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Colorado Women's College (1888-1982) Records

Identifier: M130


Colorado Woman's College was conceived as a "Vassar of the West" by its founder, the Rev. Robert Cameron, who wanted to establish a women's college in the Western United States that would offer high-level academics to women. Cameron was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Denver. The sponsoring body was inadvertently incorporated in 1888 as the Woman's College Society (amended to Colorado Woman's College Society the following year), though it did not open until 1909. Located in northeast Denver, the college changed its name in 1967 to Temple Buell College, after Denver philanthropist and architect, Temple Buell, announced plans to endow the school with a $25 million gift. However, before the gift could be realized, debts increased and enrollment fell. In 1973, the institution was renamed Colorado Women's College, and in 1982, it merged with the University of Denver, a private university that opened the Women's College of the University of Denver. The campus housed the Women's College until 2001, when it was purchased by Johnson & Wales University.


  • 1888-1982


Biographical / Historical

The idea of a woman’s college in Denver was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Cameron, a Baptist minister from Canada who was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Denver. From 1887 to 1888, meetings were held and plans made for a women's college for the Western United States. In April 1888, 20 acres of Montrose was designated for a ''female college of high order.'' A constitution was adopted October 22, 1888, which provided that the name would be ''The Colorado Woman’s College Society.'' The first Board of Trustees was elected in November 1888, comprised of 22 men and five women, and a Certificate of Incorporation for Colorado Woman’s College was presented to Arapahoe County, Colorado on November 14, 1888.

As in many such enterprises, the college was impeded by lack of financial support, and it was March 25, 1890 before the cornerstone for the Administration Building, later named Treat Hall, was laid. Money problems continued to plague the founders of the college, and it was not until 1908 that a President, Jay Porter Treat, was elected. The first students arrived in September 1909, and the first commencement was June 6, 1911.

The school experienced periods of growth as well as financial setbacks in the early years. In 1926 Samuel Jesse Vaughan was elected the fourth president of Colorado Woman’s College and the college began an aggressive fund-raising campaign to expand the college and add dormitory space. Foote Hall, named after Ira A. Foote who until his death had been an ardent supporter of the college, was authorized in 1930. During Dr. Vaughan’s tenure enrollment increased from 93 to 236. The strict social code of the college was relaxed to allow a gala carnival, but not enough to allow smoking or dancing. The tradition of 'The Hanging of the Christmas Greens' began in 1930. It received its accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission as Colorado Woman's College in 1932. College president Samuel Vaughan also began the library, which boasted 3,000 volumes in 1928 and 6,000 by 1933.

The next president, James Edwin Hutchingson, served from 1933 until 1950. He was well acquainted with the college, having been on the Board of Trustees since 1923. The depression years were survived by creative measures such as exchanging tuition, housing and meals for farm produce or labor. Although the depression affected the college’s fundraising adversely, the student body was steadily increasing until it reached 360 in the 1939-1940 academic year. The completion of Porter Hall, an additional dormitory, was accomplished in 1939.

The post-World War II boom also hit the college. Enrollment, which had been 397 in 1943 increased to 507 for the 1949-1950 year. The building required to support the increased student body was also undertaken, with a dormitory, Pulliam Hall, and Dora Porter Mason Hall, which housed the dining hall, gymnasium and swimming pool, were completed in 1947. By fall 1956, when Curtis Hall opened as a dormitory, enrollment was 531. At the same time a new science building, Hutchingson Hall, was started. Expansion continued with the addition of Whatley Chapel in 1962, and the Permelia Curtis Porter Library in 1963.

The expansion also extended to academics. In 1963 a program was established in Vienna, Austria to allow students to study abroad for a year. A year later a program was established in Madrid, Spain and in 1966 one was started in Geneva, Switzerland. The early 1960s also saw the construction of two additional dormitories, Dutton Hall and Dunklee Hall. In 1965, Mrs. W. Ida Houston donated assets to help construct a fine arts center on the campus, which was named the W. Dale and W. Ida Houston Fine Arts Center.

In 1966, the college was offered what seemed to be the answer to all its financial dreams. Temple Buell, a Denver architect and philanthropist, offered to endow the college with a trust worth an estimated $25,000,000 in return for changing the name of the college to Temple Buell College. The agreement did not provide any cash to the college, only income from the trust that could be used to pay off mortgages and other obligations. Upon Buell’s death the trust money would become available to the college. The trustees agreed and on July 1, 1967, Colorado Woman’s College became Temple Buell College.

Another addition to the college was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward O. Stoddard for a medical building. With additional financial support from John Nelson Meade, the center broke ground in 1970 as the Loa M. Stoddard Student Health Center and John N. Meade Hospital and Medical Services.

The tide of history was turning against women’s colleges, however, and enrollment began a steady decline after 1967, when it peaked at 1117. The name change to Temple Buell College had caused many of the former donors to the college to assume that their contributions were no longer needed. Also, the name change had not helped with recruitment. Colorado Woman’s College was well known throughout the country. Temple Buell College was not. Finally financial reality forced the trustees to resolve to change the name of the college back to a form of its previous name, even if it meant giving up the Buell trust. It was formally resolved March 29, 1973 that the college would be known as Colorado Women’s College (woman became plural and changed to women).

The new name that was supposed to bring with it more community financial support, did not relieve the problems of the college. Finances were desperate even with gifts from the Boettcher, Gates and El Pomar foundations. In 1976 a proposal was made to make the college a component of the University of Denver, but was rejected by the trustees. In an attempt to revitalize the college, a $7,000,000 fundraising campaign was initiated and Marjorie Bell Chambers was elected president on May 19, 1976. Dropping enrollment, coupled with questions as to the financial viability of the college, caused major donors to discontinue support. The decision was made not to reopen in January 1977. That caused a flurry of action as alumnae and friends scrambled to raise funds. By January 3, 1977, the day the school was to close, $500,000 in cash and pledges had been raised and the trustees were persuaded to keep the school open.

New programs such as a re-engagement program intended to attract women who had interrupted their academic careers and were ready to resume their education in order to prosper in the corporate world. There was also discord, as President Chambers left the college after only a year, and was replaced by Sherry Manning. Manning began a program of weekend college that allowed women to obtain a bachelor's degree by going to school on weekends. The first registration, in March 1980 enrolled 127 students. It was not enough. By the end of 1980 the college could not afford to continue operating. The situation was exacerbated by a dispute with the faculty over raises and tenure. Added to that was the threat that the North Central Association would withhold accreditation due to the financial situation. So, on April 30, 1981, it was resolved that Colorado Women’s College and the University of Denver, a private university, would explore affiliation of the two institutions. On November 22, 1981 the Board of Trustees accepted an offer from the University of Denver to acquire the assets of Colorado Women’s College. The agreement was formally signed February 2, 1982, and Colorado Women’s College ceased to exist as an independent college. It merged with the University of Denver that opened the Women's College of the University of Denver. The Park Hill campus, located in northeast Denver, housed the Women's College (and later the University of Denver College of Law) until 2001, when the campus was purchased by Johnson & Wales University.


348 Linear Feet (382 boxes: 209 record boxes, 139 document boxes, 17 half document boxes, 1 half record box, 14 shelves of unboxed material, 2 microfilm boxes, one flat box 11x16, oversize pictures.)

Scope and Contents

The records of Colorado Women's College document the history of the College from its inception in 1888 to its merger with the University of Denver in 1982. Included in the records are all administrative records, academic programs, trustee documents, trustee meeting minutes, financial records and publications. The records also contain student newspapers, yearbooks, scrapbooks, photographs and slides, audio and video recordings, and student publications such as the student newspaper, The Western Graphic.


The collection is partially arranged.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the University of Denver Archives in 1982.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Materials

Materials related to the Colorado Women's College in its current form as a division of the University of Denver may be found in the Weekend College Records (U107) and the Women's College Records (U109).
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

2150 East Evans Avenue
Denver CO 80208
(303) 871-3428