150th celebration features ‘bloomer gal(s)’ at Rock Ledge, Garden Aug. 2

       From Aug. 1-5, 1858, Julia Archibald Holmes made history by becoming the first white woman to climb Pikes Peak. Her feat also brought publicity to the less cumbersome “bloomer” dress style that women were starting to wear at that time.
       On Saturday, Aug. 2, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “bloomer gal's” climb, people going to Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center (10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) can talk to Julia Holmes reenactors and hear presentations about her history.
       Rock Ledge manager Andy Morris is additionally setting up a special encampment between the ranch parking area and Camp Creek (which runs through the 230- acre property). This is fitting because Holmes, her husband James and others in their party from Lawrence, Kansas, “camped along Camp Creek somewhere” during their trek, Morris said.
       The normal Rock Ledge entry fee ($6 for adults) will not apply to the encampment, which is outside the entry gate. “We will just encourage people, if that whets their appetite, to come in and see the ranch,” Morris said.
       The Visitor Center presentation is also free.
       There will actually be two ladies in bloomer dresses at the encampment - Beth Harmon, a long-time ranch docent who also portrayed Julia at Rock Ledge's recent Independence Day celebration; and Elizabeth Barber, the site's lead interpreter. Harmon will again play Julia, while Barber will provide narration and background information.
       Erin Kathman is the Julia Archibald Holmes reenactor at the Visitor Center. She's also been playing the part through the summer and will continue to do so on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to Bonnie Frum, the center's director of operations.
       Other Rock Ledge camp reenactors Aug. 2 will include James Holmes (Brett Tennis) and party members Andrew C. Wright (Alex Scherer) and Mrs. Robert Middleton (Christine Nekl).
       According to Barber, records of the Lawrence Party show that the older Mrs. Middleton and Julia Holmes sometimes “clashed over dress and a lot of other things.” This was because the “bloomer gal,” then 20, “was a women's rights activist,” Barber said. “She was heavily involved in the dress-reform movement.”
       The Rock Ledge interpreter, who is making the dress she'll wear based on Julia Holmes' specifications, said the length was four inches below the knees. The loose bloomer underneath covered the legs down to the ankles. Nationwide, there were variations in bloomer dresses' length and style, but “it was all about dress reform,” Barber said, noting that the traditionally heavier women's dresses did not readily lend themselves to activities such as scrambling up a mountain. “They wanted to change the way women dressed, to increase their mobility and freedom.”
       Such a movement continues into modern days - for example, in the contrast between Western women's clothes and those of Islamic women, she said.
       The Lawrence Party came west before this area had much population. Colorado City was not even founded until a year later. History shows theirs was one of many gold-seeking expeditions (mostly unsuccessful) in a relatively brief frenzy symbolized by the slogan, “Pikes Peak or Bust.”
       Barber will also be featured in Julia Holmes programs at other venues around the city in early August. She is looking forward to those experiences; she's only sorry that the 150th celebration did not include an opportunity to reenact the actual event that made the woman famous. “I want to do that,” Barber said, “to climb the Peak in bloomers.”

Westside Pioneer article