Biography: Katharine Nevins Richardson Wireman was born in Philadelphia in 1878, the second child of Achsah Willis Nevins Richardson (b.1849 Philadelphia-d.1889 Colorado Springs) and Elliott Richardson, M.D. (b.1842 Philadelphia-d.1887 Philadelphia). The family were members of the Religious Society of Friends. After the death of her parents, 11-year old Katharine and her four siblings resided with their paternal aunts in the Byberry area of northwestern Philadelphia, in the Richardson family home (Chestnut Glen) surrounded by fields, woods, and extensive gardens. From childhood, Katharine wanted to become an artist.
After her graduation from Abington (PA) Friends School in 1894 and George School (Newtown PA) in 1897, Katharine entered Howard Pyle's illustration classes at Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in Philadelphia. She later wrote that these classes became "the greatest influence in my life."
Katharine became a free-lance illustrator in 1900. She worked initially for the Philadelphia Record and Philadelphia Press newspapers. She was soon at work for the Curtis Publishing Company (Philadelphia), drawing for the Ladies' Home Journal where she won an exclusive contract until about 1905. During this period, she lived with the family of her fellow-Pyle student Eugenie M. (Jenny) Wireman. In 1905, Katharine married Jenny's brother Henry Wireman.
Henry's interest in a lumber company brought the couple to live in Covington, Virginia, where their first two children, Mary and Katharine, were born. From this rural home, Katharine completed assignments for magazines such as The Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping; she also received commissions for advertising art for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble (especially for Ivory Soap), whose representatives traveled to and from her home by train. Country life lacked conveniences (including doctors), but the young artist overcame the rather primitive conditions, and both her art and her two children thrived.
In 1910, the family moved to New York City, where they remained until 1913. During these years, Katharine worked steadily in both illustration and advertising art. In 1913, the family returned to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where Katharine established the home and studio where she would spend the rest of her life. Her third daughter Henrietta was born in 1920. All three children sometimes served as models. Henry Wireman worked as an artist and later became involved in the investment business but, by 1920, Katharine was the sole financial supporter of the family. Henry died in 1931.
Katharine received many commissions for story illustrations and magazine covers from Curtis Publishing Company, Child Life, The Farmer's Wife, The American Woman, The Designer, the Modern Priscilla, and Woman's Home Companion, among numerous other magazines, as well as for advertisements and religious publications. In addition, she illustrated over a dozen books. When she ceased illustration in the last decade of her life, Katharine served as editor of the Germantown Crier, the quarterly magazine of the Germantown Historical Society.
Katharine died at the age of 87 in 1966. Her ashes are interred at Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Sunshine and Shadows: A Biography of Katharine Richardson Wireman, by Henrietta Wireman Shuttleworth (Riverton NJ: The Richardson Press, 2000).