Reitha Gehri scrapbooks, 1920-1977  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Gehri, Reitha
Reitha Gehri scrapbooks
1920-1977 (inclusive)
1920-1950 (bulk)
2 scrapbooks (0.07 cubic feet)
Collection Number
3090 (Accession No. 3090-001)
Scrapbooks of a prominent dance teacher in Tacoma, Washington containing materials related to her dance
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Open to all users.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Reitha Gehri (1911-1996) was a prominent dance teacher in Tacoma, Washington, who studied at the College of Puget Sound before opening her own studio in which she trained local children, many of whom gained national attention. Gehri, who began studying dance, drama, and music at an early age, also became very involved with the Little Theater Movement in Tacoma. While still a teenager she began appearing in productions sponsored by the Tacoma Drama League and other groups. She also attended summer sessions at the Cornish School, where she studied drama and dance and performed with the Cornish Players, under the direction of Ellen Van Volkenburg (Browne) over several summers. In 1928, Gehri began attending the College of Puget Sound, where she remained involved with the performing arts and gained additional experience in all aspects of theatrical production and management by becoming a member of the Harmonie Club and Women's Glee Club and serving as the Associated Student Body Manager of Dramatics.

Gehri's own pre-college training (1920-1928) included instructors Bessie Hard and Mrs. Zara Darrow for piano, Mrs. Taynton Thayer for dance, and Mrs. Frederick Dean, Lillian Deskin, and Ruth Radford for Drama. Her dance teachers at Cornish included Leslie Caird and Lore Deja. She continued to seek additional training throughout her career, frequently traveling to attend courses in various dance styles given by well-regarded teachers, including Ernest Belcher, Fanchon & Marco, and Adolph Bolm.

In 1931, Gehri opened her first dance studio "Miss Reitha's School of Dance," which was initially located at 943 Tacoma Avenue in the Muscek Hall building. From the 1930s through the late 1940s she produced annual recitals for her own studio and also directed several dramatic productions per year for a number of private schools in the area, including Aquinas Academy (Tacoma), Sacred Heart School (Tacoma), St. Michael School (Olympia), St. Patrick's Parishioners (Tacoma), Holy Family School (Seattle), and St. Leo's High School (Bellingham). Although her school continued to expand over the years and offered training in many forms of dance at all levels, several of her youngest students received film contracts from Hollywood studios as a result of their participation in child beauty pageants and other competitions. Notable pupils of Gehri include: Shirley Jean Rickert, who appeared in the early "Our Gang" comedy series; Keiko Ogawa, a Japanese American child dancer who was featured in several of Gehri's amateur vaudeville shows during the early 1940s; Karen Kester, who won the 1947/1948 "Little Miss America" competition and appeared in films; Norma DeHaan, who worked in television during the 1950s; Marjie Millar, who also did some television and film work in the 1950s; and Mary Eleanor Donahue, who appeared in films as a child under her original name, but as a teenager and adult was billed as Elinor Donahue in several popular television shows, most notably Father Knows Best.

After two marriages (first to Jay Finley Downs and then to Howard Wardin) and 30 years of running her studio, Gehri became a kindergarten teacher in the Tacoma School District.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Reitha Gehri scrapbooks are comprised of two volumes primarily containing newspaper clippings with announcements, articles, and advertisements of performances in which Gehri participated as a performer or director, in addition to related programs and reviews. Some original photographs are included, but most images are from newspapers. The first volume documents Gehri's own training and performing experiences and covers the early years of her school. Articles are arranged chronologically, beginning with dance, piano, and drama recitals in which Gehri performed from 1920 to 1931, as well as items about her school (1931-1933). Articles in the second volume, which date mainly from 1933 through the late 1940s, cover productions Gehri produced and directed and focus extensively on her work with children. Clippings grow less numerous after the late 1940s, but those articles saved feature stories about students of Gehri's or former classmates, such as Beatrice Straight (with whom she studied drama at Cornish), who went on to notable achievements. Some of the students who most frequently appear in this scrapbook include: Norma DeHaan, Mary Eleanor Donahue (later Elinor Donahue), Karen Kester, Marjie Millar, Kieko Ogawa, and Shirley Ann Rickert.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Creator's literary rights transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Acting teachers--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Child actors--Washington (State)
  • Child dancers--Washington (State)
  • Dance schools--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Dance teachers--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Little theater movement (United States)
  • Teachers--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Theaters--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Theater--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Theater--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Women dancers--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Women teachers--Washington (State)--Tacoma
  • Women theatrical producers and directors--Washington (State)
  • Personal Names :
  • DeHaan, Norma
  • Donahue, Elinor, 1937-
  • Gehri, Reitha
  • Millar, Marjie
  • Ogawa, Keiko
  • Rickert, Shirley Jean
  • Van Volkenburg, Ellen
  • Corporate Names :
  • College of Puget Sound
  • Cornish School of Allied Arts (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Tacoma Drama League
  • Geographical Names :
  • Tacoma (Wash.)--Social life and customs
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
  • Programs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Other Creators :
    • Personal Names :
    • Kester, Karen (creator)

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Personal Papers/Corporate Records (University of Washington)