Interview with History Colorado CEO, Dawn Prince

Currently as chief operating officer, I have worked for History Colorado since 2012, formerly as the chief community museum officer as well as the director of nationally recognized El Pueblo History Museum. I truly believe in the transformative power that comes from understanding our shared, familial and collective history. My work revolves around expanding the ways we think about history. In additional to scholarship and documented history, our communities offer important layers of history that include memory sharing, community tradition, and ancestral knowledge. All of these expand what history is and who it includes. At History Colorado, it is our mission to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado. We have many tools to do this work: educational programs, historic preservation, curating and making accessible our state’s collections, engagement with Colorado communities, and our incredible museums and historic sites across Colorado’s broad landscape.

At History Colorado, we strive to be a place of belonging for all Coloradans and to serve as a platform for community connection. I have personally led a number of History Colorado programs across the state and I know first-hand how our work positively impacts people’s lives when they have the opportunity to connect their lives to our shared Colorado story. 

What can you tell us about your organization that we might not necessarily know?

Inclusive, values-driven, and intentional, History Colorado is a force for finding new ways to serve people in Colorado. We provide programs that meet the needs of people at each stage in their lives, including innovative programs such as our Bridging Borders for Young Men of Color at South Middle School in Aurora and our memory trunk program in Pueblo designed by and for people with memory loss. We serve more than 85,000 students annually with our popular Hands-On History and beloved field trips across the state. We invest directly in communities through our Museum of Memory programs and State Historic Fund grants, which overwhelmingly support rural Colorado. 

What interests you about being engaged with the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame?  Why is that important?

At our recently created Center for Colorado Women’s History at the Byers-Evans House. We love to say: “Women’s history is everyone’s history!” I appreciate that the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame works to amplify the historic and epic contributions of women to our state and beyond. Many women’s stories – both individually and collectively – have been misremembered or erased from the greater historic record. The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame makes great strides in correcting these omissions. I am personally fortified by the women who are recognized through the Hall of Fame. One of my favorites is Amache Ochinee Prowers. She was a powerful and multi-lingual Cheyenne woman who owned land and operated a business and cattle ranch with her family along the Santa Fe Trail at Boggsville, in southeastern Colorado not far from my hometown of La Junta.

Talk about how your organization supports women in your business?

We know that how we do our work internally is as important as how serve our external audiences. We are committed to a workplace that is completely inclusive and acknowledges the intersections of gender, race/ethnicity, class, religion, geography, and (dis)ability. As an educational organization, we strive to be lifelong learners and always seek opportunities to hear additional perspectives and form new understandings. You can see this reflected in our work. A few examples include the creation of the Center for Colorado Women’s History, our Bold Women Change History lecture series, and the establishment of curatorial positions dedicated to LGBTQ history and Chicano/Latino/Hispano history.  

Who is your hero; greatest role model?  And, why?

Bettina Trapaglia, my great grandmother. She was an immigrant who raised five daughters on her own. She worked in a lime quarry that was part of Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron, just south of Pueblo. She never became a citizen because she could not read and write English, but she believed in the power of education. She lived with my Dad when he was growing up and she would do his chores so he could finish his schoolwork. Her legacy lives on today as many of her descendants – like my Dad – became teachers in southern Colorado and have educated and continue to educate generations of kids. I am inspired by her strength and resilience every day.  

Words of inspiration for younger women and men about achieving their goals, dreams?

I lean on the wisdom of women very regularly and have a collection of quotations stored in my phone. Here is one of my favorites from Ursula LeGuin:

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experiences as truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting.” 

CWHF Featured at National History Day in Colorado

Reprinted from the National History Day in Colorado February Newsletter 

Rhiannon Szobody is an eighth grader at Broomfield Heights Middle School. When she began looking for topic ideas for this year’s theme Breaking Barriers in History, she was searching for a topic with two things: 1) Szobody wanted to research a local, Colorado History topic, and 2) she wanted to explore a project on women and gender barriers.  

Szobody decided on the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, and in her quest for primary sources, reached to to the founder of the Hall of Fame, M.L. Hanson, for an interview. Hanson was not just willing, but excited to be interviewed, and Szobody cited Hanson and the experience as incredible.  

The National History Day in Colorado program showcases students’ incredible work.  “I was so excited to see Rhiannon’s work,” said Deb  Radman.  “She did a great job telling our story and I am delighted to be hosting her at our March 18th Induction Gala and ceremony.” 

M. L. Hanson shown right in photo.

The story does not stop there, however. Szobody is to be hosted at the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame Induction Gala in March, and she will be donating her project to the Hall of Fame. Szobody also invited Hanson to the Broomfield Heights NHD Open House on January 28. Hanson invited the entire Board of Directors, many of whom, including the Deb Radman, Chair of the Board, 2020 Inductee Velveta Howell and a supporter who lives in Broomfield, did come to see Szobody’s project, as well as projects by other BHMS students.  

Reflecting on the entire experience, Szobody says that History Day allowed her to “learn so much about things in history that are not taught in class. I really got to know so much about the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, and all the wonderful things women in our state have fought for.” She also said that her favorite part of the process was interviewing Hanson. 

As for Hanson, she says, “Rhiannon’s project on the Hall was a dream come true when I reflect on our original vision 35 years ago. Having students realize the amazing contributions women have made to Colorado and beyond can provide real inspiration, motivation, and encouragement.” She adds, “writing women into history is more than completing our state’s past, but also hope for the future.”