Updated: May 18, 2020
Salute to Women Philanthropists - Clara Brown
A freed slave, Clara Brown established a successful laundry business during the Colorado Gold Rush. She was a black pioneer, the first African American woman in Denver, a community leader and philanthropist. Here’s the back story:
When Clara was 35, her entire family was split up and sold off one by one to different slave owners including her daughter, Eliza Jane. After her freedom was granted in 1856, she moved to Missouri and searched for the daughter she had lost, rumored to be in the west. Clara saved enough money to pay for the trip, but blacks were prohibited from riding the stagecoaches.
In April 1859, she took a job as a cook for 26 men in exchange for free transportation on a wagon train headed for Colorado. Clara Brown walked most of the dusty, hot and miserable eight-week 700-mile journey, arriving at Denver in June 1859. She was Denver’s first black woman resident, and she is believed to be the first African American woman involved in the Colorado Gold Rush.
Not finding any news of her daughter in Denver, Brown followed the tide of miners into the mountains and the town of Central City. In addition to her thriving laundry business, Clara was a keen businesswoman, reportedly owning building lots in Denver, houses in Central City, and mines in Boulder, Georgetown and Idaho Springs. With her saved earnings Clara Brown funded the construction of St. James Methodist Church. Her Central City home served as a hospital, church, and hotel to the less fortunate. She was also a midwife. Clara continued her philanthropy among the needy for the rest of her life and spent large sums of money helping other Blacks move west. Far and wide, she was known as the “Angel of the Rockies.”
In 1882 Brown received news that a black woman named Eliza Jane was living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who was about the right age to be Clara’s daughter. Clara immediately traveled there to see if it was her Eliza Jane; miraculously, it was! I just love happy endings, don’t you?
M. Gasby Brown,
CEO& Executive Consultant