My grandmother Fabyan Watrous was born in Ophir, Colorado, a tiny mining town in San Miguel County near the Four Corners of Colorado in 1921. The year before she was born, the town had a population of 120 people.
My great-grandmother lived in Ophir and worked for the mine. Her husband, my maternal great-grandfather, suffered a grievous injury in World War 1, from which he never really recovered, making my great-grandmother a single mother.
My grandmother learned grit and determination growing up. She traveled with my great-grandmother to Wyoming to homestead a piece of property. As a teenager she moved in with family friends in high school when my great-grandmother left Colorado to work in the oil fields of Texas.
Hardscrabble described much of my grandmother’s early life. Today I think we might say she grew up in rural poverty.
Her life speaks to the lives of so many women growing up in western states with family livelihoods tied to resource-based labor, such as mining, ranching, logging and roughnecking oil rigs.
Mining and education dominated her adult life. My grandmother devoted her life to serving these two interests in her community, whatever community she found herself in. She served on the Lake County school board for a number of years and was in fact the first woman to ever serve on that school board.
She was also a county commissioner in Clear Creek County for eight years and president of Jack Pine Mining Corporation, managing a large group of mines, mining claims and rental properties in Clear Creek County.
She was also the chairwoman of the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs; a member of the county, state and national mining associations; a volunteer and board member of the Project Support Senior Center; chair the Chicago Creek Sanitation Wastewater District; member of the County Planning Board; and for many years represented Clear Creek County on the Denver Regional Council of governments.
Growing up my grandmother she always had something for us to do.
My Aunt Debbie and Robin are seven and five years older than I am, respectively. My grandmother had three kids to care for when I visited her and Deb and Robin and my grandfather in the summers. She had her life to live and commitments to fulfill and wanted us to live ours as kids.
She would have scoffed at today’s helicopter and velcro parents.
We got to play outside a lot. We got to participate in reading contest at libraries. I always remember having a lot of fun. She was present but never intrusive. We were kids, after all. She was an adult with adult activities to fulfill.
I think since she spent so much of her youth and adolescents working, she wanted me and Deb and Robin to have a kind of childhood she never had.
The ravages of poverty motivated her to work, I think and to strive to raise herself above the class of her birth. She achieved her goal, particularly after she married Doug Watrous, a successful businessman in Clear Creek County.
She grew up at a time when men thwarted her efforts to succeed. Had she had better access to advancement and jobs outside of education and bookkeeping, she wouldn’t have had to marry to reach her goals.
I say this without animosity. She never seemed to me quite able to balance motherhood and professional ambition and found ambivalence in being married. Men took more from women than they gave back, she believed, which she understandably found very tiring.
In my grandmother’s time a woman could either work or be a mother. Not both.
Men of my grandmother’s generation refused to allow women to advance, or even give them jobs, if they were mothers.
Employers today legally can’t penalize a female employee because she has children. They probably do, but if they get caught, it can very expense for them.
Despite diminished opportunities available to her because of her gender my grandmother pushed ahead anyway. Her intelligence and innate sense that she was as capable as any man drove her success.
She passed away in 2017.