6 Great Colorado Women
During Women’s History Month, history professor Meg Frisbee nominates some of the outstanding female pioneers who helped shaped our state.
1. Justina Ford
The first African American female doctor in Colorado arrived here with her husband in 1902. Denied access to hospitals, Ford specialized in general medicine and treated people at their offices or homes. Over 50 years, she learned several languages to communicate better with her patients, delivered an estimated 7,000 babies and was legendary for her generosity. Her old home now houses the Black American West Museum in Denver.
2. Elizabeth Byers
During Denver’s early, difficult days – when many people were homeless, sick or starving – Byers led the charge to both save lives and build a sense of community. She founded the Ladies’ Union Aid Society in 1860, which arranged soup kitchens, and provided food packages and nursing care. She also helped establish Denver’s first school, library and church, as well as homes for destitute women and orphaned boys. When later offered the honor of her own stained glass window at the Colorado Capitol, she declined, arguing that her work was a group effort with many other women.
3. Rachel B. Noel
This lion of the civil rights movement in Denver was the first African American member of the Denver Public Schools Board, where she pushed hard for the desegregation of Denver Public Schools despite a bombardment of threatening phone calls and hate mail. Ultimately, her plan worked – the “Noel Resolution” passed in 1970. Later, she founded and chaired MSU Denver’s African American Studies Department. A remarkable woman, Noel garnered a long list of awards and accolades during her lifetime.
4. Dana Crawford
The people of Denver should be glad Crawford had a different vision for the city 50 years ago. At a time when the city seemed set on levelling much of historic downtown, this conservation developer and preservationist fought to save many beautiful buildings. A renovation pioneer, she was instrumental in designing the LoDo District, and breathing new life into Larimer Square and Union Station.
This Kiowa Apache woman, raised by the Tabeguache Ute tribe in Colorado, was admired and respected by both whites and Native Americans. A natural diplomat, she worked for years with her husband – Chief Ouray – to achieve peace with white settlers in Colorado, and even visited Washington to lobby Congress. Chipeta was the only woman ever allowed to sit on a Ute tribal council, a sign of her respected status.
6. Wives, daughters, and sisters of miners, farmers, and ranchers
These are the unrecognized and unhallowed women who kept countless homes running and worked alongside the mostly male workers in these industries. They often woke up before, and went to bed after, the men in their lives.
Would you like to learn about more great Colorado women? Check out the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, where you’ll find more than 150 inspirational individuals.