The following information was presented by Fort Collins Museum of Discovery Archive and Collections staff from 2018 to 2023 to highlight local women's history in Northern Colorado. Dive in to explore the legacies of local women through photographs, oral histories, and other historical materials!
Elizabeth Stone was 62 years old when she came to the Fort Collins military post in 1864. Her good humor, hearty cooking (for the officer's mess hall), and hospitality earned her the nickname "Auntie." She went on to own and operate the town's first grist mill and brick kiln, as well as several hotels.
Sarah Ellis Eddy was a teacher, worked in dry goods, ran a women's furnishings shop and bookstore, and owned two large farms. Known for her unusual (at the time) attire - she wore a man's suit jacket, skirt, and short-cropped hair - Eddy lived a life of extraordinary entrepreneurism usually denied the women of her era.
Libbie Coy was the first woman in Colorado to graduate from college. In 1884, she was one of three graduates in the first graduating class of Colorado Agricultural College (CAC - today's Colorado State University). Libbie was active in both university and Fort Collins communities: she co-founded CAC's alumni association and was a founding member of the Fort Collins Woman's Club.
Virginia Corbett was a professor at Colorado Agricultural College (later Dean of Women), an active member of the campus community for decades, creator of the Associated Women Students (AWS), and a passionate advocate for female students. She even spent a year teaching at Ginling College in Nanjing China.
Dr. Miller opened a medical practice in Fort Collins in 1908. She often used a horsedrawn buggy to reach her patients, many of whom were new mothers, at a time when most babies were born at home rather than in a hospital. She later taught physics, math, and engineering at a high school in Montana.
Adrienne Jean Roucolle, born in France, arrived in Fort Collins around 1888 at the age of 13. The long illness of her little sister Marie Antoinette inspired Adrienne to create stories to enchant her sibling; these fairy tales were published in 1898 as The Kingdom of the Good Fairies.
Inga Allison joined the Home Economics department at Colorado Agricultural College in 1908. Interested in the effects of high altitude on crops and cooking, she borrowed and modified equipment from other departments, and conducted experiments in challenging conditions, including in an Estes Park shack at 12,000 feet.
Fort Collins' first librarian, Elfreda Stebbins worked for the Carnegie Library from 1903 to 1931. Throughout her 28-year career, she served as a force for literacy and culture in Fort Collins. She was involved with the American Library Association and contributed to many community organizations including the YWCA and the DAR.
Rose Nelson Ecoffey (stage name Princess Blue Waters) represented the Pine Ridge Lakota people, including at JFK's presidential inauguration. She was a tribal lawyer and the first woman to serve as a judge on a Native American Tribal Court. Rose's achievements are under-represented in written accounts, but her participation in "Old West" performances and skill as a bead artist has left a presence in many Western cultural institutions.
The journals of Mary Hottel, part of the museum's collection, record the details of a young woman of means enjoying life in Fort Collins in the 1900s. Her "Chap Record" chronicles and reviews the young men she met at social activities and can be found on the History Connection website.
Carrie Williams Darnell grew up on a ranch in Livermore, Colorado, boarded in Fort Collins to attend high school, and went on to teach at several one-room schoolhouses before starting a sheep ranch north of Windsor with her husband Dale. Her memoir Three Ranch Children offers a window into local ranch life at the turn of the 20th century.
Video coming soon
Carmen spent 23 years as Larimer County's Home Demonstration agent for the Extension Service. During the Depression and the war that followed, home demonstration agents were vital to the functioning of the communities like Fort Collins, helping families manage needs like childcare, nutrition, and home finance.
Agnes Wright Spring was a journalist, writer, and chronicler of Western history. She served as State Historian in two states (Wyoming and Colorado), received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (1973), and was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (1983).
Hattie McDaniel, of Gone with the Wind fame, attended Franklin School, and lived for a time at 317 Cherry. Possibly the first African American to be on radio, and definitely the first African American to win an Academy Award, Hattie had roles in hundreds of films and was a singer and prolific songwriter.
Belva Williams Cahill was born 1896, moved to Fort Collins when she was young, and married in 1921. The life of an "ordinary" wife and mother can be hard to show, but our "Belva ephemera" helps answer burning questions about Fort Collins, like: Who worked at Wolfer's? Who got their hair done at Varra's Beauty Salon? Answer: Belva Cahill.
Clara Ray, a nurse from 1929 to 1972, worked at Poudre Valley Memorial Hospital (and its predecessor hospitals). In those early years Clara stoked fires and cleaned rooms as well as caring for patients. Clara and one other registered nurse worked and lived onsite and were on call 24/7.
Hope Sykes taught children at Plummer School during the 1930s, and wrote the book Second Hoeing about the lives of German-Russian immigrants who worked the sugar beet fields. The book shed much-needed light on a lifestyle unknown to many Fort Collins residents of the time.
May Wilkins, a talented musician and needle worker, lived an active life in Fort Collins, including serving as a Red Cross Volunteer during World War II. May's involvement in the community continues today through her vast collection of letters, photographs, clippings, cards, and dolls, all housed at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
Editha Todd Leonard, who played the violin as a child, founded the Fort Collins Concert Orchestra in 1923, and in 1949 became the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra concertmistress for many years. A graduate of the Chicago Music School, she left several arts endowments upon her death in 1999.
Ruth Burnett McDonald was born in Fort Collins and has pioneer roots. A trained opera singer, Ruth performed in many venues and also used her talents in the community through music therapy for children with disabilities.
During her ninety years, Lucile Baxter West lived in the Old General Store in Laporte, worked at the Cherokee Park Inn and an abstract company, married, had children, and even managed a liquor store in Fort Collins. Lucile's colorful (and often hilarious) stories - and those of her siblings - richly convey the experience of coming to adulthood during the Depression.
Fort Collins resident Isabelle Knopf worked at Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp during World War II. As a single mother, she had various jobs before having a long career with the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
The Dickerson sisters grew up on a homestead in Buckhorn Canyon. They worked hard milking cows, cutting hay, pulling stumps, and running a sawmill. Later in life Alice and Helen opened a store in the canyon where they sold their unique handicrafts featuring materials from the natural world around them.
Jovita Vallecillo Lobato was the first Mexican American student to graduate public school in Fort Collins (FCHS, 1932), and the first Mexican American student to graduate from Colorado Agricultural College (1936). She went on to earn a master's in psychology and taught in Colorado, New Mexico, and New Jersey.
Gene Creed was a rodeo cowgirl whose long career started at Watermelon Days in Rocky Ford, Colorado, and included competing at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Gene dazzled with her trick riding and barrel racing. She retired from rodeo to a ranch in Bellvue and was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1982.
Margaret Martinez was a long-time resident of Alta Vista, one of the three neighborhoods, including Buckingham and Andersonville, that make up the Tres Colonias in Fort Collins. Residents like Maggie are crucial to understanding Fort Collins' identity: the beet workers of Great Western Sugar, migrating to Fort Collins from places further south, developing community, and building a better life despite prejudice and financial hardship.
Mary Ault Dutcher was Fort Collins' first female pilot, a member of the Betsy Ross Flying Corps (a pre-WWII organization of female pilots that only had 100 member pilots nationwide), mother of two, and psychology professor at CSU. Her life was one of both privilege and loss, and bravery of many kinds.
When Frances Withers Bigelow was ordained in 1958, she was one of the first six ordained women in the Methodist Church nationwide. Frances served as the Associate Minister at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Collins, and was instrumental in the planning of Elderhaus and the first substance abuse treatment center in the city.
A lifelong resident of Fort Collins, Martha went to Fort Collins High School and Colorado Agricultural College. During WWII she was a member of the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). After the war, Martha taught English at CAC and was active in civic affairs.
Polly Brinkhoff was an artist and long-time resident of Skin Gulch off Poudre Canyon. Her artwork, including the painted "Whale Rock" in Rist Canyon, is a testament to her amazing life and contributions to Colorado lore.
Phyllis Mattingly came to Fort Collins in 1949, hosted a talk show on KCOL, and was an internationally recognized handwriting analyst (graphologist). But most people remember her as Fort Collins' Welcome Lady! She brought gifts, coupons, and information about the town to all the newcomers.
Textile artist Dorothy Udall - graduate of Cornell and the Cranbrook Academy of Art - established Maridadi West (1973), a textile printing business that created beautiful works inspired by the natural forms of the American Southwest. Dorothy's artwork and ephemera help us understand the creative process.
Born and raised in Fort Collins, Charlene was a champion for preserving and sharing our local history. In the 1970s she interviewed hundreds of Fort Collins citizens and collected thousands of photographs that show what life was like in the past. Her important work lives on today at the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
Colonel Althea Williams distinguished herself during 28 years of service in the Army Nurse Corps. FCMoD is lucky to house her letters, documents, photographs, and personal belongings, which illustrate her experience of WWII (especially working in the Philippines, Australia, New Guinea, and the East Indies island of Baik).
Betty Herrmann had a passion for local archaeology and was especially involved and interested in the Lindenmeier Site north of Fort Collins. She left a legacy at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery through her work, donations, and the impact she had on the people there.
Elizabeth Case devoted her life to volunteer work at places like the Children's Theater, Parent-Teacher Association, Historical Society, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, United Way and Poudre Landmarks Association (among others!). She delivered Meals on Wheels, hosted exchange students and was Community Builder of the Year in 1964.
Fort Collins is well-known for being a bike town. While it has taken many citizens to make this possible, one woman in particular to whom we owe this status is Betty Sears. In the summer of 1970, Betty Sears collected signatures to convince the city to install its very first bike lanes.
Preserving the history of Fort Collins, Colorado & the Cache la Poudre region