They say the future is female, but our past is as well
Colorado history is rich and steeped in legends. Cowboys of the silver screen were tamer versions of the outlaws that once roamed the streets of Colorado Springs. From its days as a frontier oasis to today, Colorado is a place where pioneers make their mark. Many of these trailblazers have been women; women who helped shape the destiny of the Centennial State and the city we call home. Read more about these famous Colorado women below:
Clara Brown | 1800 – 1885
Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia in 1800. Sold at a young age, she eventually moved with a family by the name of Smith to Kentucky. She married another slave named Richard when she was 18, and started a family. She became mother to four children during this time. As was common practice during slavery, Clara and her family were separated when the Smith family placed the up for auction, sold to different plantations. In 1856, Clara was granted her freedom.
In accordance with the law, Clara left Kentucky upon receiving her release. She joined a wagon train and headed west, eventually settling in Central City, Colorado. It was at this time that “Aunt Clara”, as she became affectionately known, made her mark on Colorado history by aiding former slaves with resettlement in the West following the end Civil War. She financed many of these resettlements, and helped these families find jobs and homes. Clara has been inducted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers and the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. A stained glass window in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver is designated to honor Clara Brown.
Helen Hunt Jackson | 1830 – 1885
During the same time period, one of Colorado’s most beloved women was also making her mark on the region. Helen Hunt Jackson was a prominent writer and an activist for the improved treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government. Helen had known her share of loss, with the untimely deaths of her first husband, Captain Edward Hunt, an infant son, and – later – her only living child, aged nine. Helen’s health was poor and she moved to Colorado in the hopes of improvement.
After remarrying, Helen took up the cause of Native Americans and their mistreatment by the U.S. government. A talented and respected writer, Helen penned what she considered her most important work, a book titled A Century of Dishonor. Helen’s views and writing were highly controversial at the time and she found herself quite unpopular in the area, though her writing was very successful. Helen would not be dissuaded from her cause, and she worked most of her life to ease the plight of the American Indian. She is memorialized in the region with the waterfalls in Cheyenne Canyon that bear her name, the beautiful Helen Hunt Falls.
Julie Penrose | 1870 – 1956
The next generation saw Julie Penrose rise to local prominence, a benefactress without equal in the Colorado Springs area. After marrying gold and copper magnate Spencer “Speck” Penrose, Julie set about her philanthropic endeavors. Speck had already given an immense fortune to fund local projects such as the Pikes Peak Highway, The Broadmoor Hotel, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, among many others. These endowments benefit Colorado Springs tourism to this day.
Julie made her mark by helping establish the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Penrose Memorial Hospital. When Spencer Penrose died in 1939, Julie took the unusual step of taking over many of his responsibilities. She became president of the El Pomar Investment Company and vice president of The Broadmoor Hotel at a time when few women held such influential positions. She continued to enrich and conserve her adopted home of Colorado Springs until the end of her life and beyond. Today, the Penrose name can be found throughout the area.
Alice Bemis Taylor | 1877 – 1942
Alice Bemis Taylor moved to Colorado Springs with her parents at the age of four, and the area gained its “lead female founder and benefactor of cultural and social institutions in early Colorado Springs”, according to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Alice endowed local art and community projects with millions at the turn of the twentieth century. She funded improvements at Colorado College, as well as the entire construction of the Fine Arts Center. Downtown Colorado Springs owes much of its tourism revenue to Alice Bemis Taylor, as her endowments continue to garner millions annually. Bemis Art School, which is adjacent to the FAC, bears her name.
Mary Lou Makepeace | 1940 – Present
Women continue to have a significant impact on Colorado Springs. Mary Lou Makepeace, a modern day pioneer, came to Colorado Springs in the 1970s as a caseworker for abused children. She rose to prominence in the 1990s, and was named the first female mayor of Colorado Springs in 1997. During her time in office, Mary Lou was known to bridge divides and was considered a “voice of reason” during contentious times. Mary Lou continues to serve our community today.
Women have a long and impressive history of shaping this frontier town. Their legacies live on in our schools, libraries, and museums. Much of today’s tourism is benefitted by the commitment of these incredible women. Learn more about the history of Colorado when you join us for a food tour in historic downtown Colorado Springs.
Cheers, Your Rocky Mountain Food Tours Team
Written by contributing author, J. N. Lister