Saint of the City: Miss Johanna Conway

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“With the passing of ‘Jo’ Conway, as she was familiarly known, one of the true Christians and saints of the city is taken.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 5 October 1929.)

Miss Johanna Conway was one of several women that worked to improve the health of the community following the first World War.

The roots for the Public Nurse got it’s start when the Bethel Deaconess  Women’s Auxiliary was established on March 22, 1910.  One of their many projects was to sponsor a public nurse in Newton.  In 1916, Sister Anna Gertrude Penner became the first “visiting nurse.”  Her duties were varied and went beyond caring for the sick to educating people on proper hygiene and safety. In 1918, the responsibility to finance the program was shifted to the city of Newton.

At the same time a group of women at St. Mary’s Catholic Church became concerned about the conditions of the “Mexican Camps.” The Santa Fe Railroad provided the housing for the Mexican laborers and their families.  Conditions were far from ideal in the early buildings.  Several women from St Mary’s parish devoted their lives to caring for those in need including Miss Johanna Conway, Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick and later Miss Lucile Thomas.


Miss Johanna Conway, ca. 1920.

Miss Jo Conway with her little Mexican friends”

Johanna Conway was born in 1857 in Ohio. By 1895 she had moved to Newton, Kansas where she lived with her brother and sister at 219 E 4th. She dedicated her life to providing help to the Mexican community.

From 1920-1923, Miss Jo was involved in providing assistance to the Mexican American community in Newton. In 1920, she was the chairman of a committee with “plans for Americanization work among the Mexican people.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 8 September 1920)

On the back: “Miss Jo with her little Mexican friends.” Josie Victorio Collection, HCHM Photos.

Goals of the committee included teaching English and needed skills for future employment including “industrial work and sanitation  lines of work.”  Rev. William Schaefer gave “instruction” each Wednesday afternoon. He was encouraged “to have the Americanization work taken up by the committee of women of the St. Mary’s parish and pursued actively . . .  the betterment of the Mexicans.”

Miss Edith Stauforth, nurse, Miss Jo Conway, sponsor, Mrs. Socorra Jimenez, Mrs. Irene Gomez Mrs. Candelaria Florez. Josie Victorio Collection, HCHM Photos.

In October the Evening Kansan Republican reported “under the able leadership of Miss Jo” a “band of willing” women spent two afternoons each week “teaching both old and young Mexicans those things which they ought to know but do not know.” On October 28, the group of students and teachers held a musical showcasing their progress. Tickets were $1 and the proceeds would “aid in making it possible to further the activities” among the Mexican community.

“Humanitarian Work of the Community”

In fall of 1922, a call went out from the Southwestern Division of Red Cross seeking assistance to “relieve the suffering of the children” in South Russia. Conway supervised the efforts of local women to create clothing for these children in need.  In her report at the Red Cross Quarterly meeting Miss Jo noted that over 1500 pounds of new and used clothing had been shipped for Russian Relief.  Of that 1500, 700 pounds were new garments made by local women for babies and small children.

In 1923, Miss Jo served as one of seven directors for a newly formed Public Health Service. After 1923, her name vanishes from the newspapers. Her obituary indicates illness in her last years. Johanna Conway died October 5, 1929 at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton, Kansas.  She was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery.

Her obituary in the October 5, 1929  Evening Kansan Republican concluded;

“A devout member of the Catholic church, a pioneer  worker in St Mary’s parish. . . . She was a leader and organizer in humanitarian work of the community. . . . Her welfare work with the Mexican settlement began at a time when the homes of these people were mere huts and she has been working assiduously here until her illness, a work that cannot be measured on this earth.”


  • Evening Kansan Republican: 8 September 1920, 16 October 1920, 21 October 1921, 20 April 1922, 22 September 1922, 12 October 1922, 23 May 1923, 5 October 1929.
  • Newton, Kansas City Directories: 1887, 1902,  1905, 1911, 1913, 1917, 1919, 1931, 1934, 1938.
  • Kansas State Census, 1895.
  • U. S. Census, 1920, 1930.




New & Cool at HCHM: What is it?

Recently an unique object was donated to HCHM.


Connie Palacioz donated a hand made wooden with metal tortilla maker used by her grandmother, Luz de la Fuente Cuellar (1872-1941).  She noted that her grandmother brought it with her from Mexico when she immigrated to Kansas.

HCHM 2017.14

No doubt she prepared many delicious meals using the tortilla maker.


Tortilla Maker, Mexico, 1900s .


“It was Easy, It was Family” Newton’s Ranchito Community

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently, a number of people joined us for an informal time of sharing about the Ranchito community in Newton, Ks. Some shared their memories on tape and others brought photos.

This project was a joint project of the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives and the Newton Public Library.

On Tuesday, Nov. 15 and Sunday, Nov 20, Ranchito Roots, a program based on these interviews, photos and documents, will be shared.

Thank you to each person that graciously shared their time, stories and photographs.

Ranchito Roots

Beginning in approximately 1911, the Santa Fe Railroad  provided housing to Mexican laborers and their families on west 1st in Newton.  The area east of Sand Creek and south of 1st Street  was known as the “Mexican Camp” or the Ranchito by those that lived there.

In 1911, L.C. Lawton, Division Engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad noted:

“One of the most serious problems of railway maintenance between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains is that of securing and holding a sufficient supply of labor . . . to obtain a better trained and steadier class of laborers, efforts are made to locate men with families. . . The requires housing these laborers in a way not before attempted to any extent by the Santa Fe.”

Plans were outlined explaining that “a very cheap, but more substantial house has been planned, as shown in the accompanying drawings.”

Erecting Mexican Laborers' Houses, 1911.

“Erecting Mexican Laborers’ Houses,” 1911.

“A particular advantage is that all material is scrap or second hand, and can be picked up on any division and the houses built by the men themselves.” 

While the Santa Fe Railroad saw the “Mexican Camps” as a solution to a problem, those that called the place home built a community.

The earliest homes were  and poorly constructed using “scrap or second hand” materials.


Drawing by Chris Palacioz, 1994, HCHM Archives.

In 1926 new buildings featuring a brick exterior were built by the Santa Fe. Below are descriptions of these buildings by the those that were a part of the community from 1926 through the 1950s.  The buildings were torn down in 1959-60.

Drawing by Chris Palacioz, 1994, HCHM Archives.

Drawing by Chris Palacioz, 1994, HCHM Archives.

It was Nice to Live There:”1920s & 1930s

Daniel Gonzalez noted that he was born in the earlier buildings made of “railroad ties.

Old structures, 1925. Photos courtesy Genevieve Josie Victorio.

Old structures, 1925. Photos courtesy Genevieve Josie Victorio.

The new brick houses were constructed shortly after his birth and his family was able to move.

“I spent my childhood there.  It was really nice to live there . . cozy nice and warm in the wintertime and in the summer time they were cool.” –Daniel Gonzalez

Daniel’s brother, Juan, described the room arrangement;

“It was nice living in that little Ranchito, two bedrooms, a dining room and living room in one room.  Mom and Dad slept in there and then we had the kitchen, small. We had another room, the girls slept in that little room  . . . the brothers slept in the other big room.” -Juan Ricon Gonzalez

Photo courtesy Genevieve Josie Victorio.

Photo courtesy Genevieve Josie Victorio.

“We had pot belly stoves . . coal to fire them up and railroad ties to saw and use for firewood. Each section had a shower.”  –Juan Ricon Gonzalez


“How we all fit?” 1940s &  1950s.

“In all there were 10 boys and 6 girls in my family, two boys died and two girls, when they were small.  but, we all of us fit in the . . .Mexican Camp.  How we all fit, I don’t know.  We had a lot of bunk beds.  My brothers slept on some and my sisters in another room.  My sister Annie and I slept with my mom and dad in their bed.” -Genevieve Josie Victorio.

“It was four little rooms. The living room had three big beds, a radio and a chair where Dad would listen to the radio.  In another little room there were bunk beds where the rest of the boys would sleep, the next room was the kitchen.  My mom had the stove there and the boys always made sure she had wood, because Dad would tell them once and they’d have to make sure everything was there for her. The next room had table and chairs and another bed where my dad and mom slept and my sister.  It was tight quarters, but we managed.” –Genevieve Josie Victorio.

It was Family

Areal view of the ranchito with the Fred Harvey building in the background.

Areal view of the ranchito with the Fred Harvey building in the background.

“It was easy, it was family.  The Ranchito held 18 different housing areas in that one building.  Some of those rooms had as many as five families in it, per room.  The rooms were only 8 by 8.  They weren’t very big, but the Ranchito here in Newton was made with brick walls on the outside . . . a wood burning stove . . . with dirt floors.” -Mario Garcia

“It was a small community at the Ranchito, and all the families knew everybody.” -Mario Garcia

There are many more stories and photos that will be shared at the programs on Nov. 15 and Nov. 20.  The same program will be given on both days.


  • Oral Interviews with Daniel Gonzalez, Juan Rincon Gonzalez, Anita Domme, Elico Flores, Genevieve Josie Victorio, Mario Garcia, Patricia (Campa) Aguiri  and Victoria Jasso, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Chris Palacioz Document Collection, Newton, Ks, 1994, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Lawton, L.C. Division Engineer, Newton, Ks, “Erecting Mexican Laborers’ Houses,” Santa Fe Employees Magazine, September 1911, p. 75-76.