It should surprise no one that Colorado has a rich history of women who do just fine without the patriarchy. But in case you’re looking for specific examples, History Colorado is providing just that with its new exhibit, Carrying the Torch of Liberty: Colorado Women’s Work in World War I, which kicks off on Saturday, May 27 at the Byers-Evans House Museum.
Several of the women highlighted in this exhibit were among the first females to find success in previously all-male fields. Denver native Agnes Vaille was a fearless mountain climber who became the first woman to summit both James and Longs peaks during winter (she died descending from Longs Peak). Surgeon and suffragist Dr. Mary Elizabeth Bates led the field of medicine, and just a few years earlier Colorado had elected its first female state senator, Helen Ring Robinson. Until now their stories were, for the most part, left out of history books and museums.
“We’ve been looking for the right thing to do with Byers-Evans for about a year,” says Jason Hanson, director of interpretation and research at History Colorado. “We settled on women’s history in Colorado and tapped into a really wonderful community of women’s historians here in the Denver metro area … as well as some from the Pueblo–Colorado Springs area.”
Most of the gallery’s images and artifacts, such as wartime posters, came from History Colorado’s collection, but others were collected from the Denver Public Library, the Library of Congress, and Washington Post archives.
Hanson’s favorite part of the project has been discovering how pivotal this era was in women’s history.
“We think about Rosie the Riveter being a big step for women joining the workforce, but that was happening in World War I. We think about feminism in the ’70s being a big push for equal rights, but that was happening in World War I,” Hanson says. “This was one of the big springboards to the modern world and the way that women are situated within it today.”
The gallery will be the first in a series of (free) exhibits at Byers-Evans that will focus on women’s history in Colorado. Hanson hopes the exhibits will mark a new direction for Byers-Evans—one that will permanently transform it into a center for women’s history.
If you go: The Byers-Evans House Museum is located at 1310 Bannock St. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free, but those who would like to tour the house will have to buy a ticket. Call 303-620-4933 for more details.