Julia “Anna” Archibald Holmes was, in 1858, the first-recorded white woman to climb Colorado’s most famous mountain. Wearing the woman’s “reform dress” and publishing her account, she became one of the earliest named women in Colorado history, called “the Bloomer Girl on Pikes Peak.” Her journey was a public statement for women’s equality. Her record of it is an early primary source for Colorado historians who retell her story and mountaineers who retrace her steps.
In 1854-1855, young Anna and her abolitionist family joined the emigration to “Bleeding Kansas.” The Archibalds helped found the anti-slavery stronghold Lawrence, Kansas. In 1857, Anna married James Holmes, a lieutenant of the abolitionist vigilante John Brown. Like so many of their early Kansas neighbors, however, the couple leapt from abolitionism to Pikes Peak fever. They joined the Lawrence Party, one of the first to make the two-month trek in the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858.
Holmes made a name for herself, women’s equality, and Colorado’s “beautiful scenery” by recording her observations to be published back east. She purposefully traveled in the controversial Bloomer Costume—Turkish pantaloons under a mid-calf-length dress—and took stands for women’s equality en route. She chose to walk, insisted she share men’s guard duty, and achieved her great climb. Along the way, she described Colorado gold-camp life, drinking from a “Boiling spring,” climbing “sublime” Pikes Peak, and praising the “glorious sight” from the cold summit. Leaving a remarkable record for Colorado history, Holmes, later a single working mother, joined her own mother in Washington, D.C., and rose to a government directorship. She started women’s suffrage associations and helped her sister organize female clerks. In 1871, these Archibald women attempted to register to vote, as part of the national suffrage campaign. Thus, Julia Anna Archibald Holmes dedicated her life to proving women’s equality, but first by proving a woman could walk the Colorado Gold Rush and climb Pikes Peak.