“Little Professor” Made a Big Impact in Women’s Rights Fight

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Around the Oval magazine.

Grace Espe Patton (B.S., 1895) enrolled at Colorado Agricultural College – Colorado State University’s name when it was founded – when she was just 14 years old. After graduating four years later, she served on the College faculty for more than a year. She taught “preparatory courses,” which “prepared” women for teaching and for marriage. In a delicious irony, Espe Patton spent the rest of her life playing a central role in securing equal rights for women and improving Colorado standards for education.

Grace Espe Patton

Her political influence developed early. Around 1893, she started The Tourney, a magazine focused on women’s rights. She later moved the magazine to Denver and changed its name to something more descriptive: The Colorado Woman.

The times were ripe for her perspectives. In 1893, Colorado passed a referendum granting women’s suffrage. A year later, voters elected three women to the Colorado House of Representatives, the first in Colorado and the country. When, nearly three decades later, the United States gave all women the right to vote, it was due to the groundwork laid by women such as Espe Patton.

Active in Colorado politics, Espe Patton served as president of the Colorado Woman’s Democratic Club and then became her party’s nominee for state superintendent of public instruction. Dubbed “the little professor” due to her short stature, she was labeled too young and inexperienced for the office by opponents. However, she was a smart, dynamic, and engaging public speaker and proved to be a formidable campaigner, winning a decisive victory. As superintendent, she encouraged the establishment of kindergartens and libraries in Colorado schools and increased minimum teacher qualifications.

Grace Espe Patton not only set new standards for preparing women for life and careers, she also started a tradition at her alma mater  ̶  breaking through those glass ceilings.