Extraordinary Colorado Women: Trail Blazers Who Continue to InspireSarah Innerarity
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating remarkable Colorado women and the impact they made.
Margaret Brown, better known as Molly Brown from Broadway musicals and films about her life, gained worldwide fame from her depiction in the movie Titanic. Brown moved to Leadville, Colorado at the age of 18, where she met J.J. Brown, who she married in 1886. Brown was active in philanthropy, supported suffragette efforts, championed a minimum wage and safer conditions for laborers, and advocated for more public parks in Denver, where her family moved in 1894.
After the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink, she helped other passengers to evacuate the ship. After being rescued, she formed a group to assist second-class and third-class passengers with clothing and other necessities. Before they even reached New York City aboard the Carpathia, she had helped to raise $10,000 for passengers in need. She also served as director for the American Committee for Devasted France during World War I and received the French Legion of Honor award after her efforts to support female ambulance drivers and nurses. Passionate about women’s rights, she also organized the Women’s Rights Conference of 1914.
Justina Ford was the first licensed African-American female doctor in Denver and practiced medicine in Colorado for over fifty years. Since she was unable to practice in Denver hospitals, she cared for patients in the home that she and her husband owned in the Five Points neighborhood. As a specialist in obstetrics and pediatrics, she delivered babies for families that couldn’t afford to seek care at the hospital.
In 1984, the Historic Denver organization saved Ford’s home and office from demolition and moved the building, and it’s now the home of the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center. She was also the focus of an episode of Rocky Mountain PBS’s The Colorado Experience, which interviewed many of Ford’s former patients to illustrate the impact of her work in Denver.
Avid hikers have Gudy Gaskill to thank for her contributions to the Colorado Trail, the 486-mile trail that stretches from the mouth of Waterton Canyon near Denver to Durango. In 1973, efforts to establish the Colorado Trail began when she chaired the Colorado Mountain Club’s Huts and Trails Committee. She spearheaded the charge, seeing it to completion over the next thirty years.
Gaskill has received numerous honors that celebrate her achievements, from former President Reagan as part of his Take Pride in America program and President George H.W. Bush for her volunteerism through the Thousand Points of Light initiative. She climbed all 54 of Colorado’s Fourteeners and many other international peaks.
Hattie McDaniel was an actress, singer, and comedian, best known for her portrayal of Mammy in the film Gone with the Wind. Her family moved to Colorado when she was seven years old, and they lived in Fort Collins and Denver. McDaniel began performing at a young age, writing songs for her brother’s minstrel show and singing with the Melody Hounds in Denver.
She was the first Black woman to sing on the radio in the United States, recorded over a dozen blues songs, and appeared in over 300 films. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her acclaimed role in Gone with the Wind, but was not allowed to attend the film’s premiere in Atlanta due to segregation. In addition to her many contributions to film and music, McDaniel supported USO shows, the Red Cross, and American Women’s Voluntary Services.