Summit County celebrates women in history |

Summit County celebrates women in history

The Annie Ruth House at the Frisco Historic Park & Museum holds the Susan Badger Exhibit, as well as other artifacts relating to women in Summit County history.
Heather Jarvis / |


March 12: An Afternoon with Sandra Dallas; 2 p.m. at Dillon Community Church, 371 La Bonte Street in Dillon. Tickets are $20 for Summit Historical Society members and $25 for non-members and tickets may be purchased in advance at (970) 468-2207, online at or tickets will also be available day-of at the door by cash or check.

March 19: Women of Bill’s Ranch Tour; 10 a.m. to noon in Frisco. Space on the tour is limited and fills up quickly. Advance registration is required and may be made by calling 970-668-3428. Participants should be prepared for unpredictable March weather and wear sturdy walking shoes and warm comfortable clothing.

Susan Badger Exhibit: In the Annie Ruth House, open during Frisco Historic Park & Museum hours; Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Closed Mondays. The park is located at 120 Main St., Frisco. Call (970) 668-3428 for more information.

Summit County has a rich history dominated by stories of mining and early day skiing. Plenty of focus has been drawn on the men who searched for gold or strapped on wooden skis, but there were plenty of strong ladies who helped shape what Summit is today, even though the women were largely outnumbered.

“(Women’s history is) actually even more important in Summit County for the fact that it’s so much of the women (who) created this county — obviously the men did come first for the mining — but what really made a thriving community was when the women showed up,” said Simone Belz, museum director at the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.

In tribute to Women’s History Month, the Frisco Historic Park & Museum and the Summit Historical Society are holding several events throughout March. First up is an afternoon with author Sandra Dallas on March 12 in Dillon, followed by a Women of Bill’s Ranch Tour on Saturday, March 19. The recently expanded Susan Badger Exhibit will also be up in the Annie Ruth House at the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.

“Here in Colorado specifically, our history is so heavy with mining and industry and railroad and technology that sometimes the women get forgotten because back in the day they weren’t as prominent as they are today in any of those areas,” Belz said. “So now looking back, highlighting these women — it just balances everything out. … You had to have the backbone — someone had to cook, someone had to wash, someone had to provide entertainment, so the women really capitalized on that.”


There were a variety of struggles that women had to overcome when it came to settling in a rough, new mountain town. During the second gold and silver mining boom of the 1880s, only 12 percent of the population were women. But by 1890, it raised to 36 percent, according to the historical book, “Roadside Summit.”

New wives moving to the area with their husbands often found themselves lonely without family close by.

“We have focused for so many years on the men part of the story — the mining the merchants, all of the men, instead of thinking that there were women here,” said Sandie Mather, president of the Summit Historical Society. “Not as many women, but there were women here who helped shape the county. They were strong women, and they had to be in order to survive the conditions that they were facing.”

Mather documents one such woman in her book, “They weren’t All Prostitutes and Gamblers.” Anna Sadler Hamilton was 23 when she moved to Breckenridge with her new husband as part of an arranged marriage, and she struggled with the fact that her family was still in Illinois.

“That was a problem that affected all of these women,” Mather said. “She never stopped looking over her shoulder, and that was most of the women, didn’t stop looking over their shoulders for their families.”

Women, freshly married or pregnant, arrived on trains, horseback or on burros and struggled with harsh conditions of the mountains.

“Being a wife and a mother back then was extremely difficult, and it was lot of pressure,” Belz said. “A lot of them made it work, and they became these incredible hardy mountain women.”


One important moment in women’s history was 1919 Frisco. The town council hadn’t met in years, and it was the women of the town who gathered together and elected themselves to council, balancing the budget and getting the town back on track.

“And that was before women’s suffrage, so it was unique that women rallied here in Frisco to keep the economy going, keep government going,” said Jana Miller, museum coordinator at the Frisco Historic Park & Museum. “Colorado gave women the right to vote long before the federal government gave it as a national right.”

Shortly after, with a decline in mining, Frisco became a ghost town, and, in 1930, the town had only 18 residents. Looking for a way to help the family dairy ranch, William (Bill) Thomas wrote a letter to 100 Denver residents, offering up free land on his property to those who would commit to building a cabin there within the year, and Frisco’s first subdivision and second-home development was created. The women who first came to Bill’s Ranch in Frisco had a big role in shaping the town’s history.

The walking tour on March 19 will cover this piece of history, focusing on the important women who settled the Ranch, including Jane Thomas, Grace Maddy and Roberta Fiester.


The Summit Historical Society will host New York Times best-selling author Sandra Dallas on Saturday, March 12. The author of 15 adult novels, two young reader novels and 10 nonfiction books, lived in Breckenridge for many years. Her novels are set largely in Colorado, with themes of loyalty, friendship and human dignity. Her historical fiction weaves together Summit County history, weather and geography, and, for this event, Dallas will focus her conversation on three of her books set in the area, “The Last Midwife,” “Prayers for Sale” and “White as Snow.”

“ She lived here,” Mather said. “She can take the weather, the economy, gold mining, gold dredging — she can take the mindset of the people and weave all of those into her characters. And her characters are real for those that have lived in Breckenridge and have an idea of the history. You’re standing right next to those characters. … She has a wonderful ability to do this because she knows the area, the geology, the history, the economy — the whole thing. And that’s why her books are so great.”


The Frisco Historic Park & Museum is also celebrating Women’s History Month with a recently expanded exhibit of Susan Badger’s belongings and artifacts in the Annie Ruth House. The exhibit will showcase a gown owned by Badger temporarily on loan from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.

Born in Augusta, Maine, Badger grew up in an aristocratic family before moving to Colorado Springs in 1916. Looking to get away from being known only as a daughter of a wealthy man, as well as wanting to flee the humid climate that worsened her tuberculosis, she settled in Frisco in 1934.

Badger believed that men and women wanted to earn a living instead of collecting welfare, and with the help of a local preacher and business man, she soon became the director of welfare for Summit County. Other contributions to society included her time as an employment service representative, deputy sheriff, humane officer and Red Cross chairman. She also served a 14-month stint as Justice of the Peace.

“She left a legacy that she was just really a woman that thought outside of the box,” Belz said. “She remained single, she never had children — she had five different jobs at one point. She was always very involved in her community.”

Badger was known for hanging out with the men, playing poker, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars, Belz said. At one card game, she won with a royal flush and had all of the other players sign the hand, which is framed and on display at the museum.

“She was buried here in the cemetery in Frisco, so was Jane Thomas,” Belz said. “They were here ’til the end and laid to rest in the community that they loved.”

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