Eliza in the Hall of Fame
- Last Updated on Monday, 27 June 2011 12:51
- Written by Joyce Lohse
Colorado Women's Hall of Fame
Inducts Eliza Routt
On March 11, 2008, Eliza Pickrell Routt was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony took place at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Author Joyce B. Lohse, Mrs. Routt’s first ancestral cousin and Centennial biographer, nominated her for the honor, and spoke to the audience of more than 750 people attending the induction ceremony when she accepted the induction on her behalf.
As wife of John Routt, Colorado’s first state governor, Eliza Routt became Colorado’s original first lady, and an active community volunteer. She was a founding member of the Central Christian Church, Woman’s Home Club, and Young Woman’s Christian Association. Orphaned at an early age, Eliza helped establish the Denver Orphan’s Home Association in 1881. She served on the first board of trustees for Colorado Woman’s College in 1888.
Eliza Routt was a pioneer in the struggle for women’s rights. She joined the Non-Partisan Suffrage Association of Colorado, and became president of the City League of Denver branch. In 1893, when Colorado was the second state after Wyoming to allow women to vote, Eliza Routt was honored as the first woman registered to vote in Colorado.
In 1895, Eliza became the first woman to serve on the Colorado Board of Agriculture at the State Agricultural College, which became Colorado State University. During her decade on that board, she established the School of Domestic Economy, which allowed young women a foothold in higher education, and she obtained the first professorship for a female instructor.
Described as queenly in manner, Mrs. Routt was referred to as the “Martha Washington of Colorado.” Progressive in her views, she set the standard for future First Ladies by performing community and public service in a dignified and generous manner.
I would like to share some history with you . . .
About 130 years ago, 14th Street in Denver was known as Governor’s Row. It was home of Colorado pioneers and Bonanza Kings. Miles of sidewalks made of diamond shaped marble slabs lined the street. Paved with a mixture of course sand and gravel, the street required steady sprinkling by horse drawn water trucks, to keep the surface compact and to settle the dust.
During mild weather, about 1 ½ hours before sundown, carriage and buggy driving began, and kept up until darkness put a stop to it. The corner of 14th and Welton was a center of activity. This was the location of the first governor’s mansion, a Victorian home with a carefully tended yard and flower gardens, the residence of Governor John Routt and his wife, Eliza.
When John Routt sold his successful silver mine in Leadville in 1880, he turned the profits over to his sensible wife, Eliza. The couple splurged when they bought their home for $30,000, and a buggy with a pair of matching bay horses for $3,000, no doubt the hit of the evening buggy parade on 14th Street. After that, Eliza frugally managed their finances for the rest of their lives.
The Victorian Era in the late 1800s was a period during which style and conduct were particularly restrained and conservative. A proper lady appeared in the newspaper only when she was born, she was married, or when she died. Eliza Routt, a proper Victorian lady, was quite busy while she was NOT making headlines.
Eliza Pickrell Routt, who arrived in Colorado when it was still a roughly settled territory, set a high standard of behavior and activism for women when Colorado became a new state. In her low-key and generous manner, she worked to provide safe housing and higher education for women and young people.
Eliza was a progressive leader in the movement for equal rights for women, nudging her influential husband in that direction as well. She supported music and the arts in the community, and worked to obtain the bronze Native American sculpture, The Closing Era, which still rests on the east lawn of the Colorado state capitol building. People from all walks of life respected her and called her their friend.
As first lady, Eliza balanced her civic activities with plenty of attention to the governor’s mansion and generous non-partisan hospitality. As wife of the gregarious Governor Routt, the former Miss Pickrell was his partner, his anchor, and a source of pride when she became Colorado’s first woman registered to vote.
One day while he was working at his desk in his office on Larimer Street, some friends gathered and were loudly boasting about the size of fish they had recently caught. John Routt continued to be occupied at his desk while the bragging escalated.
Suddenly, he looked up from his work and said, “Oh, what’s the matter with you fellows anyway . . . with your little ten-pound trout and twenty-pound catfish, you will have to take a back seat to me. Why, I caught a Pickrell that is a lot bigger than that!”
I am grateful to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame for honoring Colorado’s original first lady, Eliza Pickrell Routt. Many thanks to my family and friends for their support and enthusiasm for this induction, and to Filter Press, who generously supplied copies of my book, First Governor, First Lady, for attendees of the induction ceremony.
And most of all, I thank Eliza, for her wonderful story, and her great work. Perhaps you will think about Denver’s early days when you drive your buggy home through her neighborhood this evening. Thank you.