Women’s History Month: 9 Boulder Women Who Made History

For Women’s History Month, we are celebrating Boulder women who have made an impact on the world, with the help of our friends at the Museum of Boulder. We hope the glimpses into the lives of these unique women inspire further research and discovery.

Alicia Sanchez | Community Health Leader

Alicia Sanchez was a Latina activist and community advocate who worked to provide better medical care to all residents of Boulder County. In 1977, she found Clinica Campesina Family Health Services in Lafayette to serve low-income families throughout Boulder County. Now called Clinica Family Health, the non-profit organization serves 55,000 patients a year at six medical clinics. Sanchez was recognized as the Boulder County Woman of the Year in 1977, and the Alicia Sanchez International School in Lafayette is named in her honor.

Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden | Botanical Illustrator

Born in Denver and raised in Boulder, Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden received a degree in art from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and spent many years pursuing a career as a children’s book author. She led Manhattanville College’s art department for 22 years, however she found success later in life as a freelance illustrator and botanical artist. She published over 20 books with topics ranging from flowers found in the Bible to plants found in the Rockies. Dowden returned to Boulder in 1990 and remained here until her death at age 99. Her obituary in the New York Times called her “among America’s leading botanical artists of the 20th century, and probably the most popular.”

Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden
Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Martha Maxwell | Pioneering Taxidermist

Born in Pennsylvania, Maxwell moved to Boulder after she and her husband joined in the gold rush of 1860. After enduring family and financial hardships, Maxwell decided to pursue her fascination with taxidermy, a rarity for a female. While living in a house in what is now known as Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder, Maxwell spent time camping and hunting in the Rockies to build her collection of local animals. She opened the Rocky Mountain Museum in Boulder in 1874 to share her work with the public and was commissioned to build an exhibit for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition at the World’s Fair in 1876, which featured running water and live prairie dogs along with taxidermied animals from Colorado. Maxwell’s unconventional life and work led to tremendous advances in taxidermy, as well as innovative museum exhibits that were replicated nationwide.

Martha Maxwell – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Florence Molloy + Mabel Macleay | Entrepreneurs

After World War I, Florence Molloy and Mabel Macleay opened a taxi business in Boulder that operated out of the Boulderado Hotel, providing a valuable service to locals and tourists. Working together, the women attracted loyal patrons and took tourists all over the region, including on popular mountain excursions. The company was used loyally each summer by the Bluebird Association (a group of vacationing women from the Midwest), and Molloy and Macleay were specifically hired by the parents of female students at the University of Colorado to serve both as chaperones and drivers. Eventually, male taxi drivers took umbrage with their success and essentially ran them out of town by having strict solicitation regulations passed and enforced. A notice in the Daily Camera in July 1926 announced Molloy and Macleay’s intention to sell their business as a result of these solicitation regulations. They went on to open a dude ranch in Gold Hill as a way to continue their entrepreneurial endeavors in Boulder’s tourism industry.

Molloy and MacLeay – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Lucile Buchanan | Trailblazer

Lucille Buchanan, the daughter of slaves from Virginia, was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder. Buchanan received a degree in German in 1918 but was forbidden to walk the stage to receive her diploma and wasn’t included in the yearbook because of her race. Due to this treatment, she vowed never to return to Boulder. Buchanan worked as an educator around the country until she retired in Denver. A scholarship was named in her honor at the University of Colorado Boulder, and professor Polly McLean symbolically accepted Buchanan’s degree during 2018 commencement ceremonies. Buchanan is remembered for her tenacity, determination and strength. In fact, she continued to exercise her right to vote until she was 103 years of age.

Lucile Berkeley – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Clela Rorex | Public Servant

Born in Steamboat Springs, Clela Rorex attended the University of Colorado Boulder. After working for her father, the Routt County Clerk, Rorex ran and was elected as the first female Boulder County Clerk in 1975. On March 26, 1975, after receiving approval from the District Attorney, Rorex issued the first same-sex marriage licenses in the United States to David Bruce McCord and David Robert Zamor. Rorex resigned after only two and a half years due to threats and intimidation she received following her courageous act. Rorex is remembered and revered for her part in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the country, and the County Courthouse where she worked was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its significance to LGBTQ history.

Clela Rorex – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Ava Hamilton | Arapaho Filmmaker

Ava Hamilton is an Arapaho filmmaker who produced and directed “Everything has a Spirit,” an award-winning film that premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival. She also wrote, produced and directed the documentary short “Indians For Indians” for PBS. She attended film school at the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her prose has been published in the Yellow Medicine Review and the Global Press. Hamilton was instrumental in the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day in Boulder and continues to connect the tribes native to Boulder with current residents through Right Relationship Boulder.

Clara Savory | Temperance Librarian

A prominent member of the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, Savory pioneered the “booze to books” idea in Boulder. Having realized that one main barrier to changing drinking habits was that there were few other places to socialize in town at the time, Savory opened a reading room at Spruce and Broadway in 1882 to give men a place to drop in, talk to others. and learn. She didn’t stop there. After petitioning Andrew Carnegie, Savory received a $15,000 grant to open Boulder’s first library in 1907 on Pine Street. Now known as the Carnegie Library for Local History, Savory served as the librarian there for 19 years until her retirement.

Clara Savory – Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection

Ruth Wright | Open Space Advocate

Ruth Wright graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Marquette University in 1950 and spent many years traveling abroad. In 1972, Wright graduated from Colorado Law and used her degree in public service. Wright served on both the Colorado Water Control Commission and the State Health Board. In 1980, she was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives for Boulder, a seat she held for 14 years. She was the second female House Minority Leader in Colorado’s history and used her position to advocate for the environment. Wright has often been referred to as the “mother of Boulder’s greenbelt” because of her tireless organizing to protect open space in Boulder. She was a lead advocate for the city sales tax to purchase and preserve open space in 1967 and wrote the legislation limiting the height of buildings in Boulder.

This blog was written by the Museum of Boulder in partnership with Elevations Credit Union. For a full list of the Museum of Boulder’s programming this month celebrating diverse women in history, please visit their website.

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