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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the Westby Dorothy Wickenden
Synopses & Reviews
Now in paperback, the acclaimed and captivating true story of two restless society girls who left their affluent lives to "rough it" as teachers in the wilds of Colorado in 1916.
In 1916, Dorothy Wickenden's grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, and her best friend, Rosamund Underwood, left society life in New York to become teachers in a new school — in the wilds of Northwestern Colorado. Traveling by train to Denver and then on horseback for three days, they arrived at the remote outpost of Elkhead, where their students, the children of homesteaders, came to school in rags and bare feet.
Central to their experiences is Ferry Carpenter, the shrewd, witty, and occasionally outrageous young lawyer and cattle rancher who hired them — in part as would-be brides for the locals. Dorothy becomes engaged to a banker in Chicago on their way West, while Rosamund is courted by both Carpenter and his best friend, a handsome mining engineer and the son of one of Denver's wealthiest industrialists.
Nearly 100 years later, Dorothy Wickenden came across the extraordinarily detailed letters these two women sent home to their families, and she reconstructed their adventure. Nothing Daunted is an intimate, quirky story about two intrepid women on a journey that would change their lives forever.
"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 Wickenden was lucky to have such intriguing forebears...but the satisfying depth and vivacity of Nothing Daunted, the intimate, report-from the ground American saga the author has created with that correspondence as a foundation, have nothing to do with good fortune. Wickenden's talents for research, observation, description, and narrative flow turn this unfaded snapshot of these early-20th-century women in the West into something even more resonant — a brightly painted mural of America under construction a century ago, personified by two ladies of true grit who were nothing daunted and everything enthusiastic about where the new century would take them." Entertainment Weekly
"Wickenden has painstakingly recreated the story of how that earlier Dorothy and her friend Rosamond Underwood embarked on a brief but life-changing adventure, teaching the children of struggling homesteaders....Wickenden lets their tale of personal transformation open out to reveal the larger changes in the rough-and-tumble society of the West....Fascinating...scenes emerge with a lovely clarity." Maria Russo, New York Times Book Review
"A superb biography...Wickenden summons up the last moments of frontier life, where books were a luxury and, when blizzards hit, homesteader's children would ski miles to school on curved barrel staves....Nothing Daunted also reminds us that different strains of courage can be found, not just on the battlefield, but on the home front, too." Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
"An enchanting family memoir....A brilliant gem of Americana." Washington Post Book World
"Wickenden brings to life two women who otherwise might be lost to history and who took part in creating the modern-day West." Publishers Weekly
"If you were impressed with Laura Hillenbrand's efforts to breathe life into Seabiscuit — or wax romantic about Willa Cather's classic My Antonia — this is a book for you." Grand Rapids Press
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 hadn't 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 women's 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.
About the Author
Dorothy Wickenden has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. 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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