Fort Collins’ Favorite Vintage Ladies
We all know that International Women’s Day was a while ago, but since I live under a rock, I also just learned that we devoted all of March to recognizing historical leading ladies, too. What a wholesome world we live in. In any case, I missed that deadline as well, but it’s never too late to celebrate amazing women, right? Right. So, thanks to the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, I want to give a shout-out to all the FoCo women that have been kicking butt and taking names since the town’s founding, making it the fabulous place that it is today. Without further ado, here’s 7 Fort Collins ladies you’ve probably never heard of, but really, really should.
1) Clara Ray (1899-1987)
This brilliant biddy was a pediatric nurse from 1929 to 1972, a time period which, along with the rest of history until penicillin and vaccinations hit their stride, meant that everyone was sick basically all the time. But did that faze Clara Ray? Absolutely not. She and her fellow nurses pulled double shifts at the Poudre Valley Memorial Hospital, practically running the hospital on their own. They cleaned rooms, stoked fires, cared for patients, and even assisted with emergency night surgeries at a moment’s notice. And if that’s not awesome enough, the hospital itself was known as the ‘Poor Farm’ back in the day, which should give you a good idea of what things were like if you were unfortunate enough to end up there. But Clara and her peers helped make the ‘Poor Farm’ a place that was rich in care and healing, where Clara could always be found soothing a sick kid to sleep.
2) Elizabeth Hickok Robbins Stone (1801-1895)
Elizabeth Hickok Robbins Stone (of no relation to Baskin Robbins or Cold Stone Creamery), was Fort Collins’ OG boss. Known as the ‘Founding Mother’ FoCo, she participated in any and every activity a person could do. After hoofing it from Minnesota to Colorado in a covered wagon with her husband, Mrs. Stone used her house as the officer’s mess for the soldiers stationed at the original Fort Collins. She cooked and baked for the soldiers, and was so sweet that the men collectively adopted her, calling her their ‘Auntie Stone.’ But Auntie Stone’s Cabin was far more multipurpose than just a home—she turned that cabin into a hotel, Fort Collins’ first school house, and began Fort Collins’ first flour mill out of that building.
But even in her old age, Stone was no slacker. In 1882, Fort Collins held a dance for Mrs. Stone’s 81st birthday, and what did she do after a night of going hard? She made breakfast for everyone the next morning, at a bright and early 5 a.m. May we all live to be as rad as an 81-year-old grandma who pulls all-nighters because she can.
3) Inga Allison (1876-1962)
Inga Allison was a bomb.com brainiac and she wasn’t afraid to let everyone know it. When she joined up with the Home Economics Department at the Colorado Agricultural College, she decided to devote herself to one of the things that make life worth living: food. She dove into research on preparation and preservation, conducting her studies without the aid of a proper lab and working so that we could understand the effects of high altitude on our crops and meals. From her work, Allison rose through the college and became the head of the Home Ec. Department, helping us make brownies without an awkward crater in the middle (and, you know, expanding the possibilities of women’s education for all those who came after her).
4) Jovita Vallecillo Lobato (1908-2005)
Sometimes, awesomeness comes in the form of simply succeeding when it seems that the world wants you to fail. That’s why I want to give a long-delayed, but well-deserved shout-out to Jovita Vallecillo Lobato, the first Mexican-American student to graduate from both a Fort Collins public school AND Colorado State University. Not only was this girl a trailblazer, but she pulled intellectually. She graduated with two degrees: one in economics, another in sociology, and an added minor in in education. She also achieved all of this while coming from a community where most of the children didn’t have the option of going to school at all, as they were needed in the fields.
It’s also worth nothing that although there’s no direct evidence that Lobato was maliciously discriminated against while at school, it is true that there’s no identifiable pictures of her in the Fort Collins High School or CSU yearbooks. She’s only mentioned in the ‘Additional Seniors’ pages, and anything we do know about her has come from donations by her family. It’s a depressing pattern that marginalized people don’t have to be attacked to be hurt (though that definitely happens, too); merely erased and forgotten. Which could explain why we know so little about our first Mexican-American graduate and lovely all-around winner. So, thank you, Jovita Lobato, for excelling when no one was looking for you to.
5) Charlene Tresner (1918-1990)
Charlene Tresner was another amazing nerd (gently, gently) who wrote her way through school as the assistant editor of her high school paper and as the feature editor of the Collegian at Colorado A&M (now known as CSU). But she wasn’t just a great writer. Tresner was what we call a ‘classy hoarder,’ which is professionally known as an archivist. She was the one who began compiling the historical archive that now lives in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, starting with the small collection she kept under her own bed that has now grown into thousands of photos, articles, and artifacts. It’s all thanks to her and the Fort Collins Historical Society that we’ve collected as much local history as we have, letting us remember how we’ve grown as a community.
6) Lenore (Nora) Rice Miller (1868-1959)
Lenore Rice Miller was a Fort Collins teacher in 1893, where she minded the 6th and 7th graders of the Old Franklin School. In all honesty, she could have just done that and I would have thought her as close to a superhero as one can get without actually being Wonder Woman. But no, apparently Miller thought that would be too easy. In all the spare time I’m sure she had, Miller also went on to finish her medical degree at the University of Colorado Medical School and opened up her own practice in 1908. Someone, give this woman a medal and a pillow, because she cannot have been getting her full 8 hours of sleep during those years. But a bad@#$ never sleeps, and neither did Miller. Instead, she rode out to her patients in a horse-drawn buggy, delivering babies in a time that was not friendly to pregnant women and their new children. Then, during World War II, a shortage of teachers pulled Miller back to school again, where she taught physics, math, and engineering. Because why devote yourself to one mentally and physically demanding profession when you can go for two? Needless to say, Lenore Miller is NoCo’s patron saint of getting things done.
7) Phyllis Rosabonheur Green Mattingly (1916-2000)
Finally, not only does Phyllis have the most impressive name of all the ladies on this list, but she was also a worldwide winner. She wandered into Fort Collins in 1949, at which point she became a talk show host on KCOL. Then, once her showmanship days were done, Phyllis went on to become an internationally sought-after handwriting analyst (known as a graphoanalyst, if you want to sound smart), verifying and interpreting wills and diaries for custody cases, pre-marriage compatibility consultations, and hiring decisions. She even consulted on one of Adolf Hitler’s diaries, and was hired by the prosecution during the O.J. Simpson trial. She taught handwriting analysis in Australia and in the U.K., and was included in the 1988 and 1989 editions of Who’s Who in the World’s Professional Women. But in the end, Phyllis wasn’t just an incredibly smart and detail-oriented woman—she was also exceedingly kind. When she wasn’t working on infamous trials or flying to other continents, Phyllis was Fort Collins’ Welcome Lady. She brought new arrivals gifts, coupons, and information on Fort Collins, easing them into the community as if she’d known them for years.
So, there you have it. I salute you, ladies of Fort Collins, and hope to be even half as awesome as you once I grow up.