Albina Washburn (1837–1921) was an important early resident of what is now Loveland and later an influential proponent of women’s suffrage and temperance across Colorado. In 1876 she advocated for women’s suffrage at the state constitutional convention, and in 1880 she cofounded the Colorado branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In addition to her roles in the suffrage campaign and the founding of Loveland, today Washburn is also remembered for the American flag she made soon after her arrival in Larimer County, which is displayed in Fort Collins on special occasions.
Relatively little is known about Albina Washburn’s early life. Born Albina Holcomb in Illinois in 1837, she married John E. Washburn in Chicago in 1853. In 1855 they had a daughter, Winona. Five years later, the Washburn family left Freeport, Illinois, to farm in Colorado. Arriving in Denver in May 1860, they moved north to St. Louis (now Loveland) by 1862. By 1864 John Washburn had been appointed a county judge by Territorial Governor John Evans.
Building Up St. Louis (Loveland)
After arriving in St. Louis, Albina and John Washburn set up the town’s first post office with him as the postmaster and her as his assistant. In 1864 Albina started the town’s first school in a log cabin. She taught ten students for ten dollars a month. She continued to make her mark in the community by making an American flag to fly on July 4, 1864—the first time an American flag was flown in Larimer County. Her flag continues to be flown today on special occasions in Fort Collins.
Working for Women’s Suffrage
By the 1870s, Washburn decided that she wanted to play a larger role in politics. In 1875 she wrote a letter to Woman’s Journal explaining that she had successfully voted twice in school elections in Colorado. In 1874 she had provided documentation showing that she had paid a tax in her own name and owned ponies, making her eligible to vote in a school board election. The election official did not know how to react and let her cast her vote. She met some resistance when attempting to vote again in a school election the next year but was able to convince the official that she had the right to vote because she was a citizen, based on the dictionary definition of the term.
In January 1876, Washburn and four other well-known suffragists—Alida Avery, Margaret W. Campbell, Ione Hanna, and Mary Shields—spoke at the state constitutional convention in Denver to advocate for including women’s suffrage in the final document. Women did not attain full voting rights in the Colorado Constitution, but suffragists formed the Colorado Woman Suffrage Association to try to maintain their momentum. Washburn and suffragists from across the country campaigned for a Colorado women’s suffrage referendum in 1877, but the measure was defeated.
Washburn was starting to push for women’s suffrage at the national level as well. As a member of the Grange, a national advocacy group for farmers, she pressed the organization to support women’s right to vote. At the National Grange Convention in Chicago in 1877, she promoted a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage. The Grange agreed with the idea of women being considered equals but postponed any discussion of suffrage. Washburn registered her frustration in a fiery minority report that played on the Grange’s antimonopoly politics: “If any of my brothers know of a more extensive monopoly than the monopoly of the elective franchise by the men of this country, I do not.”
In 1880 Washburn and fellow suffragist Mary Shields founded the Colorado branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The organization focused primarily on reducing male alcohol consumption, but many members were also suffragists who used it as a platform to push for women’s rights.
Washburn’s husband was also politically active. He supported his wife and other suffragists by running for office as a member of the Greenback Party, which fully supported women’s right to vote. He did not win any elections. John E. Washburn passed away in 1887.
Washburn continued to campaign for women’s suffrage in Colorado. Throughout her years of activism, she reported regularly on meetings and events for local publications such as the Denver Labor Enquirer as well as national groups such as the Grange and the American Woman Suffrage Association. A hardworking supporter who could rally people with her words in person and in print, she was a sought-after speaker who impressed audiences with her dedication to making her communities and Colorado a more equal place to live and work. At the Colorado People’s Party convention in July 1892, she read a resolution calling for the equality for all citizens regardless of sex, which the party adopted. A year later, under Populist Governor Davis Waite, Coloradans approved a referendum for women’s suffrage.
Washburn died on March 5, 1921, and was buried at Lakeside Cemetery in Loveland. She is remembered for her early work with her husband to develop the town of Loveland and her efforts on behalf of women’s suffrage, especially her boldness in voting before women had the legal right to do so. She is also admired for her tireless work reporting on the movement, which helped share information among suffragists and build a broad constituency for change.