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Although mining was traditionally thought of as a man’s job, the Colorado Gold Rush would not have been as prosperous without all the women in mining camps. The women that made the trek into the Rocky Mountains, the daughters that saw camps transform into towns, and those who documented the history behind Colorado’s origins are essential to the story of the Gold Rush.
The Women in Mining Camps
The thriving mining towns we know today didn’t start in such a luxurious fashion. Building them up took grit and determination from everyone involved, including the women and children that joined the journey. Responsibilities were varied, but all were vital.
Clara Brown made history in multiple ways. Her beginnings subjected her to slavery, but Brown rewrote her story to become one of the most influential Black women in Idaho Springs. After being freed by her late enslaver, Brown inherited some of his earnings. She then used this to build a business in washing miners’ clothing.
On her journey west to the Rockies, she was fortunate to be on the same wagon train as early mining prospectors. This helped her gain connections in an entrepreneurial spirit, setting up her business before settling in at the mining camp. Using the money she inherited, she bought the washing materials, including the largest wash tub in Idaho Springs.
Brown’s legacy includes being the first Black settler in the town. She is known as the “Angel of the Rockies,” as she was also a dedicated philanthropist and guide for other former enslaved people.
Levinia Champion, originally from Cornwall, England, came to Central City with her husband, Hugh Champion. Her position in the history of our town comes from her jack-of-all-trades mindset.
After seeing the state of exhausted miners each day, Champion opened her home up as a boarding house for those with nowhere else to go. As cutthroat as mining can be, it was the work of women like Levinia Champion that allowed for these efforts to make the history books.
In addition to providing a comfortable place to sleep, Champion and her children also cooked, cleaned and even played nurse when needed.
Beatrice Rule was one of the settlers that experienced and took part in the complete transformation of the Central City mining town. She moved to the area in the 7th grade, continued her education throughout high school and graduated alongside eight other women. Rule then became a teacher herself, influencing her classroom of 14-15 children.
Rule looked out for her neighbors, even if it meant her own sacrifice. She stood up for what was right, taking unreasonable punishments made by others to court for accountability. After the death of her sister, Rule moved to Colorado Springs and continued to teach for another 43 years.
Strength in Community
While these women rarely had to endure the physical and mental toll of mining, they did experience it second-hand. Women in mining maintained the strength of the community by building up others and supporting their needs.
If it weren’t for Clara Brown, Levinia Champion, Beatrice Rule, and all other women that dedicated their lives to the future of Idaho Springs, the legacy of the Colorado Gold Rush would not have amounted to its success today.