Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Byers, 1834-1920

By Hannah Mow, student, Colorado State University

Elizabeth Byers was born Elizabeth Minerva Sumner, to Horatio and Minerva Sumner on August 31, 1834, in Chillicothe, Ohio. The Sumner family did quite well – Minerva's father—Elizabeth's grandfather--was a governor of Ohio, as well as the last territorial governor and the first state governor of Iowa. The man who went on to be Elizabeth's husband, William N. Byers, was also from Ohio. The two had a brief courtship and married on November 16, 1854. Elizabeth and William had two surviving children. Frank (1856), and Mary Eve (1858). The other two children, Charles Fred and James, both passed away at young ages.

In August, 1859, Elizabeth and her husband traveled to Denver, Colorado, in a covered wagon. She is believed to have been one of the first women to ride a train west of the Missouri River. Later that year, William began publishing the Rocky Mountain News. In 1860, with the help of some other women, Elizabeth founded Denver's first charity, the Ladies Relief Society (now known as the United Way). Elizabeth and the Ladies Relief Society founded the Denver Orphan's Home (now known as the Denver Children's Home) to take care of children who were brought to Colorado to assist with building railroads and work in the mines.

At one point in their marriage, William had an affair. When he tried to break it off, the mistress attempted to shoot him with a gun. Luckily, Elizabeth was nearby and was able to save her husband. However, news of the scandal spread quickly, and William's reputation was ruined.

In 1893, Elizabeth established the E.M. Byers Home for Boys, the first orphanage in Denver. A year later, in 1894, Byers helped found the Denver Women's Club. She was also a board member for the University of Denver, a member of the Denver Press Club, and worked closely with a number of Denver-area religious and educational organizations. Byers spent her years working to help build Denver as a community.

We do not know the years that Byers was active in suffrage in Colorado. The 1920 state report provides no details. Byers is described as being among the "pioneer workers" for suffrage but with no further specifics.

Byers continued working in all of her various organizations up until her death in San Diego, California, on January 6, 1920. She is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, CO.


Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, 1922 [LINK]

"Elizabeth Minerva Sumner Byers." Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed April 18, 2017.

Dollman, Darla Sue. "William N. Byers and the Rocky Mountain News." Wild West History, April 04, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2017.

"A Pioneer Journalist; or the Founder of the Rocky Mountain News." Magazine of Western History 1889: p. 50-53.

Stone, Wilbur Fisk. History of Colorado. Vol. 3. Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1918, p. 502-503.

Wommack, Linda. Historic Colorado Mansions & Castles. Charleston: History, 2014.

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