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Colorado Water History

A guide to finding and using historical information about water in Colorado and beyond

Archival Tips: Finding Women in Western Water History

The history of water in the West has been dominated by men. Thus, finding documentation of women within Water Resources Archive collections can be a challenge. Women were often excluded or unacknowledged, whether intentionally or through a lack of resources. Although they may not be labeled or identified, women are present in the collections.

To discover these women, use the following search tips in either the Water Resources Archive's finding aids or the digital repository. Note that not all collections have a finding aid and few collections are fully digitized. Also note that because digitized materials are cataloged more thoroughly than entire collections, women have a better chance of surfacing in the digital repository than in finding aids. Contact us (info at right) for assistance at any time.

  • Search for known names, either of an identified person or names typically given to women (e.g., Mary).
  • Search for female pronouns or titles (Mrs., Miss, or Ms.).
  • If seeking older (esp. pre-1950s) materials, search for words associated with "typical" roles women held, such as "secretary" or "wife".
  • If seeking women in relation to a particular subject or geographic area, first identify the relevant collections (see our collection suggestions) and then search or browse for women's names or roles.
  • In a person's collection, look for personal correspondence and then browse to see if women turn up as correspondents.
  • In an organization's collection, look for lists of officers, board members, or other leadership to identify women. These might be in meeting minutes or annual reports.
  • Look through archival documents after (or around) important dates relating to historically important changes for women. Once certain laws were passed or permissions were granted, women were more likely to appear in documents.
  • Examine photographs. Though you cannot always identify a person's gender from a picture, you can make an educated guess and use information in or associated with the photograph to learn more about the women you identify. This may require some genealogical searching for family relationships or business searching for professional relationships.

Archival Tips: Women in the Water Archive

Women's collections in the Water Resources Archive:

  • Papers of Fannie Cunningham
  • Papers of Diane Hoppe (no finding aid) - Diane Hoppe (1947-2016) served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1999 to 2006.
  • Papers of Loretta Lohman (no finding aid) - Loretta Lohman served as Colorado's Nonpoint Source Outreach Coordinator from 1999 to 2014.
  • Slides of Mildred T. Axtell
  • Papers of Robert and Daphne Illeman - Daphne Illeman (1921-2016) worked as an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1940s.

Collections containing women's perspectives:

Some of our favorite women embedded in Water Resources Archive collections:

  • Vena Pointer - a water lawyer in the Arkansas Valley who corresponded frequently with Delph Carpenter; see her Wikipedia page
  • Dot Carpenter - Delph Carpenter’s wife, who was an aid to him as he became increasingly ill; see her virtual exhibit
  • Stella Newell - secretary for the North Poudre Irrigation Company in the 1930s and 1940s who knew all the company's business (and the local gossip!)
  • Della Laura - CSU's first female to earn a Ph.D. in civil engineering (1974), Della was a student of Maury Albertson. (She also went by Della Langeland and Della Bennett.)

Find these ladies through the finding aids linked above, or search for their names in the digital repository. And feel free to contact us for assistance (info at right) at any time.

Archival Tips: Secondary Sources on Women in the West

Understanding the role of women in the American West, through secondary sources such as those listed below, can help in searching archival collections for them.

Broad Understanding

Duby, Georges, Michelle Perrot, and Pauline Schmitt Pantel. A History of Women in the West. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993.

Gray, Susan E., and Gayle Ann Gullett. Contingent Maps: Rethinking Western Women's History and the North American West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014.

Leckie, Shirley A., and Nancy J. Parezo. Their Own Frontier: Women Intellectuals Re-Visioning the American West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Scharff, Virginia. Twenty Thousand Roads: Women, Movement, and the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Scharff, Virginia, and Carolyn Brucken. Home Lands: How Women Made the West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Wayne, Tiffany K. Women's Roles in Nineteenth-century AmericaWestport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Women Connected to the Land Grant Mission

Radke-Moss, Andrea G. Bright Epoch: Women & Coeducation in the American West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Women Homesteading

Halverson, Cathryn. Playing House in the American West: Western Women’s Life Narratives, 1839-1987. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.

Hensley, Marcia Meredith. Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West. Glendo, Wyo.: High Plains Press, 2008.

Women in Colorado History

Beaton,Gail M. Colorado Women: A History. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012.

Colorado Encyclopedia: Notable Women

History Colorado: Center for Colorado Women's History

Your Archivist

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Patricia Rettig
Archives & Special Collections
Morgan Library
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1019
Subjects: Water

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