This fall, when voters head to the polls—or mail in their ballots—it will mark 100 years since women were granted the right to cast their vote for the United States president. And even though the 19th Amendment was ratified into the Constitution on Aug. 18, 1920, literacy tests, long residency requirements and poll taxes continued to marginalize female representation at the polls, not to mention suppression of votes from immigrants, people of color and low-income areas.

In fact, women wouldn’t vote in equal numbers to men until the 1980s. And still, in light of all that, America’s voter turnout hovers around 55 to 60 percent, which is markedly below comparable democracies. In Colorado, women have been voting since 1893. It became the first state in the union to grant women the right to vote by popular vote. (Wyoming, still a territory at the time, allowed women to vote, but it was enacted by a legislative decision rather than referendum.) And the man who made it a priority was Davis Hanson Waite, the state governor who called Aspen home and ran on a Populist platform pushing for women’s suffrage.

Founding Mother


For all the self-congratulations Aspen gives itself, the community is often warranted in doing so for the standards it set. Consider the founding of the Aspen Skiing Corp. Chicagoan Elizabeth Paepcke visited Aspen in 1939 with some friends. She was introduced to skiing by being towed up the mountain in a boat. Exhilarated by the experience, she returned to her husband, Walter, and convinced him to visit. He was the CEO of a major corporation, but also saw the potential in seeking refuge in an idyllic mountain town.
Black and white image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.
Black and white image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.

Photo Credit: Aspen Historical Society - Aspen Times Collection
Within years the two embarked on an ambitious plan to develop Aspen as a skiing and cultural destination, an escape for people in cities and a place where spirituality and physicality could progress. They capitalized on the momentum of World War II veterans from the 10th Mountain Division returning to the states with a passion for skiing.

“We were founded on the ‘Aspen way,’” says Rana Dershowitz, Aspen Snowmass's senior vice president of real estate and chief legal counsel. “That idea was bringing leaders to Aspen to educate them and give a new perspective, and then to send them into the world to make it a better place.” That is why Aspen Snowmass continually inserts its voice in global conversations beyond just skiing today, says Dershowitz. “We’ve become bolder in the past four or five years,” she says. “We’re more deliberate, but many of these issues intersect. We want to engage in civic—and civil—discourse, build new perspectives, and go beyond the old-school divides about what can be best for our country.”
Black and white image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.
Black and white image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.

Photo Credit: Aspen Historical Society
Aspen Snowmass CEO Mike Kaplan penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in December 2016 that referenced Aspen’s roots: “When my thoughts turn to the founders of skiing in Aspen—particularly the 10th Mountain Division origins of our resort—I’m humbled. These men had just returned from fighting fascism in Europe, one of humanity’s greatest struggles for its own soul, and the next thing they thought to do was help build a ski area. That—and the fact that wounded veterans still come here to recuperate—is a powerful commentary on what skiing can do for a person’s humanity and sense of place in this world. It also makes me wonder: do we owe those 10th Mountain vets something?”
Kaplan addressed core issues under attack by the Trump administration, while noting that Aspen “is not the most diverse melting pot in the nation”—nor is the ski industry at whole—but, “our business and our principles are at stake, and we remain resolute in our commitment to ensuring a stable climate and a tolerant civil society.”

In a recent newsletter from Aspen Snowmass regarding Black Lives Matter, Kaplan acknowledged that white privilege is at a peak in Aspen, but noted that, “We will persist until social justice is served, and we will not tolerate a return to complacency through silence.”

To those who argue that Aspen Snowmass should stick to skiing, the company has a reply. “If we don’t speak, others think they don’t have to speak,” says Dershowitz. “Everybody has to speak. If you say it’s a women’s issue, you have to recognize that it’s a human issue. Society only works when it works for everybody. And the same is true for racial diversity.”

To The Polls


Though the country’s voter turnout numbers remain stagnant, Pitkin County—where Aspen sits—continue to represent an engaged electorate. Presidential elections, of course, have a larger turnout, but the county’s voter turnout has increased in the past 10 to 15 years in all elections, says Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill. The numbers have risen for several reasons, including Colorado’s 2013 bill that now sends a mail ballot to all active registered voters; early voting; and election day voting that allows people to vote at any center in the county.
Image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.
Image from the Aspen Historical society of women fighting for the right to vote.

Photo Credit: Aspen Historical Society
Vos Caudill describes the local voting population—there are somewhere around 12,850 registered voters in a county with about 15,000 eligible voters—as “astute.” Colorado is known as the No. 1 voting model in the United States, with the second-highest voter turnout in the U.S. (next to Minnesota), the third-highest voter registration per eligible registrants and the fourth-lowest voting wait times at the polls. “Colorado continues to be a leader in the U.S., as it was 100 years ago, in relation to elections,” she says.

This fall the election is already presenting its own challenges, from national issues like the attempt to suppress mail-in voting to local concerns about how to campaign during a public health crisis. Aspen Snowmass will be engaging in voter turnout efforts throughout the fall, and celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage on Aug. 18. Will Pitkin County continue to be a leader in civic engagement? This fall, we shall see.

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