Women of Leadville & Twin Lakes, Yesterday and TodayMay 6, 2021
Leadville and Twin Lakes, Colorado, are known for their late 1800s Silver Rush riches and colorful characters. Did you know that many women played a role in the stories?
Check out these famous women from Leadville’s mining history. Then come visit places where you can connect with their stories today. We’ll also introduce you to some of today’s female entrepreneurs.
Women Mining Pioneers in the National Mining Hall of Fame
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum honors more than 250 important figures in mining. You can browse the plaques that tell fascinating stories. The Hall of Fame inductees include these and other pioneering women:
Augusta Louise Tabor: Considered the first white woman in Leadville’s California Gulch district, Augusta Tabor weighed gold and mined for it. She is thought to have conducted the first mining operations undertaken by a woman in Colorado, and she helped her husband Horace (H.A.W.) Tabor build a fortune from mining.
No Leadville mining history story would be complete without the Tabors. Learn more about them at the Tabor Opera House, the Matchless Mine where Horace’s second wife Baby Doe lived and died, a special Matchless Mine exhibit at the mining museum, and the Tabor Home.
Dr. Janet Zaph Briggs: She achieved world renown in metallurgy, a field that was dominated by men. Her expertise in molybdenum, which is still mined today at the Climax mine at Fremont Pass, on Hwy. 92 just north of Leadville, was phenomenal. Dr. Briggs worked for Climax Molybdenum Company the final 28 years of her life and became a vice president in 1970.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones: For 30 years, former dressmaker Mother Jones worked for organized labor, going into the coal mines for the United Mine Workers Union. Where miners were most exploited, in the company towns of West Virginia and Colorado, she led powerful demonstrations and strikes.
Visit the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum to learn more about these and other innovative women.
Stories of Female Sex Workers Honored at FREIGHT Cabins
The S.L.umber Yard at FREIGHT honors women who were sex workers during the mining boom. These women were an important part of the early Leadville community, yet their stories are rarely heard.
To celebrate them, stay at the S.L.umber Yard in one of 13 new high-craftsmanship cabins, each named for a mining-era prostitute.
- Born in 1850, Mollie May was the reason for a bar fight between two brothers. She was shot, the bullet hitting a steel rib in her corset. She survived. She was known for her fierceness as well as generosity, donating to churches and hospitals.
- Madam Laura Evans rode a horse named Broken Tail Charlie through the middle of Leadville’s extravagant Ice Palace in 1896.
- In 1880, Cora made the papers when she jumped on a sofa to referee a duel over her at a parlor house. She convinced them to change from pistols to a fist fight, leaving them both caked in blood. The winner took Cora’s hand.
Read Women of the Cabins for more interesting details of their lives and of nine others.
Baby Doe Tabor & Matchless Mine Tours
Elizabeth McCourt “Baby Doe” Tabor was an integral part of Leadville’s mining lore. Scandal erupted when her affair with Horace Tabor became known, as Horace’s wife Augusta was well-respected and known as “the first lady of Leadville.”
Baby Doe and Horace were married in 1883 at an elaborate wedding. Yet their fortune disappeared with the silver crash, and Horace died. Penniless, Baby Doe moved to the one-room cabin at the Matchless Mine and stayed for more than 30 years. She was found frozen on the cabin’s floor in 1935.
Tour the Matchless Mine to see her cabin and peer down the shaft of the mine that fueled the Tabor fortune. Chances are good that your tour guide will be Brenda Miller, a former Leadville molybdenum miner herself. (Hear Brenda’s mining experiences on this oral history video, starting at 43:33).
Molly Brown & Annunciation Church
Did you know that the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown of Titanic fame lived and married in Leadville? Born Margaret Tobin, she moved to the famous mining camp in 1886 from Hannibal, Missouri. Initially she shared a house with her brother, a miner, and worked in a dry goods store.
Take the downtown Leadville walking tour, which starts on page 10 of the Leadville/Lake County Heritage Guide. At 609 Poplar Street, you can see the tall spire of Annunciation Church, where Molly married local miner Joseph (JJ) Brown.
At first the couple lived in Stumpftown. The house no longer stands, but today you can walk or bike or drive the East Side Mining District on the dirt county roads that wind around Stumpftown. Check out a loop that is dry in summer and groomed in winter.
Maggie Webber & the Twin Lakes Inn
Margaret “Maggie” Webber was a single mom from Wisconsin who moved with her daughter to Twin Lakes (then called Dayton) in 1879. Their move was only three years after Colorado became a U.S. state. As best we know, Maggie started treating travelers, miners, trappers, and adventurers to a bit of Western hospitality at the base of Mt. Elbert while raising her daughter in the new frontier.
The business she started, now the Twin Lakes Inn & Saloon, is the oldest operating inn in Lake County. Come stay in its uniquely styled rooms and enjoy delicious lunches, brunches, and dinners near the shores of Twin Lakes.
More Famous Females in History
Learn more about the women in Leadville’s history in the Leadville/Lake County Heritage Guide: The Women of Leadville. It honors the women who lived and worked in Cloud City in the centuries before us.
Today’s Women Business Owners
When planning your trip, check out this list of female entrepreneurs of Leadville, courtesy of the Leadville Race Series. And visit their businesses for inspiring art, delicious food, interesting shops, relaxing wellness offerings, and much more!