Within five years, Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt’s husband and all four of her young children died. She also watched as the huge Colt armory, her husband’s pride and joy, burned to the ground. How would you have reacted?

Elizabeth could have hidden behind the wealth and walls built by her internationally famous, $200 million wealthy, highly controversial husband, Sam Colt. She didn’t hide. Living the late 19th century’s Victorian era, she could have submitted to the male-dominant/“women are mere chattel” culture and allowed men to rule her life. Not this woman.

Instead, Elizabeth Colt became the most prominent civic leader, art collector and philanthropist in the history of Hartford, Connecticut.

She ran a major company, founded many civic and social organizations and gave away her millions and her estate to help others. Women today are still benefiting from Elizabeth’s generosity.

  • As first President of the Hartford Soldiers Aid Society, she raised $1 million in a two week period (the equivalent of $43 million today)
  • She helped found and preside over four major Hartford institutions including the Union for Home Work
  • Elizabeth organized the first Suffragette convention in Connecticut in 1869

A Strong Woman In A Man’s World

After less than six years of marriage, Elizabeth’s husband, the inventor and industrialist, Sam Colt died leaving her as the sole owner of the Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, the largest armory in the world. She suffered through the deaths of all five of her children, four of them dying before the age of five and within a few years of her husband’s death. Two years after Sam’s death, in 1864, the armory burst into flames and burned to the ground. The $30+ million of damage seems to have been sabotage by Confederate sympathizers. Elizabeth chose to rebuild. She made the factory fireproof and added another story.

For more than 40 years, Elizabeth was the company’s driving force and final decision maker. Her company was one of the most sophisticated manufacturers of firearms in the world.

Gives Away Art; 100-Acre Park; Her Mansion

Elizabeth built the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1868 to honor her husband and as a place where owners, managers and laborers would worship together. The grand ecclesiastical church, if built today, would cost $7 million.

In her will Elizabeth Colt bequeathed 1,000 pieces of art to the Wadsworth Atheneum. Her collection was one of New England’s finest private art collections. She also gave that museum $50,000 to build a new wing, the first American municipal museum wing bearing the name of a woman patron.

Elizabeth gave the grounds of her estate to Hartford. Today it’s a 100-acre public park. Her home, Armsmear, still functions according to her will: a home for female dependents of Episcopal clergy and other qualified gentlewomen.

Upon Elizabeth’s death in 1905, the state’s leading newspaper ran a full page obituary on page one – the first time any woman was so honored.