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In 2017, Olivia Meikle stumbled across a gravestone that simply read “Mother.” At the time, Meikle and her sister and fellow academic, Katie Nelson, had been thinking about collaborating on a podcast about history’s forgotten women, but Meikle, an adjunct instructor of gender and women’s studies at Naropa University in Boulder, was worried no one would tune in. The memorial convinced her to help give these women their names back. Launched in 2018, the duo’s biweekly show, “What’sHerName,” has been downloaded over 1.6 million times and boasts an international roster of subjects such as Ching Shih, a Chinese pirate who commanded more than 40,000 sailors in the early 1800s. To honor Women’s History Month, we asked Meikle for a guest lecture on unheralded women from the Centennial State.
Known for: Founding Lafayette
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Miller could have lived a comfortable life off the royalties she received from the coal mines on her farm. Instead, in 1888, she divvied up a portion of her land and sold the plots to coalfield workers, thus becoming the first woman to found a town west of the Mississippi. That isn’t Miller’s only entry into the record books. She was likely America’s first female bank president, too. (Her reputation has been tarnished by her grandsons, however, who may have been members of the KKK.)
Pearl de Vere
Known for: Making sin big business
Instead of catering to the hordes of miners who overran Colorado during the 19th century gold rush, de Vere, aka the Soiled Dove of Cripple Creek, took a different tack: She made her house of ill repute, well, reputable. By only inviting the wealthiest homesteaders, de Vere’s den became the fashionable place for prosperous men to conduct business, all while paying small fortunes to enjoy the company of fine courtesans, of course.
Known for: Campaigning for workers’ rights
When Roche inherited a large stake in her father’s Colorado mining company in 1928, the young activist put her ideals into practice. “She encouraged workers to unionize, hired a labor organizer as vice president, and raised miners’ wages to an unprecedented $7 a day,” Meikle says. After a failed campaign for governor, she was named assistant secretary of the treasury by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman to hold the post.