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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the Westby Dorothy Wickenden
Synopses & Reviews
In the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, close friends from childhood and graduates of Smith College, left home in Auburn, New York, for the wilds of northwestern Colorado. Bored by their soci-ety luncheons, charity work, and the effete young men who courted them, they learned that two teach-ing jobs were available in a remote mountaintop schoolhouse and applied—shocking their families and friends. “No young lady in our town,” Dorothy later commented, “had ever been hired by anybody.”
They took the new railroad over the Continental Divide and made their way by spring wagon to the tiny settlement of Elkhead, where they lived with a family of homesteaders. They rode several miles to school each day on horseback, sometimes in blinding blizzards. Their students walked or skied on barrel staves, in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string. The man who had lured them out west was Ferry Carpenter, a witty, idealistic, and occasionally outrageous young lawyer and cattle rancher. He had promised them the adventure of a lifetime and the most modern schoolhouse in Routt County; he hadnt let on that the teachers would be considered dazzling prospective brides for the locals.
That year transformed the children, their families, and the undaunted teachers themselves. Dorothy and Rosamond learned how to handle unruly children who had never heard the Pledge of Allegiance and thought Ferry Carpenter was the president of the United States; they adeptly deflected the amorous advances of hopeful cowboys; and they saw one of their closest friends violently kidnapped by two coal miners. Carpenters marital scheme turned out to be more successful than even he had hoped and had a surprising twist some forty years later.
In their buoyant letters home, the two women captured the voices and stories of the pioneer women, the children, and the other memorable people they got to know. Nearly a hundred years later, New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden—the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff—found the letters and began to reconstruct the womens journey. Enhancing the story with interviews with descendants, research about these vanished communities, and trips to the region, Wickenden creates an exhilarating saga about two intrepid young women and the “settling up” of the West.
"On July 24, 1916, the Syracuse Daily Journal printed the headline: 'Society Girls Go to Wilds of Colorado.' The two young women were Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, recent graduates of Smith College who, in order to defy their family's expectation of marriage, sought work in the small town of Hayden, Colo. Woodruff was the grandmother of New Yorker executive editor Wickenden, who herself becomes a central character in an informative and engaging narrative. Using letters from her grandmother, newspaper articles, and interviews with descendants, Wickenden retells how Woodruff and Underwood traveled to the newly settled state of Colorado to teach at a ramshackle grade school. The book offers a wide cross-section of life in the American West, but the core of the story is the girls' slow adaptation to a society very different from the one in which they were raised, and their evolution from naive but idealistic and open-minded society girls to strong-willed and pragmatic women who later married and raised families in the midst of the Great Depression. Wickenden brings to life two women who otherwise might have been lost to history and who took part in creating the modern-day West. Photos. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"From the elite ethos of Smith College to the raw frontier of northwestern Colorado, two friends dared to defy the conventions of their time and station. Dorothy Wickenden tells their extraordinary story with grace and insight, transporting us back to an America suffused with a sense of adventure and of possibility. This is a wonderful book about two formidable women, the lives they led — and the legacy they left." Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion
"In Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden has beautifully captured a world in transition, a pivotal chapter not just in the life of her bold and spirited grandmother, but also in the life of the American west. Dorothy Woodruff and her friend Rosamond are like young women who walked out of a Henry James novel and headed west instead of east. Imagine Isabel Archer wrangling the ragged, half-wild children of homesteaders, whirling through dances with hopeful cowboys, and strapping on snowshoes in the middle of the night to urge a fallen horse onto an invisible trail in high snowdrifts, and you'll have some idea of the intense charm and adventure of this remarkable book." Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
"A superb, stirring book. Through the eyes of two spirited and resourceful women from the civilized East, Wickenden makes the story of the American West engaging and personal. A delight to read." Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
"The adventures of two well-bred Yankee ladies in the still wild West makes a remarkable, funny story. But evoked through Dorothy Wickenden's skillful use of letters, diaries, and memoirs, Nothing Daunted is also a slow parade through young America. Cowboys carefully-mannered before the ladies; the bare-legged, ragged children in their brand-new school; winter sleigh rides under the new moon : all these moments have been preserved, their colors fresh for modern wonderment: A haunting evocation of a vanished world." Caroline Alexander, author of The Bounty and The War that Killed Achilles
Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood attended grade school and Smith College together, spent nine months on a grand tour of Europe in 1910, and then, bored with society luncheons and chaperoned balls and not yet ready for marriage, they went off to teach the children of homesteaders in a remote schoolhouse on the Western Slope of Colorado. They traveled on the new railroad over the Continental Divide and by wagon to Elkhead, a tiny settlement far from the nearest town. Their students came to school from miles away in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Dorothy Woodruff was the grandmother of andlt;iandgt;New Yorkerandlt;/iandgt; executive editor Dorothy Wickenden. Nearly one hundred years later, Wickenden found the buoyant, detailed, colorful letters the two women wrote to their families. Through them, she has chronicled their trials in the classroom, the cowboys and pioneering women they met, and the violent kidnapping of a close friend. Central to their narrative is Ferry Carpenter, the witty, idealistic, and occasionally outrageous young lawyer and cattle rancher who hired them, in part because he thought they would make attractive and cultivated brides. None of them imagined the transforming effect the year would haveand#8212;on the children, the families, and the teachers.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Wickenden set out on her own journey to discover what two intrepid Eastern women found when they went West, and what America was like at that uncertain moment, with the country poised for the First World War, but going through its own period of self-discovery. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Drawing upon the letters, interviews with descendants, research about these vanished communities, and trips to the region, Wickenden creates a compelling, original saga about the two intrepid young women and the and#8220;settling upand#8221; of the West.
A captivating book about Dorothy Wickenden’s grandmother, who left her affluent East Coast life to “rough it” as a teacher in Colorado in 1916.
About the Author
Dorothy Wickendenhas been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast “The Political Scene.” She is on the faculty of The Writers’ Institute at CUNY’s Graduate Center, where she teaches a course on narrative nonfiction. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995 and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband and her two daughters in Westchester, New York.
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