Frontier Diary: Women have made positive changes in county government |

Frontier Diary: Women have made positive changes in county government

Willa Kane
Glenwood Springs Historical Society
The first woman elected to the Board of Garfield County Commissioners, Marian Smith, thoughtfully considers a matter before her in this ca. 1990 photograph. Since women were granted the right to vote in 1893, many women have served in county and city government, working to make positive changes within the county.
Glenwood Springs Historical Society |

People have great respect for the man or woman who performs a service well.

— Avalanche Echo, October 31, 1901

A milestone for women in Garfield County was reached in October 1895. For the first time in the county’s 12-year history, a woman was nominated for county office. Her name was Aradell White.

White’s nomination was made possible by changes in the political landscape occurring in 1893 when Colorado became the first state through popular election to give women the right to vote. A year later, three women from the Front Range — Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Francis E. Klock — became the first women elected to the Colorado General Assembly. During their one term in the Legislature they introduced a law, passed legislation and chaired a committee. While Cressingham, Holly and Klock demonstrated women made positive contributions on the state level, counties across Colorado were nominating women primarily to the office of county superintendent of schools. White was one of those women.

The road to the office for White had many twists. Her husband, Sam, had held the office of county superintendent of schools in Garfield County from 1887-93. Through his leadership he created additional school districts across the county. This action allowed all children the opportunity for education. This expansion along with the construction of up-to-date buildings and the inclusion of modern educational materials was funded by taxes. The prosperity of the county, however, declined with the economic depression of 1893. With the county facing financial difficulties, Sam White and all Garfield County officials were accused of recklessly handling the county’s finances. Sam White was not re-elected in 1893. He died in 1894, leaving Aradell White to raise their four children ranging in age from 4 months to 4 years old.

Garfield County Republicans selected White as their candidate for county superintendent of schools in October 1895. Undoubtedly there was no better person for the position than the woman who had been married to a previous superintendent. Voters agreed. White became the first woman elected to an office in Garfield County in November 1895.

Her first term gained her praise in the handling of the affairs before Garfield County’s many schools. She was re-elected to the office on November 1897, but her relationship with the Board of County Commissioners began a turn for the worse. Instead of working from her office space in the courthouse, White worked from her residence. In April 1899, when she submitted her itemized billing for wages and expenses for the month of March, her claim was denied by the commissioners and the county attorney. Based upon her physical absence from her county office, the commissioners claimed they could not verify she had performed her duties as superintendent. The commissioners then required her to begin to work out of her county supplied office and to be accountable to them and to the taxpayers for her time and her duties. White did not seek re-election. As to the matter of the unpaid wages and expenses, she took the matter to the Colorado Supreme Court for a decision.

Populist Lucy DeWitt claimed victory over Kate Lyons in the contest for county superintendent of schools in November 1899. Immediately after taking office, DeWitt threw her energies into all matters impacting the schools. When she sought re-election in 1901, the Avalanche Echo noted, “There is not a school district in the county that she has not visited a least twice since her election, and many of them she has visited a dozen times. From every portion of the state comes the information that where a woman is chosen as the school superintendent they get better schools, and it seems to have frozen into the people that the office belongs to a woman.” After her political career, DeWitt became editor of Parachute’s Grand Valley News newspaper and served for a time as Parachute’s deputy postmistress.

Garfield County of the 20th century found more women taking their places in government. Among them was Marie Holloway who won election as Garfield County judge in November 1948. Josephine Busby, who was elected Garfield County superintendent of schools in 1952, tirelessly tackled the challenge of consolidating the county’s 36 districts into three districts. Ella Stephens, a longtime employee of the Garfield Clerk and Recorder’s Office, became the first woman elected clerk and recorder in November 1970. Marian Smith’s 26-year political career began in 1975 when she was elected to the Glenwood Springs City Council, became the first woman to serve as mayor of Glenwood Springs, and was the first woman elected as Garfield County commissioner in the late 1980s.

Nearly 123 years has passed since Colorado women gained the right to vote, and women wasted no time in making lasting changes to the state. At the ballot box, in the political arena and as heads of businesses and organizations, the thoughtful work of women has advanced Garfield County and Colorado into the 21st century.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Historical Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.

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