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Katherine Riley

Please enjoy one of the biographies and recipes from our book, Stirring Up History!

Katherine Riley was born on June 15, 1873 in Liberty Missouri. Her parents, James T. Riley and Mary R. “Molly” Stone were from old pioneering families here in Clay County, Missouri. She was the oldest of four sisters, Louise, Nannie, and Mary Ross, and the family lived together in their home on Kansas Street. Katherine's father, a Confederate Civil War veteran, was a furniture dealer here in Liberty, but he owned and operated a variety of businesses that included carpet and undertaker goods as well, as well as a dry goods store named Stone & Riley. An 1877 ad read as follows: “Stone & Riley, Dealers in Dry Goods, Hats and Caps, Boots, Shores, Notions, Etc, Liberty MO.” Following the Civil War. James Riley also worked as a livestock trader, the City Treasurer and at one point was elected as the Public Administrator of Clay County.

In 1885, Katie married Martin (Marlin) E. Lawson, a lawyer who had his own practice with ties to William Jewell College. They settled in at 510 Arthur Street and proceeded to start their family. Their son James was born in 1887, followed by a daughter, Nancy, in 1902. In 1918 tragedy struck and their son James, a farmer, died in a flu epidemic. He left behind his 23 year old widow Margaret childless and living with his parents at 812 Arthur Street.

Despite this disaster, Kate and Martin had a love for the ages. Martin was to give a speech to the Business and Professional Women of Clay County on November 30th, 1939. In that speech he describes how he met Katherine and his love for her. An excerpt reads as follows:

“I was interested in a beautiful auburn haired girl named Kate. It was commencement time, The College lads were to cavort and entertain for four successive nights in the “Opera House”. I bought the two choicest seats for the entire series. I arranged with the auburn haired girl to occupy one of these seats all four nights. But, a fellow up north wrote her he was coming for commencement, and she told me about it. He was six feet tall, straight and fine looking. If you were to compare him to the Clark Gable of this day, Gable would be a second rater. And to make it more disturbing he was about a third or fourth cousin of the girl. Close enough to wedge in and far enough to be worse than cousinly. I told her I would regret to miss any of the evenings with her, but if he asked her to go to the entertainments, to accept as if she had no company (it was not a date then), but to let me know so I would not appear at the wrong time and place. Soon I received a note, “So sorry to miss going with you but…..” I asked Bud Nutter to go with me. We were early. We had nothing to show. Kate was late. She had plenty to show. They came into the opera house, Kate, head in the air, walking like a queen, and the splendid specimen of manhood getting all he could out of his fine physique and face. They came up the high side of the entrance to the center aisle, then back to our row and turned in, taking the next two seats. After a little while Kate called Mr. Nutter, who sat next to him, and said “Mr. Nutter this is my friend, Mr. ……” and then leaning out farther “Mr. Lawson this is my cousin, Mr……..” A little later Nutter whispered to me “Good Lord, did you hear that girl say “Cousin”? But my unselfish offer to share with him paid good dividends anyway.”

Mr. Lawson ended his dream speech to the Business and Professional Women of Clay County as follows:

“But while you dream with me you must not lay your head on my shoulder. That belongs entirely to auburn haired, Kate, the love of my life.”

She had to feel so proud to have the love of a good man like Martin.

According to her death certificate, Kate died in her home at 456 Arthur Street on October 30, 1949. She is buried with many of her family members at Fairview Cemetery, Liberty MO.

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