Most of us here in Boulder know the name Mary Rippon from the outdoor theatre in her name, where the Colorado Shakespeare Festival takes place each summer. But do you know who Rippon was, and what she did to warrant naming such a historical landmark after her?
Rippon is, to quote the esteemed Ron Burgundy, “kind of a big deal,” as she is touted by historians as the first female faculty member of a state university (1). She moved to Boulder in 1878, the very year that CU-Boulder was founded, and taught there as a professor of Germanic languages and lit. for thirty years to great acclaim. She is an example of not only the early days of suffragette-style women’s lib, but the perseverance of the pioneers of the West in that time. Back in 1878, after all, there was only one building up on the CU-Boulder “campus,” and that in a remote, dusty, barren landscape. Many didn’t think the building would last long, let alone the University (2).
- Women in a profession such as a professorhood (and there were hardly any of those) were not allowed to marry. Rippon therefore married in secret, had a child in secret, and that daughter grew up thinking of her as her aunt.
- Rippon’s secret daughter, Miriam, became a professor at CU-Boulder as well.
- At Rippon’s death in 1935 the order of the outdoor theatre was approved, and the theatre has been in continual use ever since.
- She was posthumously awarded an honorary doctorate from CU in 2006. (3)
- I had the honor of portraying Rippon in a Pearl Street Mall historical festival at its centenary. I was inspired by her story–She overcame many odds and is a model for scholars and feminists alike. More of us should have heard about her in our history books.
(1) Actually, some argue whether she was technically the first, but all agree she’s one of the very first.
(2) “Mary Rippon: Educator.” Colorado Virtual Library. May 06, 2015.
(3) “Mary Rippon.” CU Heritage Center. May 06, 2015.