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Steamboat Magazine

Meet Eliza Routt

01/23/2023 08:00AM ● By Candice Bannister
(Photo: Eliza Routt fought hard for the well-being of Colorado women through her work in the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association, the Women’s Home Club and the Ladies Relief Society. HISTORY COLORADO-DENVER, COLORADO)

Steamboat Springs, CO - You may recognize the Routt surname from Routt County or the Routt National Forest. You may even know that these locations are named after John L. Routt, the last territorial governor and first state governor of Colorado. But did you know that John L. Routt’s wife, Eliza Pickrell Routt  (1839-1907), arguably had as big an impact on our state’s formative years as her husband did? Eliza led a life of leadership, activism, volunteerism and charity. 

Originally from Springfield, Illinois, a small town that her family founded, Eliza was raised by her grandfather, William Elkin, after her parents died when she was just four years old. Elkin was an Illinois state senator who worked with Abraham Lincoln. 

Eliza later married John Long Routt, a widower with five children, in 1874. John and Eliza would  go on to have one child together, a daughter born in 1880.

Although the Routts were outsiders to Colorado, they quickly won the confidence and affection of Coloradans. John was an effective leader who guided the territory to statehood in 1876 and was then elected as the first governor of Colorado, making Eliza the state’s first First Lady. The couple was popular and well-liked, known for generosity and hospitality.

Eliza was a natural leader, which enabled her to perform first lady duties capably. “She set the standard for Colorado’s first ladies and the state’s newly enfranchised women by performing community and public service without fanfare or pretense,” wrote the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame following Eliza’s induction in 2008.  

A staunch political activist pushing for women’s suffrage and higher education for women, the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association elected Eliza as its president running up to Colorado’s 1893 election. Subsequently, Colorado became the first American state to enact women’s suffrage by popular referendum, and Eliza held the honor of becoming the first woman registered to vote in Colorado. “It is eminently fitting that the wife of the first governor of the state, and a lady who has been so intimately connected with all that is best in Denver since the foundation of the state, should be the first woman in Colorado to become a fully qualified elector,” wrote The Denver Post.

Eliza went on to help establish the Women’s Home Club (later the Young Women’s Christian Association), which provided safe housing for young women working in Denver, and worked with Denver Orphans’ Home and the Ladies Relief Society. She served on the first board of trustees of Colorado Women’s College, and was the first woman appointed to the State Board of Agriculture at Colorado Agricultural College in Fort Collins (now Colorado State University). During her decade on the board, Eliza started the School of Domestic Economy, giving women better access to higher education, and she obtained the first professorship for a female instructor. 

For all of her contributions to Colorado politics, education, women’s suffrage, arts and culture and serving the needs of the less fortunate, Eliza Routt should be a household name. Each time you hear the name Routt County or Routt National Forest, think not only of John Routt but also of Eliza.

Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum, located at 800 Oak Street in Steamboat Springs.