spangler graduated with a journalism degree. The elder Reifschneider gained a bachelor's degree in botany in 1949, and attended the Yosemite Field School for Ranger Naturalists that same year.

While taking the Botany 1 course at the University of Nevada in 1946, she learned that very little was known about the earliest botanists in Nevada. She began keeping a list of people whose names appeared in Nevada plant genera and species. Through the years, the names grew into a collection of biographies. She performed some of her research at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

Studies under prominent Nevada botanists such as William Dwight Billings, Philip A. Lehenbauer, and Ira La Rivers sparked her interest in the historical and biographical aspects of botany and eventually resulted in her book, Biographies of Nevada Botanists, published by the University of Nevada Press in 1965. The book has entries on 48 botanists, only five of whom were women -- and she did not include herself. She pinpointed the specific year or years each person was directly involved with botanical work in Nevada and included a photograph if one was available.

Although occupied as financial manager for her husband's business until his retirement in 1968, Reifschneider maintained a second career as botanist and nature writer until her death in early 1978. Through contact with James R. Henrichs, Agnes (Scott Hume Train) Janssen, and W. Andrew Archer, who worked on the Nevada Indian Medicine Project in the 1930s and 1940s, she developed a lifelong interest in native medicinal plants.

Reifschneider lectured and wrote articles on wildflowers, desert biology, and the environment, as well as Nevada history, petroglyphs, and Benjamin Franklin. In the field she was an avid plant collector and photographer. One small wildflower she collected near Pyramid Lake in 1956 was identified as a new species and given the name "Mimulus reifschneiderae." Several of her articles were published in Nevada Parks and Highways magazine.

Olga remained physically active most of her life. In 1974, she was swimming a mile every day. During a month-long vacation to Hawaii in 1976, she rode a mule down a 2,000 foot cliff on the island of Molokai. Her notes from the trip indicate the cliff trail was 3 miles long, with 26 switchbacks. Olga was a member of the Sierra Club, the Nevada State Historical Society, the Camera Club, the Nevada Horticultural Society, the National League of American Pen Women, the Nevada Corral/Westerners International, and the Order of Eastern Star. She was one of the original seventeen sponsors responsible for creating the Northern Nevada Native Plant Society in 1975 and retired from its Board of Directors in November 1977, a few months before her death. An oil painting of her by R. DeMorest is in Special Collections at UNR.

The women botanists Olga covered in her book are:
Alice Eastwood
Collecting expeditions in NV from 1912-1941, including the Mt. Rose area and Reno
Agnes Hume Scott Train
Desert plant collector for museums & herbaria, 1934-1942; "Indian Medicine Project - medicinal uses of plants by Native Americans
Desma Hall Galway
Collected specimens in Lincoln County in 1936 and sold them to the University of Nevada Biology Department - the first specimens acquired by UN's herbarium
Edith Van Allen Murphey
On special assignment with the Indian Service at Stewart, NV, she visited reservations throughout the state to learn about uses of native plants for food and medicine, conducting wildflower shows during her trips; learned about a plant the Shoshone women used for birth control while at Owyhee in northeastern Nevada; wrote the booklet: "Indian Uses of Native Plants.
Annie Montague Alexander
Plant explorations in Nevada from 1939-1949, collecting specimens which she contributed to the University of California. Washoe County and Emigrant Peak were among the sites of her collection efforts. She was 80 at the time of her last expedition in Nevada

Biographical sketch by Betty Glass

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Published works:

Reifschneider, Olga. Biographies of Nevada Botanists, 1844-1963. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1965.

Sources of Information:

Olga Reifschneider papers. Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno. 1988.

Olga Reifschneider collection of botanical photographs.

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