Kate Thomson Cory was born on February 8, 1861, in Waukegan, Illinois, the daughter of James Young and Eliza Pope (Kellogg) Cory. She was a pioneer in more than the usual sense of the word. She was indeed extraordinary. In May 1887 the New York Herald carried an article titled “PRIZES FOR FEMALE ART STUDENTS,” stating Kate T. Cory had won first prize receiving $30 in gold for her art work from the Art Department of the Cooper Union. The following year an article in that newspaper showed her as an instructor. As a single woman at the age of 44, she journeyed alone to the Hopi mesas of Arizona hoping to become a member of a developing artist colony.
When no one else joined her, she remained; little realizing that she would become a valuable ethnographer of the Hopi. In the seven years she lived in the pueblo of Old Oraibi, she became friend and confidant of the Hopi, and, as an artist of great talent, was able to capture their culture in photographs and on canvas.
Although not born in Arizona, Kate considered Prescott home. Buying property in Prescott in 1911, she erected and lived in a stone house in the Idylwild tract on Thumb Butte Road. She continued her work as an artist and sculptor, becoming one of the West's most famous artists. As stated in the February 21, 1916, newspaper article in the Evening News (San Jose, California): “Twenty-five pictures of Indian life among the Hopi Indians from the brush of Miss Kate A. Corey have been purchased recently by the Smithsonian Institution. Miss Corey is an adopted member of the Hopis.” Her paintings can be found today in the Smoki Museum, Sharlot Hall Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the First Congregational Church, and in the homes of the descendants of her many friends and relatives.
Kate belonged to the First Congregational Church and was an honorary member of the Monday Club. Cory Avenue off West Gurley Street in Prescott is named for her. Her newspaper obituary published in the Prescott Evening Courier dated June 13, 1958, stated: “She was a member of both the Art League and the Pen and Brush club, also of New York.”
She left a memorable impression on all who knew or met her. She was not concerned that the clothes she wore were old, her house was in disarray, or her food for the day might have consisted of eating only beans from a tin. Kate’s values revolved around artistic expression and sharing with others and stories persist of both her generosity and eccentricity, which still continue to surface.
Kate died on June 12, 1958, at the Arizona Pioneers' Home and was buried in the Arizona Pioneers' Cemetery.
Donor: Museum Rose Garden Committee
Photo Located: Kate T. Cory Collection - MS-24, Box 2, F-3
Updated: 5/20/2015; D. Sue Kissel