Born in Cloquet, Minnesota and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Luomala began her anthropological studies there by working with the Navajo people in the 1930s, chronicling their changing lives. She earned her AB in 1931, MA in 1933, and PhD in 1936. In 1941 she became an honorary associate at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, which position she maintained for the rest of her working life. In 1946 she became a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, where she studied Hawaiian mythology and, from 1950, the ethnobotany of the Gilbert Islands, remaining there until her retirement in 1973. Luomala was a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and a member of the Anthropological Society of Hawaii, the Polynesian Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and Sigma Xi.
Luomala owned the MV Joyita at the time of the vessel's accident in 1955.
- Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy Dorothy (2000-01-01). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-Z. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415920407.
- "Deceased Honorary Fellows: Katherine Luomala". www.soc.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- David Wright: "Joyita: Solving the mystery" page 5.