Colorado Women Featured in History Education App

Lessons in Herstory is a new augmented reality app that’s helping students learn more about significant women in American history. Because history textbooks seldom feature women’s stories—in fact, research indicates that 89% of history-textbook content is, on average, about men—this app offers users a new perspective. Lessons in Herstory connects images of male historical figures in a popular history textbook with stories about history-making women from the same period. If you’re looking for a way to expand your knowledge of herstory (as opposed to history) this summer, look no further than Lessons in Herstory in the App Store for iOS.

Here’s a preview of some of the fascinating and influential Western and Coloradoan women you can learn about with Lessons in Herstory.

Julia Archibald Holmes (1838–1887)

Born in Canada in 1838, Julia Archibald Holmes was a journalist, activist, and the first white woman to summit Pike’s Peak. Since Julia’s childhood, her family was involved in the abolitionist movement, campaigning against slavery in Kansas Territory prior to the Civil War. Julia was also a suffragist who supported women’s equality and the right to vote. In 1858, Julia traveled to Colorado and climbed Pike’s Peak. In order to draw more attention to her suffragist mission, Julia published an account of her climb. She was also famous for completing the climb in a “bloomer costume:” a short dress with loose pants underneath that was a controversial symbol of the suffragist movement. After summiting Pike’s Peak, Julia eventually moved to Washington D.C., where she became the first female division chief in the Bureau of Education. Julia Archibald Holmes demonstrated that women, just like men, could also make their mark on the history of the West.

Calamity Jane (1852–1901)

Martha Jane “Calamity Jane” Canary was born in Missouri in 1852. Her family traveled via wagon train across the west, eventually settling in Wyoming Territory. There are conflicting stories about Jane’s famous nickname. Most agree, however, that chaos, calamity, and excitement followed Jane wherever she went—and she went many, many different places. Throughout her life, Calamity Jane traveled all over the western United States and the plains, from Montana to South Dakota to Colorado, visiting just about every western territory and state in between. She worked as a military scout, a gold prospector, a Pony Express rider, and a nurse during a smallpox epidemic. Calamity Jane was known for her rough frontier ways. She wore men’s clothing and carried guns. Eventually she began to make a name for herself not only as an adventurous outlaw, but also as a storyteller and performer. Jane joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and sold books about her life, describing herself as “the heroine of a thousand thrilling adventures.” Much of what we know of Calamity Jane today comes from legends, fictional accounts in novels and movies, and possibly exaggerated stories she told about her own life. Whatever the truth, however, Calamity Jane was a larger-than-life figure in Western history.

news clipping with Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley featured in The Oak Creek Times and the Yampa Leader, November 10, 1927

Annie Oakley (1860–1926)

Born in rural Ohio in 1860, Annie Oakley (born Phoebe Ann Moses) was a world-famous sharpshooter, performer, and western celebrity. Annie first discovered her talent for shooting as a young girl while helping support her family by hunting and selling wild game. Her impressive abilities drew attention from a traveling shooting exhibition that visited her hometown when she was 15. Annie met her future husband when she beat him in a sharpshooting competition with a perfect score. Together, Annie and her husband became a traveling stage act. Eventually Annie joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, where she was billed as a “Champion Markswoman” and as “Little Sure Shot.” In her performances, Annie reportedly shot moving targets from horseback, split playing cards and dimes in half from 30 paces, and shot backwards over her shoulder by looking in a hand mirror, amazing audiences as large as 17,000 people. Annie and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveled across the United States and the world, performing for American presidents and the British royal family. During and after her performing career, Annie advocated for women, teaching thousands of women to shoot and offering to train female regiments during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Annie was an international celebrity during her lifetime, and pop culture adaptations of her life (like Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun) keep her legend alive today.

Edith van Buren (1858–1914)

Edith van Buren was a socialite and groundbreaking world traveler. The great-niece of President Martin Van Buren, Edith eventually became known as Countess di Castelmenardo after marrying and divorcing a con man who pretended to be an Italian count. Despite these exciting aspects of her personal life, however, Edith was known best for her travel through the Klondike gold fields in 1898. She and her friend Mary Hitchcock were known as the first women to visit the Klondike as tourists. While many prospective miners struggled for months across dangerous terrain to reach the gold fields, Edith and Mary traveled in style, taking a steamboat from San Francisco up the Yukon River. They brought a wide variety of luxuries along with them, including a menagerie of pets, inflatable beds, and an early movie projector called an animatoscope. The two women stayed in Dawson City in an enormous tent, where they started religious services and projected movies for other Dawson City residents. Edith Van Buren showed that traveling, even to far away and dangerous places, could be rewarding and exciting for women.

Mary Evelyn Hitchcock (1849–1920)

Mary Evelyn Hitchcock was a writer and a traveler who showed the way for other female explorers in remote locations. Mary was well traveled, visiting far-flung destinations like Japan, China, and Egypt with her friend Edith Van Buren after the death of Mary’s husband. Mary and Edith’s most famous and most publicized journey was to the Klondike, where the two women were the first to travel the Yukon as tourists. Mary’s most popular book, Two Women in the Klondike, told the story of their expedition and described the region in detail. Mary was greatly interested in the process of mining in the Yukon, and she wrote about it, invested in mining claims there, and even in the Yukon for years. By visiting unique places like the Yukon and writing about her experiences, Mary became an explorer in a time when women weren’t expected to be adventurous or independent.

front page of The Denver Star

The Denver Star, July 24, 1915

Madam CJ Walker (1867–1919)

Madam CJ Walker (born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana) was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the wealthiest African American woman of her day. The child of former slaves, Walker left the south to move to Denver after years working as a sharecropper and laundress. After noticing that she was beginning to lose her hair, she invented a new secret formula to prevent hair loss in black women. After creating her new formula she changed her name, created her own line of products for black hair—“Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower”—and began a business empire. Her company grew to employ  thousands of African American women across the country, making Madam Walker herself a millionaire (or at least a several-hundred-thousand-aire,but in today’s money her net worth would be in the millions). Madam Walker dedicated a large portion of her fortune to philanthropy. She contributed to a number of organizations including schools, churches, and social organizations like the YMCA in the black community of Indianapolis, where her business was headquartered. She also donated to the NAACP and created scholarships at historically black colleges, using her position as a powerful businesswoman to speak out about political issues and advocate for anti-lynching legislation. Even after she died, Madam Walker continued to give back by donating two thirds of her company’s future profits to charity. Madam Walker was the first self-made black female millionaire despite descrimination and the legacy of slavery in her family, and made a huge impact on her community and the country.

news clipping with illustration of Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly story on cover of Pueblo Chieftain, January 24, 1890.

Nellie Bly (1864–1922)

Born Elizabeth Cochran but more commonly known by her pen name, Nellie Bly, this herstory maker was a journalist known for her daring and dangerous actions in pursuit of cutting-edge stories. She started her career writing a column about women’s issues in a Pittsburgh newspaper, but she soon decided to take on more dramatic and challenging assignments. Nellie first gained a reputation as a serious journalist when she went undercover as a mental patient in an asylum. Her story, Ten Days in a Mad-House, exposed the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in New York hospitals—and made her famous. As a result of Nellie’s reporting, the New York City government corrected many of the worst problems Nellie described and greatly improved conditions for patients. After publishing that story, Nellie went on to travel around the world in less than 80 days, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel. Nellie did it in 72 days, briefly holding the world record for the shortest round-the-world journey. Later in her career, Nellie continued to write about issues including women’s suffrage and World War I. Dedicated to finding important stories, Nellie Bly became one of America’s first investigative journalists.

To keep learning about these women and other amazing women in history, check out Lessons in Herstory or History Colorado’s biographies! Find out more about Colorado women like “Aunt” Clara Brown, Owl Woman, and Molly Brown.


Further Reading

“Annie Oakley.” Center of the West. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, 2019.

Bottomore, Stephen. “Mary Ellen Hitchcock (nee Higgins).” Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema. British Film Institute.

Bundles, A’Lelia. “Madam C.J. Walker: A Brief Biographical Essay.” Madam C.J. Walker.

“Calamity Jane.” Adams Museum & House. Adams Museum & House, 2006.

Hill, Zubin. “How Wild West Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Made It in a Man’s World.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2019.

“Julia Archibald Holmes.” Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, 2014.

Markel, Howard. “How Nellie Bly went undercover to expose abuse of the mentally ill.” PBS News Hour. RMPBS, 2018.

“Martha Jane "Calamity Jane" Cannary.” Women in History. Lakewood Public Library, 1998.

“Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Buren - Klondike Tourists.” Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Smithsonian Institution.

Michals, Debra.  "Madam C. J. Walker."  National Women's History Museum.  National Women's History Museum, 2015.

Norwood, Arlisha. "Nellie Bly." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, 2017.

Osborne, Arian. “Julia Archibald Holmes: First Woman to Summit Pike’s Peak.” Colorado Virtual Library. Colorado Virtual Library, 2017.

“Two American Entrepreneurs: Madam C.J. Walker and J.C. Penney.” National Park Service. US Department of the Interior.