Archive for Colorado History

The Unity at the Heart of All Religions

Another of the articles written by Anne Evans for the Theosophical Quarterly, which surfaced after the publication of my biography, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John and Evans and his wife, Margaret.

In this article, as in several covered in my book (On Norse Mythology, The Eastern Church, The Foundation of the Moravian Church and The Bhagavad-Gita) and others discovered after the book’s publication (George Fox, Quaker, and The Snake Dance, A Religious Ceremonial) Anne Evans was developing the theosophical theme of the essential unity at the heart of all religions.

Her article, John Wesley and the Methodists, was published in July of 1909. Although Anne Evans knew that many books had already been written about “John Wesley and the great Methodist movement” her intention was to “draw special attention…to the tenets of Methodism which were most markedly theosophic.

One of the Rare Women of All Time

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life:

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life:

John Wesley was born in England in 1703 and died in 1791. Anne Evans declared that he “was mainly the child of his mother, Susannah Wesley, one of the rare women of all time, in whom a tendency to ponder deeply on spiritual matters, to judge independently and then stand steadfast, was a characteristic both inherited and early developed.” Her father, a prominent clergyman, had been “severely persecuted for his refusal to conform to the established (Anglican) church.

Susannah established the routines of family life for the eight Wesley children, starting with one hour of meditation daily, solitary except for the very youngest. This practice, according to Anne Evans, “developed a beautiful power of concentration” in all the children, so that Mrs. Wesley was able to teach each one to read in a few days. “She began always, on the morning of the fifth birthday, which was solemnly set aside and guarded from interruption, that the alphabet might be mastered before evening, once and forever!

Strange Happenings at the Wesley House

Two happenings during John’s childhood influenced the man he grew up to be. The first was “an almost miraculous escape from the burning rectory.” This “gave him a singular sense of divine immanence and protection, which perhaps fathered the vein of credulity, the faith in powers unseen, always a striking factor in the man’s temperament.” This characteristic was accentuated by a series of curious phenomena, which came to be known as “the Wesley noises,” and which occurred in the Wesley family home while John was still a boy. These happenings were described in letters from various members of the family, from neighbors and from servants.

The noises continued for a period of two months, were usually heard in the late afternoon or evening, and began with a sound of whistling wind about the house, with a clattering of the windows and a ringing of all the brass and iron in the room. There were rappings which grew louder and more insistent when any effort was made to drown them by a counter-irritant of noise…doors were clapped or thrown open; the mastiff barked loudly at it the first day, but ever afterward ran trembling and whining for human protection … They dubbed it “old Jeffrey” and treated it with a bored toleration, even when it declared Jacobite propensities by never allowing the King to be prayed for, or when it upheaved the bed on which two of the daughters were card-playing … The phenomena were all trivial enough, seemingly with small purpose or result yet as they undoubtedly established faith in themselves as marvels of the supernatural world, they may be accredited with serving the same purpose as the phenomena of the early theosophist, or as other miraculous signs vouchsafed to prophets and leaders. They helped break down the tendency to incredulity and skepticism which John Wesley shared as a child of his age, and opened a channel through which much other worldly wisdom might freely enter.” (emphasis mine.)

In the next blog, we’ll follow John Wesley’s education at a prestigious boarding school and Oxford University, and his ill-fated years in the American colonies.

(All quotes are from Anne Evans’ article John Wesley and the Methodists, in the Theosophical Quarterly of July, 1909 Vol.7, No.1, P. 50-58)

This is the second in a four part blog post about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909.* The article came to light after the publication of my biography about Anne Evans.

Those of you who have read my historical biography of Anne Evans may remember that a major challenge to the writing arose early in the research: Anne Evans ordered all her personal materials destroyed when she died. This made very difficult the task of finding answers to some questions essential to understanding this dynamic woman leader in Denver’s cultural development. One such question: why did this daughter of two devout Methodists, who made unique and indispensable contributions to the establishment of Methodist churches in Colorado – and to the establishment and growth of the University of Denver, originally a Methodist foundation – not herself affiliate with a Methodist Church in Denver as an adult? Why, instead, did she “take the road less travelled by” and become a member of the Theosophical Society in America?


Anne Evans, 1940, Denver Public Library Western History Collection

In a 1909 article that has come to light since the book’s publication, Anne Evans tells us exactly why. She says that, when she returned to live in Denver after completing her education in Paris, Berlin and at the Art Students’ League in New York, “The attitude of my most clear-thinking friends was either that of scientific materialism or of agnosticism, and I looked upon myself as a weak and mild specimen of the latter class.” By scientific materialism, she makes it clear that she is referring to the evolutionary theories of Darwin and Huxley.

Considering that many school boards throughout the country are still under pressure to avoid the teaching of evolution or, at the very least, to offer parallel courses in “creation science”, Anne Evans’ remarks about this issue are quite startling. “It was past the time when that great wave of enthusiasm for the new-shorn and naked truth could have swept me quite off my feet; the active fighting days were over; to proclaim oneself an evolutionist and a religious doubter was but following the line of least resistance, instead of calling for the courage and independence it once had demanded. Darwin and Huxley were too victorious to need recruits…” (And this was almost 100 years ago.)

However, she goes on to explain that for her, agnosticism lacked an important ingredient that “religionists” had: “a stiffer springboard from which to leap into unselfish action, as well as a more assured resting-place.” She also admits to “loving the concrete body of worship and adoration which I had occasionally sensed.” But still, the viewpoint of the Christian churches “as presented to me seemed wofully (sic) lacking in reason.” So for many years she simply avoided discussing religious beliefs with her devout friends, whether they were Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists or members of any other denomination. “Since to them these subjects were evidently vital, it would have been discourteous to exhibit my apathy and distrust.

Her attitude towards the Theosophical Society at the time was even more skeptical. “The Society then existed on the dim horizon of my thoughts as a body of fanatics, charlatans and dupes, engaged in a profitless and foolish enterprise. Far from meaning Divine wisdom, the word theosophy was vaguely indicative of clairvoyance, spiritualism and legerdemain…” The steps by which Anne Evans’ attitude towards theosophy was transformed are the subject of my next two blogs.

The article referred to is Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.

This is the first in a series of four blog posts about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909.* The article, “Why I Joined the Theosophical Society” came to light after the publication of my book on Anne Evans.

The recently discovered article by Anne Evans, written more than a hundred years ago, is an exciting addition to what we know about this influential but almost forgotten cultural leader in the history of Denver. As most of you know by now, writing the story of her life was complicated by the fact that she ordered all her personal papers destroyed at her death. So finding what amounts to a five-page spiritual biography, expressed in her own words, is a treasure indeed.

Anne wrote well. She was honest in telling about her own spiritual development, often funny at her own expense. In writing about her personal evolution she reveals both her doubts about traditional Christian beliefs and her admiration for the support that they offer to their adherents. She describes her delight in discovering the wisdom of Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the the publications of the Vedanta Society. And she talks about her initial friendship with a growing number of friends who were Theosophists, her attendance at their simple gatherings, her path of learning about their beliefs through defending them against prejudiced critics, and her eventual decision to join their ranks.

Anne Evans Article: "Why I Joined the Theosophical Society"

Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.

Because I think that this article is a rare insight into Anne Evans’ character and motivations, I’m going to devote the next three blogs to discussing in more detail Why I Joined the Theosophical Society.

*Anne Evans, Why I Joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3. 220-224.

A new venue – for art exhibits, conferences, organizational fundraisers and personal celebrations such as weddings – right in downtown Denver? That is the news recently from the City and County of Denver. What they are talking about is a new use for the restored and updated building in Civic Center Park, which was opened to the public with much pomp and ceremony in 1911. It was the Denver Public Library’s first building of its own, it’s Central Library. Because it was built with financial help from Andrew Carnegie, it was known as the Carnegie Library.

Carnegie Library in CO

The Denver Public Library in Civic Center Park, Denver Public Library Western History Collection

(Although it has to be said that Andrew Carnegie was not much impressed by its neo-classical design: “I am sorry to have my money wasted in this way,” he is quoted as saying, “This is no practical library plan. Too many pillars.”)

Plans for the building were already underway when Anne Evans was appointed to the Library Commission in 1907. But it was a troubled time in the Library’s development: progress toward construction was slow and other problems were multiplying. Anne Evans quietly stimulated the Commission to tackle the most obvious needs: removing the unsatisfactory City Librarian and finding a creative, forward-looking and capable replacement; satisfying the needs of the unhappy staff for respect and additional professional training; and ensuring that the new building was embellished by paintings, sculpture and murals from the best artists in Colorado.


Gallery of the Denver Artists Club – Carnegie Library (Denver Public Library Western History collection)

As plans for the layout of the new Library took shape, Anne Evans is also credited with helping the Denver Artists’ Club, forerunner of the Denver Art Museum, achieve its dream of having a presence on the emerging Civic Center. When the public entered the handsome new building on February 15, 1911, the center of the second floor was a spacious Art Gallery.

Although one patron complained bitterly about the wastefulness of all the new bookshelf space (“You will never have enough books to fill all those shelves!”) it did in time fill up and overflow. This in spite of the steady building of branch libraries, a process which started when Anne Evans became President of the Library Commission – apparently the first woman in the U.S. to head up a major city’s Public Library system. Again with Andrew Carnegie’s help, eight branch libraries were completed by 1920. But still the demands on the Central Library grew steadily. First, the Commission had to inform the Board of what had become the Denver Art Museum that they needed the Art Gallery space for the Library’s use. Later they realized that an entire new building, much larger and better adapted to the needs of a mid-twentieth library, was needed. The second world war delayed the building, but in 1956 it was completed and the Carnegie Library was obsolete.

It served many purposes for the City and County of Denver over the years, longest as administrative headquarters for the Denver Water Department. But there came a time when it was old and run down and seemed to have come to the end of its useful life. For those of us who value its long historical service and significance as the first library building owned by the people of Denver, it is exciting to learn about the restoration and plans for its new incarnation. It currently has new art exhibits on the first and second floors, open free to the public, and venues of different sizes which are available to rent. I, for one, hope that the new potential for community enjoyment of this venerable building is a huge success.

(If you are interested in the development of the fine Denver Public Library, and the lively and sometimes funny happenings along the way, you can read more in Chapter 15, A Center of Public Happiness, in my biography – Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. See much more about the contributions of Anne Evans and others to Denver’s and Colorado’s history on

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There is a lively current controversy about the sculpture of a fiery-eyed Blue Mustang, prominently located at the Denver International Airport. Does it welcome or repel visitors? Should it stay or be moved elsewhere (preferably out of public sight)? Is it a masterpiece or a disaster?

This very public debate reminds me of the only time – during her lifetime of involvement in the development of public art in Denver – that Anne Evans got publicly angry, and came out swinging at the opposition to her point of view.


Robert Speer, Courtesy History Colorado

It was 1937, and at issue was the choice of a piece of sculpture to be placed in the Civic Center as a memorial to Mayor Robert Speer. The whole story is a complex one, lasting several years and involving a number of players, which is told in detail in my book about Anne Evans. (Chapter 16, The Dream of a Civic Center) But the point of interest here is that a rather bitter public battle developed between Mayor Ben Stapleton, who favored a design by Denver sculptor Arnold Ronnebeck, and Anne Evans, a prominent member of the Denver Art Commission, who was vehemently opposed to Ronnebeck’s proposal, calling it a “sculptured monstrosity.”

Mayor Stapleton demanded that the Commission approve the Ronnebeck design. The Commission refused. The Mayor knew that the main opposition came from Anne Evans. Perhaps reluctant to act against so well-respected a public figure, he did not directly take action against Anne but removed two of her known supporters from the Commission. Anne was furious. She resigned from the Art Commission and expressed her views loudly and clearly in interviews by the local press.

She considered the Mayor’s removal of her two fellow Commissioners as completely unjustified. In an interview with the Denver Post she said, “If a person who has been honored with appointment to a responsible position, as were these two colleagues of mine on the Commission, is dropped for no reason whatsoever and contrary to law, I propose to ask ‘WHY?’ as loud as I can and keep on asking.”

The Post article, headlined GOVERNOR EVANS WOULD BE PROUD OF DAUGHTER ANNE, shows four photographs of Anne Evans, with a caption under each. One is, “I don’t care what the mayor or the governor says, the art commission must be kept free of political wire-pulling.” Another, on the phone, “You needn’t shout. Whether I am on the commission or off, the civic center is going to be kept free of sculptured atrocities.”

I suppose one could say that Anne Evans won this battle. There is no sculpture on the Civic Center commemorating its major creator. Mayor Stapleton came up with an alternative proposal, persuading the private donors who were funding the Speer Memorial that it would be more appropriate to build a much needed Children’s Wing for Denver General Hospital.

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One of the plusses in working on a biography of Anne Evans was the education it gave me about the history of Denver and Colorado. A subject about which I was woefully ignorant. And so, I discovered, were many of my well-educated Denver friends. Two recent news items – that Denver’s Civic Center had been declared a National Historic District, and that the restoration of the old Carnegie Library on the Civic Center had been completed – triggered a host of memories of what I had learned about the early history of both of these projects. And of the considerable role Anne Evans played in their development.

Leaving the Carnegie Library for a later blog, I’d like today to share something about the long fight to establish a Civic Center in Denver. It began shortly after the City and County of Denver was voted into existence in 1904 and Robert Speer elected its first mayor. The Denver of the time was flourishing but unlovely, making little use of its magnificent setting at the base of the Rockies, and befouling its natural heritage at the juncture of the Platte and its Cherry Creek tributary.


Plan for Civic Center with addition of City and County Building

Robert Speer made no secret of his desire to transform Denver into the most successful example of a City Beautiful. It was probably at his prompting that the powerful new Denver Art Commission, of which Anne Evans was one of the original appointed members, recommended in 1904 that a plan be drawn up for the future shape of Denver, and that the plan should include a Civic Center. The first Civic Center plan, submitted by Chicago planner Charles Mulford Robinson in 1906, was for an awkward rectangle linking the State Capitol with the then Denver Municipal headquarters in the old Arapahoe County Courthouse on Court Place. The Center had both Broadway and Colfax running through it, and involved the purchase of expensive commercial land. The plan was a failure. It was succeeded by the present configuration, with the State Capitol at one end and requiring a new Denver municipal building at the west end to complete it. The area in between was covered mostly by small houses, much cheaper to acquire than commercial property – and as an added bonus, considerable revenue would result from the sale of the Courthouse site.


Later development of Civic Center with Voorhies Memorial, Courtesy History Colorado

Slowly the acquisition of the site proceeded. Little other progress was made during the period when Speer left the office of mayor to run for the Senate and Denver experimented with a Commission form of government. But when he returned in 1916, along with a public endorsement of a switch to one of the strongest mayoral city governments in the U. S., things really began to happen. A final plan developed by Chicago landscape architect Charles E. H. Bennett was adopted, and the shaping of the land with stone balustrades, with a main axis and strong transverse axis bisecting it at right angles, took shape.

Inspired by Speer’s powerful “Give While You Live” campaign aimed especially at Denver’s wealthy citizens, and rigorously monitored by the Art Commission, a program of privately financed donations of structures, like the Voorhies Memorial Gateway, and sculptures, like The Bronco Buster and On the War Trail, enriched the new Center.


Anne Evans, 1940, Denver Public Library Western History Collection

The last major addition to the Civic Center before the Second World War was the Denver City and County building. This was where Anne Evans made her major contributions – in three different areas:

  • She was credited with organizing “several hundred civic-minded citizens to assure selection of the present site for the new municipal building and the block-by-block canvas of the city for the sales of bonds to help in acquiring that site.”
  • As an Art Commission member, she was deeply involved in the planning of the new building, and in approving the design of its different artistic elements.
  • As both a member of the Commission and of the Board of Trustees of the Denver Art Museum, she quietly helped to organize a consensus that resulted in important gains in the Museum’s standing. It was recognized as the City’s official Art Agency, entitled to some municipal support. The entire south end of the new building’s top story was allocated for the Museum’s art galleries, achieving its long-time goal of a presence on the Civic Center.

If you’d like to round out this brief history of the Civic Center, you could of course read my recently published biography – Anne Evans: A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE, available at

Next time, a few lines about what Anne Evans called a “sculptured atrocity” that you will not see on the Civic Center – and about the public row between Anne and Mayor Ben Stapleton over the issue. I have found that knowing something about the “back story” of current developments makes them much more meaningful – and sometimes more entertaining.

Categories : Colorado History
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