Women were unsung heroes in building Fort Collins settlement by Barbara Fleming
List the north-south streets in Old Town Fort Collins to learn who founded the settlement, originally named the Agricultural Colony, in 1872.
Note that history preserves only male names. But these men had wives, women who provided them with comfortable homes, sustenance and children, and who subverted their own needs and desires to their husbands’.
Yet you will look long and hard for acknowledgment of wives’ roles in settling this or any other Western town.
Women were the backbone of the frontier, softening crude assemblages of buildings into livable communities, prodding their husbands — who had the power — to establish hallmarks of civilization like schools, churches and shops, and to enrich the towns with culture.
With rare exceptions, like “Auntie” Elizabeth Stone, local history overlooks wives. In Ansel Watrous’s book, “History of Larimer County,” wives are incidental, mentioned in passing in biographies of men.
Newspapers referred to married women by their husbands’ names, as in “Mrs. Norman Meldrum.”
Dig a little to discover that Mrs. Meldrum’s given name was Susan; her maiden name was Warren. She was, according to the “New Encyclopedia of the American West,” the daughter of one Stephen Warren of Rush, New York, who must have accomplished a remarkable feat in bringing her into the world all by himself.
Consider one exemplary frontier wife: Lucy McIntyre. Unusually for his typical style, Watrous gives her a paragraph or two in his biography of her husband, Josiah, even including her photograph. But of her, Watrous notes only that she was a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and an “ardent lover of books.”
What, though, of her life? Her personhood? Lucy McIntyre, nee Richards, gave birth to seven children and endured the unspeakable loss of six of them. Only one, Clyde, survived to marry and raise a family.
Facing the ordeal bravely, according to Watrous, Lucy said goodbye to her husband in August 1862, when he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. Promoted to captain, Josiah suffered an eye injury during the battle of Shepardstown, Virginia, and was taken prisoner.
Although released shortly afterward, he continued to have eye problems and eventually went blind. Undeterred, he resumed the study of law and became the first blind man in America to receive a law degree — aided in his studies by his daughter Loa, who was later killed in a tragic accident.
Despite these hardships and ordeals, Lucy left a footprint, becoming a vocal advocate for women’s suffrage. She started a women’s club in Fort Collins and wrote letters and opinion pieces in newspapers on women’s right to vote. Throughout her long life (she died at 96), she remained active in the community.
Lucy McIntyre is but one of hundreds of wives who devoted time, energy and spirit to gaining votes for women (which happened in Colorado in 1893) while coping with domestic concerns, trauma and loss, and the ongoing demands of everyday life. Bravo.
Contact history writer Barbara Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.