A Look Back at Important Women in Colorado

The multifaceted approach to a history education using museum programs help enrich historical diversity in the classroom, an often dull and flat subject matter. By keeping children and community in mind, museum programs can be fun to develop-especially considering how many resources do not require high-level access and are open for public use. Going to libraries and historical archives around Denver has taught me more about how easy it is to access history by simply walking around the neighborhood.

One of my favorite ways to experience history is through historical houses and in Denver, many of those houses belonged to women, like the Molly Brown House. I learned about Colorado history from the houses of women like Margaret Brown and I noticed how much of Colorado’s history fails to acknowledge these women as important figures who shaped the state. I found several books, such as More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Colorado Women by Gayle Corbett Shirley and Women of Consequence: The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame by Colorado historian Jeanne Varnell, that told me about a history of Colorado where women were just as big of players in the game as men were. I wanted to bring children, especially girls, these women’s history to understand that they contributed to founding Colorado and forming it into the state we know today.

Through my internship at the Molly Brown House Museum I have been able to create a program for elementary schools that acknowledges the importance of women in Colorado’s history through a fun and interactive presentation. My program will imagine Margaret Brown as a time traveling journalist who will present interviews with some of Colorado’s incredible women from before and after her time to the class. Offering Pioneers to Engineers to elementary schools is a great way to teach kids Colorado’s history through a diverse narrative that focuses on different women whose lives had a lasting impact on the Colorado we know today.

For example, Margaret Brown was a noble and charitable fundraiser during her time. From women’s rights to miner’s rights, her efforts helped make Denver, Colorado, and the nation a better place all together. Margaret was just one of the incredible women that I mention in my program, here are three women who were just as motivated and inspirational as Mrs. Brown:

Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892)

During the mid-19th century, anyone could spot Frances Jacobs in Denver’s tent cities in rain or shine while she was taking care of poor tuberculosis patients. She would bring her fellow Denverites food and soap. Mrs. Jacobs was not a nurse by any means, her heart was filled with compassion for the hard workers around her who could not afford medical care. Frances Jacobs would go on to organize relief for people suffering form tuberculosis and the underpaid. As a suffragette she worked on better conditions for working women, demanding 8 hour work days, improved housing, and reforming the public employment office who would constantly send girls as young as 12 to jobs “filled with vices and immorality.” Her efforts established Denver’s first free kindergarten and a charity organization society that is known today as United Way of America. One of Frances’ well known accomplishments was the foundation of the National Jewish Health Center, a center she lobbied for as a Tuberculosis Health Center, and today is known as one of the nation’s leading respiratory health centers.

Mary Elitch Long (1865-1936)

Mary Elitch and her husband John Elitch moved to Denver in 1882 and opened up a restaurant geared to miners, travelers, and visited by some of Denver’s most prominent citizens. Their restaurant venture funded their dream of opening up a zoo, and on a rainy day in May of 1890, she and her husband successfully opened Elitch’s Zoological Gardens. After John’s unfortunate passing a year later, Mary was left to run the business by herself. Running the Gardens as a widowed woman at the time was a difficult feat, but within three years Mary successfully ran a profitable business. Mary expanded the Gardens to feature moving pictures and fireworks, amusement rides and hot-air balloons, which Denver’s couples would rent for their weddings. Mary even started Children’s Days, a free day where families could drop off their children for a day of activities like dance lessons or tours of the Gardens on a miniature train. Mary spent a lot of time and money on charities, especially orphanages, and made sure to keep costs low for families during hard times like the Silver Panic of 1893. Today Elitch Gardens has transformed into an amusement park and is still a staple for Denver’s entertainment scene.

Florence Sabin (1871-1953)

Born in Central City, Colorado, Florence R. Sabin focused on education as a way to avoid some of the hardships she encountered during her childhood. Florence attended Smith College, where she would develop her love for medicine and research. She was one of sixteen women who were accepted at John Hopkins University Medical School in 1893. In 1917, she became the first full-time female professor at any medical school in the entire country. Dr. Sabin would go on to achieve many firsts for women scientists, including her appointment as president of the American Association of Anatomists and her groundbreaking research on the lymphatic system and baby’s brainstems that would result in the focus on a textbook about the midbrain. In 1925, she began to research how to fight tuberculosis at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. After many years in the lab, Dr. Sabin retired in Colorado in 1938. Due to her notable reputation as a prominent researcher and scientist, Governor Vivian of Colorado asked her to come out of her retirement to help reform Colorado’s failing healthcare system, one of the worst in the country at the time. After two-years as leader of the State Health Committee, Dr. Sabin was able to cut the tuberculosis death rate in half. In 1947, Mayor Quigg Newton appointed Dr. Sabin as Denver’s Manager of Health and Charities, a position she held until her death in 1953, and whose salary she donated to research.

To find out more about Colorado’s trailblazing women, check out the following resources:

Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
Colorado Women: A History by Gail M. Beaton
More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Colorado Women by Gayle Corbett Shirley
Women of Consequence: The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame by Jeanne Varnell

Make sure to visit the Molly Brown House Museum for more information about Margaret Brown and her incredible life as a resident of Colorado.

Written by Carmela Ortiz, Education Intern

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