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Colorado Women

A History

By Gail Beaton

Publication Year: 2012

Colorado Women is the first full-length chronicle of the lives, roles, and contributions of women in Colorado from prehistory through the modern day. A national leader in women’s rights, Colorado was one of the first states to approve suffrage and the first to elect a woman to its legislature. Nevertheless, only a small fraction of the literature on Colorado history is devoted to women and, of those, most focus on well-known individuals.

The experiences of Colorado women differed greatly across economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Marital status, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation colored their worlds and others’ perceptions and expectations of them. Each chapter addresses the everyday lives of women in a certain period, placing them in historical context, and is followed by vignettes on women’s organizations and notable individuals of the time.

Native American, Hispanic, African American, Asian and Anglo women’s stories hail from across the state—from the Eastern Plains to the Front Range to the Western Slope—and in their telling a more complete history of Colorado emerges. Colorado Women makes a significant contribution to the discussion of women’s presence in Colorado that will be of interest to historians, students, and the general reader interested in Colorado, women’s and western history.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. ix-x

Colorado history has been mostly his story. Her story has been seldom told. Bohdan Wynar’s exhaustive 1980 Colorado Bibliography lists 9,181 publications on Colorado, only 10 of which focus on women. Perhaps 25 other general works published since then concentrate on women. A third of those are devoted to Colorado prostitution...

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pp. xi-xii

Colorado Women: A History is a history of women’s lives in, and contributions to, Colorado. At the beginning of each chapter, an essay places Colorado women in historical context. In ten of the twelve chapters, vignettes on individual women or organizations follow the narrative...

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pp. xiii-xv

When one arrives at the end of a journey, it is humbling to look back and see who and what guided you to your destination. The idea to do this book originated nearly thirty years ago when I was a first-time graduate student and grew as I finished a second MA. Both times I was fortunate to work with top-notch professors. I would like to...

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1. Early Women

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pp. 1-15

In the southwest corner of Colorado lies Mesa Verde National Park. For centuries, its cliff dwellings lay silent and empty until a rancher stumbled upon the site. Even then, it was years before the place buzzed once again with human noise and activity. In centuries past, the dwellings snuggled beneath the overhang of cliffs were bustling with activity...

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2. Pioneering Women

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pp. 17-44

In 1858 prospectors panned out small pockets of gold from the banks of Little Dry Creek, a few miles up the South Platte from its confluence with Cherry Creek. News of the find spread quickly. By early September, would-be miners from Lawrence, Kansas, who had spent the previous two months unsuccessfully mining the streams...

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3. Making a Difference

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pp. 45-64

In 1864 three nuns who were barely settled into their new home scurried around trying to find desks for the long line of students standing at their doorstep. As days passed into weeks, St. Mary’s Academy, founded by Sisters Ignatia Mora, Beatriz Maes, and Joanna Walsh of the Sisters of Loretto, accommodated day and boarding students...

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4. Settling In

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pp. 65-95

As communities developed and residents settled in, opportunities opened for single women. Female teachers in particular knew their services would be welcome. One such woman was Phoebe Fidelia Skinner. Skinner was born in Ohio in 1841, making her of marrying age about the time the nation was torn asunder by the Civil War. As young men...

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5. Organizing for Change

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pp. 97-121

Although not nearly as large or industrialized as cities in the East, Denver shared urban characteristics with them. Streets were filled with the pungent aroma of horse “road apples,” rotting garbage, and roving bands of dogs. Soot from wood and coal fires darkened clothing, faces, and buildings. The poor lived in dimly lit, poorly heated, sparsely...

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6. Breaking with Tradition

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pp. 123-156

In comparison to states on the Pacific Coast, relatively few Chinese or Japanese were living in Colorado in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The 1880 census recorded only 593 Chinese and 19 Japanese in the state. For men looking for a wife, the prospects were bleak. Female Chinese and Japanese comprised less than 4 percent of the...

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7. The Progressive Era

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pp. 157-180

In a crowded room at the Astor Hotel in New York City in November 1913, Helen Ring Robinson was introduced as the first woman state senator in the state of Colorado. In a nation in which only eleven states had granted women full voting rights, Robinson was an exotic creature to those awaiting her speech on woman’s suffrage. Some...

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8. Conformity and Change

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pp. 181-213

In 1914 Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield founded a summer dance camp near Nederland. Although the inaugural camp was successful overall, there were problems. The camp was located too close to Denver, which meant proximity to the peering eyes of men anxious to see “scantily clad nymphs” dancing on the hillsides. At 9,000 feet above...

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9. The Great Depression

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pp. 215-241

As the nation reeled during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected the thirty-second president of the United States. The voters’ displeasure with Herbert Hoover was as much a factor in Roosevelt’s election as were his campaign promises to do whatever was necessary to move the nation forward. Once in office, Roosevelt and...

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10. Stepping Up

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pp. 243-264

With World War II raging in Europe and the United States precipitously close to joining the Allied forces, Oleta Lawanda Crain, a black teacher, quit her job in a segregated school in Oklahoma and moved to Colorado to look for a better-paying job. By late 1942 she had found a job cleaning toilets and mopping floors at the Remington...

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11. Conformity and Change, Take Two

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pp. 265-286

“1958 Miss America Runner Up: Miss Georgia, Jody Elizabeth Shattuck.” With that pronouncement, Marilyn Van Derbur became the second Miss Colorado in three years to be named the nation’s ranking beauty queen. Crowned by the 1957 winner, Van Derbur walked calmly down the 120-foot runway in Atlantic City’s Convention...

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12. The Modern Era

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pp. 287-310

In the economic boom years of the 1970s, construction sites were filled with workers wearing Carhartt jeans, denim work shirts, leather boots, hard hats, and safety vests. Large cranes glinted in the bright Colorado sun. Front-loaders packed clay between the treads of their large wheels as they hauled materials. Workers strode from one end of the...


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pp. 311-348

Further Reading

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pp. 349-355


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pp. 357-380

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322078
E-ISBN-10: 1607322072
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321958
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321955

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 52 B&W photos, 1 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Colorado -- Biography.
  • Women -- Colorado -- History.
  • Colorado -- Biography.
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