Martha Dartt Maxwell, only five feet tall and a lifelong vegetarian, became an accomplished hunter and taxidermist whose work changed the look of natural history museums forever. When a child, her grandmother exposed her to the natural beauty of the Pennsylvania wilderness. Martha arrived in Colorado in 1863 and operated a restaurant in a dining camp. Her husband, James Maxwell, built the first wagon road up Boulder Canyon. Martha returned to Wisconsin and attended to her ailing mother, and became inspired when she saw the work of a local taxidermist. After resettling near Boulder, she began hunting regularly and skinned her own animals for artistic endeavors.
In 1868 she opened a museum in Boulder and later showed her stuffed mammals and birds at the Colorado Agricultural Society Fair in Denver and the American Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. Helen Hunt Jackson, also an Inductee of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, visited the museum and was impressed by the life-like poses of the stuffed animals. Both displays were a huge success and became predecessors of today’s dioramas that depict animals in their natural habitat. Martha was the first woman to have a subspecies named after her.
Martha and her husband James eventually drifted apart, he no longer approved of her work. She became involved with the women’s movement and studied biology and chemistry. She wrote a book titled On the Plains and Among the Peaks or How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection. Martha died in 1881.
Books with reference to Martha Dart Maxwell:
Women of Consequence by Jeanne Varnell