Who created Colorado Springs? We think we know the answer; General William Palmer and his men, including Dr. William Bell, Gen. James Cameron, William Pabor, William Blackmore, J. Elsom Liller, and dozens of other outstanding men. So where are the women?
Just as there were no women generals in the Civil War, there were no female city-building entrepreneurs in the 1870s. Women were hidden in the background, wives and sisters, rarely credited or compensated for their services. Is it possible that one of Palmer’s most trusted and significant advisers in the first year of the city’s founding was an unmarried 26-year old woman? If so, maybe our foundational stories are more complex and less smart-guy driven than we might imagine.
When Palmer created a city on the west bank of Monument Creek, he did so as both a profit-oriented entrepreneur and a social idealist. He sought to attract wealthy, cultured and generous residents who would bring refined ideals and behavior to his ideal city. He wanted to keep saloons, breweries, distilleries and polluting industries out of the city — but he wanted the freedom and openness of social intercourse in the West.
He didn’t do it alone. While we may think of him as a shrewdly benevolent man whose employees and advisers were exclusively male, he understood that women’s needs and beliefs had to be considered. And while that era’s stifling patriarchy excluded educated women from the workplace, his informal advisers and confidantes may have included his spouse and other “respectable” women. One such woman was Rose Kingsley, an intelligent free-spirited Englishwoman who came to Colorado Springs in October 1871 with her brother Maurice, one of Palmer’s associates.
Rose threw herself into the nascent community, sharing a one room shanty with an attached tent with her brother. She befriended Queen Palmer, founded a “Reading Room” grandly called the Fountain Society of Natural Science, arranged concerts and recitals, staged dramas and rejoiced in Western freedoms.
“In the frank unconventional state of society which exists in the West,”Rose wrote in a letter to her sister in December of 1871, “friendships are made much more easily than even in the Eastern States, or still more, in our English society; and, if one wants to have, as the Americans express it, ‘a good time,’ one must expand a little out of one’s insularity, and meet the hearty good-will shown with some adequate response.” Rose was a talented author, a gifted artist and a fearless traveler. A sophisticated cultural observer, she was no shrinking violet.
In 1872, Rose and Maurice joined the Palmers on an arduous trip to Mexico to explore possible routes for a railroad from Texas to Manzanillo. She later wrote and illustrated a book about her experiences, titled South by west, or, Winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico.
Illustrated by Rose’s pen and ink drawings, it’s about travel, adventure and business. She’s clear-eyed, unsentimental and completely supportive of Palmer’s Colorado and Mexican ventures. It’s still a great read, a 409-page magnum opus that’s fun, immersive and sometimes disturbing, since Rose shared many of the prejudices of her time.
Although Rose minimizes her influence upon Palmer’s business plans, it’s clear that this English spinster (as Marshall Sprague derisively describes her) was as smart, practical and ambitious as the general.
Describing a meeting with Maurice and other colonists regarding a proposed venture, she noted that “...someone raised the question of what would happen if they (Maurice and Mr. F.) did not agree. Mr F. said of course that Maurice ‘would do nothing without his sister’s advice, so there could be no difficulty!’ — a sentiment which caused much laughter.”
Much of Palmer’s funding for his business ventures came from English capitalists, and he hoped to attract educated, adventurous, well-heeled Englanders to Fountain Colony. Rose, a daughter of the Rev. Canon Charles Kingsley, a pillar of the Episcopal Church, was a potent influencer and promoter of Palmer’s ventures. Rose only lived in the Springs for a few months, but it appears she was the only woman at the table in those foundational months (other than his spouse Queen, who heartily disliked Colorado Springs).
After leaving Colorado Springs, Rose returned to England, founded the Kingsley Girls Preparatory School in 1884 and continued to write. She died in 1924.
Is she remembered in Colorado Springs? Yes and no — there are no statues, plaques or buildings honoring her, but look west! Mount Rosa, an 11,504-foot summit south of Pikes Peak, is named after her. Appropriately, it’s not a particularly easy climb.