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Vintage news: Women take over Dolores

Women in positions of power, terrifying the country
Ar 170809962
Front row, left to right: State Representative Betty Pellet, County Judge Helen Hicks, County Clerk Irma Morris, County Treasurer Maud Odenbaugh, County Assessor Pearl Phelps, and County Welfare Director Louise Small. Back row of deputies and assistants, left to right: Kay Orton, Merna Knuckles, Jean Eiders, Babe Simmons, and Peggy Wells. Photo from the August 16, 1961, Durango Herald.
Ar 170809962
Front row, left to right: State Representative Betty Pellet, County Judge Helen Hicks, County Clerk Irma Morris, County Treasurer Maud Odenbaugh, County Assessor Pearl Phelps, and County Welfare Director Louise Small. Back row of deputies and assistants, left to right: Kay Orton, Merna Knuckles, Jean Eiders, Babe Simmons, and Peggy Wells. Photo from the August 16, 1961, Durango Herald.

In 1961, it was written without irony, “It’s a tough admission to concede, particularly in an area the late Scripps-Howard columnist called “America’s Last Frontier,” but the female of the species has taken over in Dolores county.” Eleven women had deigned to hold office, from postmaster to state rep, at the same time.

Women have always been a part of the pioneer experience and America’s westward expansion. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was in ’61 that women would want to be a part of politics, too.

Here’s a few of the women in Colorado’s history that should’ve made the reporter second guess their surprise at women in the “Last Frontier” holding “men’s positions.”

Susan Anderson (1870–1960): Graduated medical school in 1897 and was one of the first female physicians in Colorado.

Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904): Explorer, writer, naturalist, and photographer. She was the first female Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Helen Marie Black (1896-1988): Civic leader, journalist, publicist, and co-founder of the Denver Symphony Orchestra.

Clara Brown (1800–1855): Former slave turned entrepreneur who helped settle other freed slaves in Colorado.

Chipeta (1843-1924): Native Rights Activist, diplomat, and second wife to Chief Ouray.

Frances McConnell-Mills (1900-1975): The first woman appointed as Denver’s city toxicologist and, probably, the first female forensic pathologist in America.

Gloria Tanner (1935-Present): The first African American woman to serve as a Colorado state senator.

The women “taking over” Dolores county and on this list are not outliers. They are a few of the many examples of women who found their calling, in the western frontier.

Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer

Front row, left to right: State Representative Betty Pellet, County Judge Helen Hicks, County Clerk Irma Morris, County Treasurer Maud Odenbaugh, County Assessor Pearl Phelps, and County Welfare Director Louise Small. Back row of deputies and assistants, left to right: Kay Orton, Merna Knuckles, Jean Eiders, Babe Simmons, and Peggy Wells. Photo from the August 16, 1961, Durango Herald.