History of the Hall
History of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
“We honor and preserve the stories of Colorado women who have made an enduring contribution to our state, nation and the world.”
The history of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame is an inspired narrative, analogous to the values, communities, cultures, and lives of the Colorado women that the hall celebrates. Throughout time, women have redefined their roles, embraced challenge, and rebuked scrutiny, ultimately becoming innovative examples of their era. In the spirit of the legacy pioneered by the women of Colorado, it is a privilege to share our story.
In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, M.L. Hanson observed that the professional lives of contemporary women were changing. Women wanted to and expected to be treated equally to men in their professional lives. As Assistant Vice President at the United Bank of Denver, M.L. Hanson found herself in the role of a trailblazer. Impressed by the vitality of the women she met and inspired by the pioneering accomplishments of women in Colorado’s history, she began to dream of a platform where great women could be recognized.
M. L. Hanson’s diverse career has included banking, finance and nonprofit management. She founded a consulting practice that advised management and leadership of both commercial and charitable organizations prior to starting an entrepreneurial enterprise. Ms. Hanson’s community leadership includes board of directors positions with national and community organizations. A partial List of Board Memberships:
- Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, Founder and Chair
- Women’s Leadership Foundation, prior Chair, member since 2012
- Donor Awareness Council, Chair
- National Association of YW Executives, Officer
- National Kidney Foundation Professional Staff Association, President
CREATING THE VISION…
“Too often, society has overlooked the accomplishments of women. My vision was to serve as the leading resource of exciting, dynamic stories of women acting as agents of change for girls and women in society.” –M.L. Hanson
In 1983, M.L. Hanson was elected state president of the Colorado Federation of Business and Professional Women, which entitled her to a seat on the National Board of Directors. Her leadership duties included attending the annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. where they discussed the lack of recognition of the historical contributions of women. It became clear to her that women’s historical accomplishments were absent from public school curricula, state histories, and government memories. Women’s lives were not on record. Anywhere. This glaring omission of women’s contributions to history resonated strongly with all the women at the conference. Upon further discussion, they discovered women had already begun to address the issue by forming Women Halls of Fame in a few states. Although these hall founders shared that the process of state recognition was long and arduous, Hanson returned to Colorado determined to fill the gap in Colorado.
THE VISION GROWS LEGS…
Armed with her vision and national inspiration in early 1984, Hanson began interviews with community members regarding a potential project that would honor women’s significant contributions to the state of Colorado. She then convened a small group of women that were involved with her in the Colorado Federation of Business of Professional Women (BPW). Subsequent meetings resulted in the decision to form the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and induct the first women into the hall at the Business and Professional Women’s State convention in June.
In June of 1984, The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame (CWHF) was unveiled at the State Convention of the Colorado Federation of BPW held at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado – a fantastic surprise to all attendees who were not part of the organizing committee.
THE VISION BECOMES REALITY…
A year later, The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame welcomed its inaugural inductees. There were many more historical women (no longer living) recognized versus contemporary inaugural inductees, since the strongest statement regarding the importance of women’s contributions should begin with a solid historical base. See sidebar for list of inaugural inductees and the links to their bios.
24 Women Were Inducted Into the Hall in 1985, the Founding Year:
Mary Coyle Chase
Dr. Justina Ford
Helen Hunt Jackson
Dr. Florence Sabin
May Bonfils Stanton
“Baby Doe” Tabor
Key Milestones of CWHF
- The First Induction and beginning of the CWHF.
- Articles of Incorporation written.
- Portrait Gallery established.
- 10-Year Anniversary celebration.
- CWHF Speaker’s Bureau established.
- The book Women of Consequence, was published by Jean Varnell sharing the stories of our first 59 inductees.
- Board of Directors Bylaws changed to increase board member positions and expand the location demographics of board members.
- 20 seat board established from Denver & outlying areas of Colorado.
- 20th anniversary celebrated with an Inductee Reception.
- Inductee event reached record attendance of 623.
- 30th Anniversary Celebration event.
- Video Library Project established.
- CWHF Scholarship established; three scholarships awarded. Partnered with Colorado Women’s Education Fund to collect and rate submissions. One of the three scholarships is awarded in honor of the CWHF founder, M.L. Hanson.
- First inductee video, The Marion Downs Story, received two Heartland Emmy nominations.
- Two CWHF scholarships awarded.
THE COLORADO WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME PORTRAIT GALLERY
In 1985, a portable gallery exhibit was created, as travel would provide more exposure to the women’s stories statewide. The first few black and white inductee photos were found in the Molly Brown carriage house.
At the 1985 Induction at the Penrose club, M.L. Hanson mounted these on a wall as an example to highlight the vision of the traveling portrait exhibit to share the amazing stories of the inductees. The CWHF’s first expenditure was to get matted and framed professional photos of the inductees. After the first few inductions and exhibits, CWHF purchased easels to improve the ease and flexibility of setup. The easels were used for the first time at the exhibit at the old campus of the Colorado Women’s College. Each panel includes a photo or drawing of the inductee, bios, quotes and pictures
Since 1985, the Hall has inducted 172 visionary and trailblazing women from the past and present who have impacted the state of Colorado in an exceptional way. Our inductees include: teachers, doctors, scientists, politicians, social activists, bankers, newspaper publishers, philanthropists, aviation pioneers, humanitarians and authors.
So many women in the Hall are unsung heroes, “hidden figures” who have endured with superlative strength, beauty and love. They deserve our respect and acknowledgment as shining examples of the potential of all women. Their accomplishments are a strong legacy, as tall as the Rocky Mountains they stand beside and as broad as the plains they look out upon, and have shaped history and transformed lives.