The Weekend: Meet some women who changed the world | SummitDaily.com

The Weekend: Meet some women who changed the world

In a time that women weren't only prevented from voting but were encouraged to remain silent in public, examples exist of extraordinary females who not only helped shape Colorado but the country in general.

"You should see this picture," said T. Lee, a Minneapolis artist and historian of sorts who owns a place in Copper. "Her face is determined and kind, but she is not someone who you would stand in her way."

Lee was talking about an old photograph of Clara Brown, who was born a Virginia slave in 1800 and, after her emancipation, walked from Kentucky to Colorado, later becoming a Central City community leader, a black property owner and a philanthropist in Colorado's Gold Rush.

Brown is one of seven women whose histories Lee is ready to celebrate in her upcoming free presentation, "Storytelling: Women of the Gold Rush," from 6-7:30 tonight at the Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge.

It's an hour-and-a-half bit that's sure to be full of old photographs, a sense of time and place, and no less than seven heartwarming and heart-wrenching histories. Not surprisingly, Lee will delve into a time in America that, in many ways, can be a difficult pill to swallow.

"It's not surprising, but it's very sobering and it's a very poignant reminder that we've come a long way in a very short time," Lee said of her research. "Women weren't allowed to speak out, they couldn't run for public office or even vote. These are basic civil rights."

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It's easy to wonder how many people — before suffrage, before the struggle for equality — were marginalized in a society that treated them more like props than people. How many talents were lost? How many voices were silenced?

We can never know, but through the work of people like Lee, we can honor those who rose above the norm and wouldn't let anyone tell them what they could or couldn't do.

They don't all come off as activists, but in their own right, each has a great story to tell, and they all helped move the needle of progress one way or another.

After settling in Central City, a town that now celebrates her, Brown worked there as a laundress, a cook and a mid-wife. With the money she made, she bought up properties in Georgetown, Idaho Springs, Aspen and Boulder, Lee said, all the while helping other African-Americans escape the bonds of slavery through her philanthropic efforts.

She did all of this while trying to track down a daughter whom Brown had lost in the slave trade. After years of looking, Lee said, the pair spent the last two years of Brown's life together.

It's been said that women who behave seldom make history, and that seems like a fair assessment. For many of the women Lee will cover, they certainly didn't mind rocking the boat every now and then.

That includes people like Dr. Susan Anderson (1870-1960), who was one of the first women to practice medicine in Colorado. Lee said Anderson's medical schooling was a result of her father's effort to get her out of Cripple Creek, which was about as lawless as Breckenridge was at the time, but ultimately it came to benefit the town of Fraser for decades.

"She was the coroner of Grand County, and she devoted her life to helping the miners that created the Moffat Tunnel," Lee said, adding that Anderson supported Fraser a majority of her life even though she had tuberculosis and "basically went up there to die."

Anderson was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 1997, but she isn't the only member of the Hall on Lee's list.

As a Canadian-born journalist, Caroline Nichols Churchill (1833-1926) produced a newspaper that she wrote and published on her own for 10 years in the U.S.

Lee said Churchill, who's also in the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, called herself the "Queen Bee" and named her publication the same, using it to give voice to the Colorado feminist movement as she lobbied for equality and the right to vote.

As a result of Churchill's and others' efforts, Lee noted, Colorado gave women the right to vote 27 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified and it became the law of the land.

"That meant women had power," Lee said. "They could vote, they could direct activity… Miners were leaving, and the towns were left with women and children, and these women had power because they could vote."

Certainly not everyone appreciated this in the moment, but to get the full story, you'll have to hear Lee tell it.

Saturday's best brews

After catching Lee's presentation Friday, there are a number of things to do this Saturday and Sunday.

And this is supposed to be the slow time of the year, right? Yeah, right.

Saturday comes with the Spring Beer Festival in Breckenridge. That's the big one, and they're going to host 45 brewers — some local, some regional and a few national ones — with more than 150 beers to try out. Non-beer-tasting tickets are also available. Organizers are expecting about 3,000 people to attend, and many of them will be in costume. For more visit BreckenridgeBeerFestival.com.

One last chance to 'Rock'

Breckenridge Backstage Theatre's "School of Rock-The Musical" features an entirely youth cast, and the show closes out with multiple performances this weekend. The last chances to catch it are at 7 p.m. tonight, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday. After watching their rehearsal and interviewing a half-dozen students for a preview piece a couple weeks ago, I can say these kids are the real deal and you will not be disappointed. For more, BackstageTheatre.org.

Eli Pace is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News, and he writes a regular column focusing on fun weekend happenings in Summit County. Email him at epace@summitdaily.com.