Colorado Women’s History Museum
Posted by: Roy Wilbur
March 23, 2018
A historic Italian-style home in Denver, Colorado will house a new center celebrating women who have contributed to the state’s past and present. The Center for Colorado Women’s History,which opened on March 21, is a helpful response to visitor demand for untold stories of local women. Already, it has demonstrated an agile and unconventional strategy driven by outreach and public collaboration.
The Center for Colorado Women’s History, located within the Byers-Evans House Museum, is in the cultural and historic heart of Denver. Nestled among the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver Art Museum, and Denver Public Library, the building was constructed in 1883 by William N. Byers, who was the founder and editor of Denver’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Six years later, the home was purchased by William Evans, the son of territorial governor John Evans.
John Evans spurred growth in the state by spearheading Colorado’s first railroad, and his daughter Ann Evans became a powerful force in Denver’s arts and cultural space. She was a member of the Artists’ Club, which eventually became the Denver Art Museum. In the late 1920s, Ann Evans established the Denver Artists Guild and was a founding member of the Central City Opera, as well as the first woman president of the Denver Public Library. “Denver will become, through the use of its fine schools, its art museum and the Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Central City Opera House, the cultural center of the entire region,” she said.
Historic home museums typically don’t enjoy return visitors, according to Jillian Allison, who directs The Center for Colorado Women’s History and the Byers-Evans House. Too often, home museums lock their stories — like those of Ann Evans — in domestic spaces that look backward, not forward.
Two years ago, with these concerns in mind, and in hopes of expanding the uses of the 10,000 square foot home, Allison and museum staff started piloting programs such as book clubs, tea parties, and an exhibition on women of World War I, which is on display now. The effort resulted in a 25% increase in attendance, supporting her suspicion that visitors wanted the unique stories of important Colorado women. Allison made it evident that future programming would continue to “encourage conversation and make history feel accessible.”
This attitude of community ownership of historical storytelling was evident when Allison described an upcoming exhibition. “We are looking for feedback on what to feature,” she said. “We have seen a great deal of interest and questions around the suffrage movement.”
Image: Colorado suffrage poster courtesy of History Colorado