THE MAN BEHIND OUR SCHOOL’S NAME
By Bromwell students Alicia Economos, Emily Moore, Andrea Paris, Katie Schweiger, Charity Shouse, Brian Turner with the assistance of Harriet Angulo and Sarah Pascoe
When Henry Pelham Holmes Bromwell was born on August 26, 1823, the United States was not yet fifty years old. People moved by horse, ox, and sailboat, mostly along the eastern seaboard. Transportation west focused on the river systems of the Ohio and Mississippi. Slavery existed in the South. The northwest was Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Colorado was inhabited only by Indians and an occasional trapper. On January 9, 1903, the day Henry P.H. died, the United States consisted of forty-five states which spanned the continent. We had become an industrial nation with a coast-to-coast railroad system. Colorado had become the 38th state in 1876. The nation had gone through a civil war, freed the slaves, and in some states, given women the right to vote. Henry P.H. Bromwell, an advocate of the railroads, an enemy of slavery, and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, was a part of this change.
Henry Pelham Holmes Bromwell was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was named Henry for his father, Pelham for his mother’s uncle and Holmes for his mother’s family. He was one of six children born to Henrietta Holmes and Henry Broughton Bromwell. Of these children, three died in infancy and his older sister Henrietta died at the age of twenty-five. Henry P.H. and his younger sister Laura Eugenia were the only children to survive, marry, and have children of their own.
On his father’s side, the Bromwells were listed in the census of 1790 as planters in Talbot County on the eastern shore of Maryland. Henry P.H.’s paternal grandmother’s family (the Halls and the Fells) were prominent Quakers from Chester County, Pennsylvania. His mother was a descendant of Puritan families who arrived on the Mayflower. Her family lived in Kingston, Massachusetts, where her father was a very successful merchant involved in shipping along the eastern coast of the United States.
Henry P.H.’s grand-father, William Bromwell, was a prosperous businessman in Baltimore. An excellent manager, he had family property, a lumber yard, and a wire-weaving and wheat fan-making business. He grew rich meeting the demands of a young agrarian country in need of building supplies and agricultural processing wares. His several sons, who were educated in the city’s Quaker schools, worked after school in their father’s offices. The sons of William Bromwell also helped defend Baltimore in the War of 1812, one of them (David) dying aboard a British prison ship.
Henry Broughton Bromwell, Henry P.H.’s father, began in the lumber business with money borrowed from his older brother William. His business was very successful until his property was demolished. On June 23, 1822, a neighbor of his whipped a slave who took revenge by burning his master’s business. The fire caught onto Henry B. Bromwell’s lumber yard next door and destroyed everything Henry B. owned. Henry B. Bromwell never again regained his wealth, although his inheritance eventually gave him a second chance financially.
In 1824, Henry P.H. and his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father, Henry B., took up shipping and, later, lumber, hoping to profit by trading along the Ohio River. The Ohio can be treacherous, however, and the business lost money because of ship wrecks and cargo loss. Later, the family moved on to Dayton, Middletown, and Coshocton County, Ohio looking again for favorable business opportunities. Finally, they moved to the wilderness of Cumberland, Clark County, Illinois, along the route of the National Road which many hoped would be the gateway to the west. They claimed land Henry P.H.’s father received for fighting in the War of 1812. As usual prosperity eluded the Bromwells. The National Road never did become the main highway to the west, and the family was cut off from money and markets for twelve years until they could trade their land for a newspaper in Vandalia.
Despite their lack of financial success, the Bromwells seem to have been very close and loving parents who cared greatly about their children’s education. Both parents valued learning enough to include books among the few possessions they brought to Ohio and later to Illinois. Public schools, as we know them now, did not exist. The parents not only instructed their own children but worked to encourage education in their county, also. Henry P.H. read and studied constantly, and was renowned as a scholar even in his youth. On his own, he learned French, German, Spanish, and Italian. As a member of the Masons, a secret men’s club that used symbols of the Middle Ages, he learned geometry, mathematics, and architecture. He traded books and information with friends. For example, he would discuss drawings with a young architect friend. He never went to college, although he received an honorary degree of Master of Arts from McKendree College in Illinois in 1868. In 1844, Henry P.H. taught thirty-six students from April 1 till June 30 at the Marshall Academy in Marshall, Illinois. He was paid $42.79. He also wrote many poems including “Song of the Wahbeck,” “On Buena Vista’s Field,” “Two Processions,” and “The Dead Forest of Colorado.” The following excerpt, written in tribute to his sister, who died in 1845, shows not only his affection for her but also his appreciation for the countryside around him:
Then oft we wandered through the deep recesses,
Where grew the woodland flower —
where bloomed the wildwood flower,
And violets plucked to deck thy auburn tresses,
Within our hillside bower — our lovely hillside bower.
I bid thee rest in peace — sweet sister, rest in peace.
In 1848, the Bromwells moved to Vandalia, Illinois so that Henry P.H. could study law. Henry P.H. helped run their local paper, The Age of Steam and Fire, which, among other things, argued strongly for the building of railroads. He also read law in a law office, instead of going to law school, and joined the Bar in 1853. Soon after, he was elected County Judge of Fayette County, using his Masonic knowledge to rebuild the local courthouse.
Vandalia was the capitol of Illinois at that time and the center of political activity. There, he first met Abraham Lincoln and many others who were then or later became prominent in politics. Among them were Sidney Breeze, John P. Usher, Stephen T. Logan, and Stephen A. Douglas. His law partner was F.M. Meredith.
During these turbulent pre-Civil War years, the country became increasingly divided over sectional disputes. The agricultural west (including Illinois) provided food and raw materials to the industrial northeast. Small farmers needed cheap land and the protection of tariff, causes espoused by the rising Republican Party. Railroads, rather than poor roads or unreliable river transportation, provided the needed lines of communication and trade. Henry P.H. was secretary of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad. The best known dispute, of course, involved slavery, an economic foundation of the Old South. Bromwell had relatives in Virginia and Maryland, both slaveholding states. Henry P.H.’s mother had been given a slave named Phryne as a wedding present by her brother-in-law, Henry Broughton. They freed her when they moved to Ohio. Although his relatives had owned slaves, Henry P.H. grew to believe with Lincoln in the basic injustice of slavery.
He and Abraham Lincoln traveled together in Illinois building the Republican Party. Mr. Lincoln later said that Bromwell’s speeches were the best he had ever heard. Henry P.H. continued campaigning when he moved his law practice to Charleston, Illinois in 1857. In 1856 and then in 1860, he was on the Republican ticket as Presidential Elector, first for Fremont and then for Lincoln. He stumped the state, gaining widespread reputation as an orator.
From 1864 to 1869, he served as a Representative to the U.S. Congress. During his years in Washington, he gave numerous speeches for the Masons, as well as for his party, and laid the cornerstone of the Masonic temple in that city. He also joined President Lincoln for dinner at the White House. After Lincoln’s assassination, Henry P.H. made the procession arrangements when the body was returned to Springfield. He then took part with Thaddeus Stevens in the stormy legislation which culminated in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. After the war, he joined the “stalwarts” in Congress to see that the 13th and 14th Amendments were enforced. In 1869, after returning to Illinois, he worked on the revision of that state’s constitution. Illinois was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment.
Throughout his life, Henry P.H. continued his studies in Masonry, eventually rising to the Degree of Past Grand Master. He originated a branch of Masonry known as the Free and Accepted Architects. He also wrote The Restoration of Masonic Geometry and Symbolry, published posthumously, an extensive work requiring some twenty years of writing and revision. Bromwell was known as “the foremost Mason of his time,” and was an honorary member of numerous lodges.
Henry P.H. suffered many personal losses during his middle years. His maternal grandparents died at the Bromwell home in the wilderness of Ohio. Then his sister died in 1845 and his father in 1867. At the age of 35, Henry P.H. married Emily Elizabeth Payne, of Corydon, Indiana, who died in 1864 after six years of marriage. He never remarried. Their youngest child Emma died in infancy. Henry P.H.’s mother shouldered the task of raising the two surviving children, Henry Pelham Payne and Henrietta Elizabeth.
By 1870, Henry P.H. was expanding his vision beyond Illinois politics. While in the House of Representatives, Henry P.H. had voted for the admission of Nebraska to the Union over President Johnson’s veto. Attracted to the idea of settling in the west, he chose to move to the Colorado Territory, where his old friend Lincoln had appointed the first territorial officers. According to the Articles of Confederation, a territory could elect its own legislature when the adult male population reached 5000. With a population of 60,000, it could write a constitution and petition Congress for admission to the Union. Earlier attempts at Colorado statehood failed because the population was too small to support the costs of state government, and Congress feared the new state would be predominantly Democratic. After the Civil War, though, business developed, Republican strength was renewed, and prospects looked better for statehood. Here was a chance for Henry P.H. to use his past political experience to pioneer the admission of a new state. The Bromwells came to Denver in October of 1870. They may have traveled by railroad because the Kansas Pacific Railroad reached Denver on August 15, 1870. Denver and Cheyenne, also a western railroad station, were connected by rail on June 24, 1870. By this time, Colorado’s business and mining communities were growing rapidly. In Denver, the Bromwells settled in an unpretentious house on the west side. Their address, after street renumbering in 1887, was 1117 8th Street, now the site of an Auraria parking lot. Henry P.H. practiced law with Ezekial B. Sleeth, also from Illinois, in an office on Larimer Street only a few blocks from his home.
Characteristically, Henry P.H. took an early interest in education in his adopted city. Denver’s first free public school opened on December 1, 1862, and the city’s districts rented buildings until 1872. School boards struggled constantly to secure land and money for buildings and materials. In 1874 and again in 1875, Henry P.H. was elected President of the school board of District 2, located then in the triangle formed by the Platte River, Cherry Creek, and (approximately) 6th Avenue. He took an interest in schools in other areas of Denver, too. According to The Rocky Mountain News of March 12, 1873, he and the school board of District 1 (most of Denver) visited the city schools and commented on their condition and equipment. Bromwell School, as we know it today, was located in a farming suburb of Denver in Arapahoe County. Henry P.H.’s children probably did not attend Harman Community School, as it was then called. His surviving sister Laura Eugenia, her nurseryman husband John Wesley Cook, and their children had also moved to Colorado in 1870, but they lived in Jefferson County, also outside of the Harman district.
Henry P.H. immediately became involved in Colorado state politics. Building on friendships formed in the Masons and through his years of service in Congress, he campaigned vigorously for the Republican Party. In 1873, he was elected to the Territorial Council. In 1875, after Congress introduced a bill to admit Colorado to the Union, Henry P.H. became one of the most experienced members of the state’s charter. He guided and practically wrote most of the state’s charter including Resolutions on Irrigation, Resolutions on Taxation, Resolutions Relating to the Sale of School Lands, The Powers of the Supreme Court, The Bill of Rights, The Minority Report on Suffrage, and An Address to the People of Colorado explaining and urging support of the new constitution. Many of these topics involved extensive knowledge of legal procedures and most show Henry P.H.’s strong populists sympathies. He wanted, for example, a strong, financially sound public school system with free education guaranteed for everyone aged 6 to 21.
His Minority Report on Women’s Suffrage, in particular, shows his courage, sense of justice, and political shrewdness in the face of massive opposition. He could not remove the word “male” from the suffrage clause, but he did succeed in getting women the vote on school elections and in making women’s suffrage a ballot issue until they finally achieved equal voting rights in 1893.
His reasoning is worth noting. First, he said that rights and duties in the constitution apply to the whole adult population, of which women were a part. Secondly, suffrage is the means by which groups of people such as blacks, factory workers, widows, etc., improve their welfare. Politicians would pay more attention to women and their problems if they had the vote. Third, women vote in business matters, as shareholders, so they should be allowed to vote in state elections as well. Fourth, women should have the vote because society has abolished slavery and other means of favoring the few. Fifth, “superiority” is not an issue. No one asks male voters whether they are of “superior” economic or social status, and, further, women are not inferior to men. Such arguments are false on their face. Sixth, women can govern. They do so all the time in homes and schools. Seventh, we are a human race, part male and part female. Women shouldn’t be victims of outmoded prejudice. Eighth, this issue involves the welfare of us all. Why should Colorado lag behind other states and nations in granting women suffrage? Ninth, the argument that women wouldn’t vote even if given the opportunity is beside the point. No one holds this view about men. In fact, most precincts take steps to make voting more convenient for them. Finally, law should be the exponent of justice. Women’s suffrage is, above all, just.
After the monumental tasks involved in the state constitution, Henry P.H. continued active work in politics. He served in the state legislature in 1879, and from 1881 to 1883 revised Colorado’s laws. As a legislator, he prepared the bill establishing Colorado’s irrigation system. This matter is vital on the high plains where water is the determining factor in agriculture, ranching, housing, or business. Range wars have been fought over water rights, and it takes someone extremely knowledgeable and well-respected to set up a system people can live with. The Rocky Mountain News of February 9, 1879 reported that, because of his work in the legislature, the House of Representatives awarded Bromwell a gold-headed cane as a tribute of respect and esteem.
Tragedy pursued Henry P.H.’s personal life, however. His son Henry Pelham Payne died on November 18, 1881 after catching typhoid fever, a disease common here before the advent of modern sanitation. He was only 19, a promising boy studying law in the office of his father’s law partner, E.B. Sleeth. Henry P.H. never fully recovered from this loss. Less than two months later, on January 7, 1882, his mother died. Both were buried at Riverside Cemetery. His remaining daughter, Henrietta Elizabeth, never married (she died in 1946) and devoted herself to providing a comfortable home for her father. Continuing a tradition of public service, she helped found the Denver Artists Club which later evolved into the Denver Art Museum.
Even though illness forced him into retirement in the late 1880’s, Henry P.H. remained mentally and socially active. As the Republican Party turned to exclusively business interests, Bromwell’s populist beliefs led him to become a Democrat, favoring, among other things, coinage of silver. He maintained discussions at his house on Sunday afternoons with old friends who continued to seek him out for counsel or advice. A pleasant, unassuming person, he would give others credit for work he had done. Nonetheless, he retained a sharp eye for politics, and made astute comments on the trend of events.
When he died in 1903, he was eulogized by Judge O.B. Liddell as an outstanding citizen. One article stated that “no man has ever died in Colorado more entitled to rest in state… than H.P.H. Bromwell.” He believed that one shouldn’t shirk from political life because it might be difficult or inconvenient. He believed that absolute justice should be the foundation of any form of government. He hated slavery because he loved human beings. He believed, essentially, in equal rights for all.
Henry P.H. Bromwell was buried at Riverside Cemetery after a Masonic ritual that he prepared himself. The pall bearers were eight Past Grand Masters, and over 100 Masons attended, according to the Denver Times of January 12, 1903. Denver had lost one of its finest citizens.
The town of Harman, meanwhile, had been annexed to Denver in 1895. Joining Denver Public Schools in 1901 when Denver became a County as well as a City, Harman Community School since 1867 had been the focus of local activity. In 1906, Mrs. Margaret True, President and only female member of the Board of Education, worked with the residents of Harman and the rest of the board to have the school renamed to honor Henry P.H. Bromwell. The Denver Republican of May 2, 1906 noted that Harman School would “hereinafter be known as Bromwell School in honor of H.P.H. Bromwell, pioneer resident of Colorado and a champion of women’s suffrage.” The notice was buried among other business items of that board meeting, but the women and residents of Denver had paid permanent tribute to one of their ablest proponents of justice.