The enduring legacy of Libby Coy-Lawrence

This entry is part 6 of 28 in the series Fall - 2017
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by Nik Olson (’01)

At a time when women in the American west had few educational opportunities, Fort Collins Pioneer Elizabeth “Libby” Coy became the first woman to graduate from a Colorado institution of higher education.

As one of three members of CSU’s first graduating class in 1884, she went on to become a role model for generations of women students – and joined her two classmates in founding the university’s alumni association.

Coy was born in Fort Collins in 1865 to John and Emily Coy, two of the first farmers in the Cache la Poudre Valley who helped found the settler community that became Fort Collins. Before the establishment of Camp Collins, they and a handful of other families made a home in the area to which they’d traveled by covered wagon, living as neighbors with the Native American tribes who then populated the land. John Coy later was one of the founders of the Grange that first erected a shanty to stake a claim for the state agricultural college in Fort Collins, and he created the local fund to raise money to get the college started.

Libby grew up in a young Fort Collins, among the dirt streets and general stores, attending Fort Collins’ public schools. In June 1884, she was among three graduates honored in the first commencement ceremonies for Colorado Agricultural College, which were held on the second floor of Old Main (the only campus building).

After graduating with her bachelor of science, she taught preparatory-level classes at the college before marrying Professor James Lawrence in 1890. The two first met when she had enrolled in the drawing and woodcarving course he taught.

Lawrence, with Libby at his side, served the institution in numerous capacities, including acting president, dean of faculty, building superintendent, and designer of the campus. He is most remembered for having created the new college’s mechanical engineering program, which went on to become one of the finest in the world.

In the 133 years since Coy received her diploma, her presence in Fort Collins endures. At the recommendation of President Charles Ingersoll, Libby joined her fellow graduates, George Glover and Leonidas Loomis, to form the Colorado Agricultural College Alumni Association. She served 14 annual terms as president of the Larimer County Pioneer Society, served as historian of the Fort Collins Woman’s Club, and president of the auxiliary of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church. She was also involved with the College Women’s Association. She died at age 78.

Libby Coy


While Libby Coy helped open a door for women at Colorado State University, the generations that followed continued to break down barriers even while bumping up against the glass ceiling. Following the recommendation of a groundbreaking Task Force on the Status of Women at CSU in the early 1990s, then-President Albert C. Yates established the President’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity to help the University promote gender equity and an improved climate for women at Colorado State.

The Commission will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Fall 2017 with a community celebration Oct. 3. Since its founding, the Commission – and its more recently established Standing Committee on the Status of Women Faculty – has helped hold the University accountable, advance progress on gender equity and campus climate, and advise CSU leadership on best practices and strategies. When President Tony Frank pledged in 2012 to make CSU the best university in the country for women to work and learn, he looked to the leadership of the Commission to help guide those efforts.

The Commission’s October anniversary celebration, with a keynote address by Professor Temple Grandin, will celebrate the work of the Commission while also striving to enhance aware of women and gender issues at the University.

Commission on Women and Gender Equity website

The Coy family as a whole was instrumental in the creation of Colorado State University and the entire community. Coy’s father led the effort to create Roosevelt National Forest. Her brother Burgis became a nationally famous engineer who worked on extending the New York subway system to Brooklyn and served as resident engineer for the Moffatt Tunnel Commission. Brother John married the daughter of CSU President Charles Ingersoll. Libby’s son, George Lawrence, graduated in the Class of ’16 and went on to become a lead engineer for Eastman Kodak. The original Coy-Hoffman farm is now home to the Woodward campus in Fort Collins.

But Libby’s legacy as an educational groundbreaker for women students in Colorado is unmatched.

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