Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

by Dorothy Wickenden

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Overview

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 the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, bored by society luncheons, charity work, and the effete men who courted them, left their families in Auburn, New York, to teach school in the wilds of northwestern Colorado. They lived with a family of homesteaders in the Elkhead Mountains and rode to school on horseback, often in blinding blizzards. Their students walked or skied, in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string. The young cattle rancher who had lured them west, Ferry Carpenter, had promised them the adventure of a lifetime. He hadn’t let on that they would be considered dazzling prospective brides for the locals.

Nearly a hundred years later, Dorothy Wickenden, the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff, found the teachers’ buoyant letters home, which captured the voices of the pioneer women, the children, and other unforgettable people the women got to know. In reconstructing their journey, Wickenden has created an exhilarating saga about two intrepid women and the “settling up” of the West.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439176603
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 06/21/2011
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 75,893
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

Dorothy Wickenden is the author of Nothing Daunted and The Agitators, and has 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. 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 in Westchester, New York.

Read an Excerpt


PROLOGUE

One weekend afternoon in the fall of 2008, at the back of a drawer in my old wooden desk at home, I came across a folder I had forgotten. “Dorothy Woodruff Letters, Elkhead 1916–17.” My mother had given me the file when my children were young, and I had put it away, intending to look through it, but life had intervened. I glanced at the first letter. Dated Friday, July 28, 1916, it was written on the stationery of the Hayden Inn. At the top of the sheet was a photograph of a homely three-story concrete-block house with a few spindly saplings out front. The inn advertised itself as “The Only First-Class Hotel in Hayden.” Dorothy wrote: “My dearest family: Can you believe that I am actually far out here in Colorado?”

She and her close friend, Rosamond Underwood, had grown up together in Auburn, New York. They had just arrived after a five-day journey and were preparing to head into a remote mountain range in the Rockies, to teach school in a settlement called Elkhead. Dorothy’s letter described their stop overnight in Denver, their train ride across the Continental Divide, and their introductions to the locals of Hayden, whom she described as “all agog” over them “and so funny.” One man could barely be restrained “from showing us a bottle of gall stones just removed from his wife!” She closed by saying, “They are all so friendly and kind—and we are thrilled by everything. We start now—four hours drive. Goodbye in haste.…”

Dorothy Woodruff was my grandmother. As I began reading the letters, I recognized her voice immediately, even though they were written by a young woman—twenty-nine years old, unmarried, belatedly setting out on her own. An avid correspondent, she captured the personalities of the people she met; the harsh landscape; her trials with a classroom of unruly young boys; and her devotion to Rosamond, known to my brothers and me as “Aunt Ros.” I also was struck by their unusually warm friendship with two men: the young lawyer and rancher who hired them, Farrington Carpenter; and Bob Perry, who was the supervisor of his father’s coal mine. They were eighteen hundred miles away from their families, and from decorous notions about relations between the sexes.

The letters revealed the contradictions of Dorothy’s upbringing. She was a daughter of the Victorian aristocracy. Her forebears, like Rosamond’s, were entrepreneurs and lawyers and bankers who had become wealthy during the Industrial Revolution. In 1906, the young women were sent to Smith, one of the earliest women’s colleges, and afterward, they were indulged for a year with a grand tour of Europe, during which they saw their first “aeroplane,” learned how to blow the foam off a mug of beer, expressed disdain for the paintings of Matisse, and watched Nijinsky dance. Then, like other girls of their background, they were expected to return home to marry, and marry well.

Yet they had grown up surrounded by the descendants of some of the most prominent reformers in American history, including the suffragists who organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, fifteen miles west of Auburn; and the man who overturned barbaric penal practices at the Auburn state prison, Sing Sing, and penitentiaries across the country. Auburn was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and some of the families they knew had hidden runaway slaves in their basements. Dorothy’s grandfather lived next door to William Seward, President Lincoln’s secretary of state. One day when she was visiting my family in Weston, Connecticut, she recorded an oral history, speaking with unerring precision about her childhood and about her time in Colorado. Retrieving the transcript of the tape, I was reminded of the breathtaking brevity of America’s past.

I remember Dorothy as white-haired, impeccably attired, and sometimes stern. The second youngest of seven children, she grew up in a big hipped-roof clapboard house staffed by servants. Her bedroom and that of her younger sister, Milly, were in the nursery, reached by the back stairs. Raised largely by their nursemaid, they rarely stepped into the kitchen. When Dorothy’s four children were growing up, she didn’t know how to cook anything except creamed potatoes and hot cocoa. Every night she brushed her hair a hundred strokes with a French boar-bristle brush. She joked to us about her height—four feet eleven and shrinking every year. To reach her high mahogany four-poster bed, inherited from her parents, she had to use a footstool upholstered in needlepoint.

She gave me tips in etiquette: how to file my nails, how to set a formal table, how to avoid acting “common.” When I was a slouching teenager, she showed me how she had been taught to walk across the room with a book balanced on her head. On my eighteenth birthday, she wrote to me: “To be happy it is necessary to be constantly giving to others. I do not mean to give in work alone—but all of your self. That means interest in other people—not only by affection—but by kindness.” She didn’t like the fashions of the 1970s—curtains of hair, tie-dyed T-shirts, and tight bell-bottoms—and once told me haughtily, “I never wore a pair of trousers in my life.”

For all that, she was spirited and funny—not at all the deferential young woman she had been brought up to be. After she and Ros returned from Europe, they attended friends’ weddings, along with traditional luncheons and balls, but six years later, they were still uninterested in the suitors who were interested in them. Chafing at the rigid social routines and not getting anywhere with the ineffectual suffrage work they had taken on, they didn’t hesitate when they heard about two teaching jobs in Colorado. The nine months my grandmother spent there seemed to have shaped her as much as her entire youth in Auburn. She was full of expansive admiration for the hardworking people of Elkhead, and when she faced great personal difficulties of her own, she called to mind the uncomplaining endurance she had witnessed in the settlers and their children.

She and Ros, like other easterners going west, were time travelers, moving back to the frontier. Although they ventured out after the first settlers, and went by train rather than covered wagon, their destination felt more like 1870 than 1916. They took with them progressive ideas about education, technology, and women—and postcards from their travels abroad. The homesteaders—motley transplants from across the country, Europe, and Russia—lived almost twenty miles north of Hayden. Effectively cut off from modern life by poverty and the Rocky Mountains, the pioneers found the two women as exotic as Dorothy and Ros found them.

Although World War I was looming, such a cataclysm was unimaginable to Americans who knew nothing of combat. Dorothy sometimes talked disparagingly about her grandfather’s brother, who had avoided service in the Civil War by paying a substitute to take his place—a common practice among wealthy families in the North. Just weeks before Dorothy and Ros left for Colorado, President Wilson averted war with Mexico. The prevailing spirit among the elites of Auburn, the industrialists of Denver, and the homesteaders of Elkhead was an exhilarating optimism about the future.

These people were swept up in some of the strongest currents of the country’s history: the expulsion of native tribes; the mining of gold, silver, and coal; the building of a network of railroads that linked disparate parts of the country and led to the settlement of the West; the development of rural schools; the entry of immigrants, African-Americans, and women into the workforce and the voting booth; even the origins of modern dance. Their lives were integral to the making of America, yet the communities they built, even their idioms, had all but vanished.

As I got to know the children and grandchildren of the people my grandmother told us about, I began to see her story as more than a curious family history. It was an alternative Western. There were strutting cowboys and eruptions of violence, but the records the residents left behind turned out to be full of their own indelible characters and plot twists. Dozens of descendants in Denver, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Elkhead, and Oak Creek had kept their family memorabilia from that year. Rebecca Wattles, a rancher in Hayden and the granddaughter of the secretary of the Elkhead school board, showed me the 1920 yearbook of the first five graduates of the school, all of whom had been Ros’s students. They wrote: “It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to buck trail for two or three miles when the trail is drifted and your horse lunges and plunges; nor yet to ski, when the snow is loose and sticky. But, if as we are told, it is these things that develop grit, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and independence—well, the children who have gone to school in Elk Head, ought surely to have a superfluous amount of those qualities.”

One Sunday in early October 2009, my husband and I pulled up to an old white Georgian house on a cul-de-sac in Norwalk, Connecticut. We were greeted at the front door by Peter Cosel, one of Ros’s grandsons. He appeared to be mildly amused by my mission: a search for the letters that Rosamond had written from Elkhead. For a year I had been pestering him about going through the boxes he had in storage there. Peter called his brother Rob, also a lawyer, who arrived just as we finished a cursory examination of the attic treasures, including a trunk filled with papers dating back to the 1850s from a branch of the Underwood family that had settled in Chicago.

I sat on the floor in front of a sagging box, blackened on the bottom from mildew and eaten away in spots by a squirrel, and began to unpack it, setting aside a stack of five-year diaries—fastidious chronicles by Ros’s mother of her family’s daily life in Auburn. Peter absently combed through some business documents of his great-grandfather’s, a man named Sam Perry, who—I soon learned—was one of Denver’s “empire builders,” a financier of the railroad that Dorothy and Ros rode over the Continental Divide. Rob sat on the edge of the bed and talked about childhood visits to their grandmother’s rustic summer cabin in the hills of Strawberry Park outside Steamboat Springs. Then my husband handed me a two-page typewritten letter. In the upper-right corner, it said, “Saturday Night. Aug. 6.” I looked at the closing: “Dotty and I can hardly believe that this school is really ours to command! … Lovingly ROSAMOND.”

Ros’s entire correspondence was there, each letter typed, folded, and numbered by her mother. The letters had been written to her parents, who, like Dorothy’s, had left them for her children and grandchildren. Unwinding the string of a thick legal envelope, I looked inside. It contained dozens of articles and letters from October 1916. They confirmed the most improbable of all the tales my grandmother had told us, about the violent kidnapping of one of their friends. Sensational headlines were spread across the front pages from Denver to Los Angeles: HOW THE MILLIONAIRE’S SON WAS KIDNAPPED AND HELD FOR RANSOM; EXTRA! KIDNAPPER IS SLAIN.

All of these papers and recollections, with their idiosyncratic details about the “settling up” of northwestern Colorado, provided a backstory to America’s leap into the twentieth century. And they filled out the saga about two cosseted women from New York who shunned convention to head out to what was still, in many ways, the Wild West.

© 2011 Dorothy Wickenden

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

Part 1 Beginnings

1 Overland Journey 3

2 The Girls from Auburn 14

3 "A Funny, Scraggly Place" 28

4 "Refined, intelligent gentlewomen" 35

Part 2 Old World and New

5 Unfenced 45

6 The Grand Tour 53

7 Ferry's Scheme 71

8 Departure 79

9 Hell Hill 89

Part 3 Working Girls

10 Turnips and Tears 107

11 The Mad Ladies of Strawberry Park 124

12 Debut 134

Part 4 Reckonings

13 The Cream of Routt County 149

14 "Unarmed and defenseless" 162

15 "The Dark Days Are Very Few" 172

16 Three-Wire Winter 187

17 Commencement 205

Epilogue 215

Acknowledgments 227

Notes 235

Bibliography 261

Index 275

More Photos from Dorothy Woodruff's Albums 287

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“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

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Nothing Daunted includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Dorothy Wickenden. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Introduction

In 1916, two restless society girls from Auburn, New York, left behind their charity balls and ten-course luncheons for the mountains of the West. Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood abandoned the refinements of Victorian life to teach in Colorado—traveling by train to Denver, and then to the remote town of Hayden, before riding in a wagon up the mountains to an isolated settlement called Elkhead. Their students, the children of homesteaders, came to school from miles away in rags and bare feet. Nearly 100 years later, Dorothy Wickenden, the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff, came across the extraordinarily detailed letters these two women wrote to their families from Elkhead—about their teaching, the friends they made, the idiosyncratic characters they met, and their adventures throughout the county. Nothing Daunted is a lyric and exhilarating portrait of two young women who find themselves by leaving beyond what was most familiar.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the Prologue, Wickenden calls Ros’s and Dorothy’s adventure “an alternative Western.” What do you think she means by this? After finishing the book, do you agree? How does their story compare to your idea of the classic “Western”?

2. Dorothy and Ros, Wickenden writes, were “bothered by the idea of settling into a staid life of marriage and motherhood without having contributed anything to people who could benefit from what talents and experiences they had to offer.” (p. 29) How does this statement influence your perspective of Ros and Dorothy? What did they eventually pass along to the students of Elkhead? What did they learn from their students and their families?

3. How are Ros and Dorothy different from each other? How are they similar?

4. Each chapter opens with a photograph—from Dorothy teaching her students in 1917 in Chapter 10 to Bob Perry outside his cabin in Chapter 14. How did these pictures shape or enhance your reading of Nothing Daunted? How did they add to your understanding of the setting and time period?

5. Similarly, how did the inclusion of letters and notes enhance your reading? Was there one particular or memorable correspondence that stood out to you?

6. William H. Seward was known as a firebrand for representing the black defendant in a notorious murder case and for befriending abolitionist Harriet Tubman. What influence did Seward, Tubman, and other strong personalities in Auburn have on Dorothy and Ros?

7. How would you define Ros and Dorothy’s teaching experience in one word? How did people react to their arrival in Elkhead? How did the girls’ families react to their decision to leave the comforts of their homes in Auburn?
8. How would you describe Ferry Carpenter? Wickenden writes that he “believed that American democracy was born on the frontier.” (p. 65) What effect did the lawlessness and opportunities of the West have on Ferry’s imagination and aspirations? How did the frontier influence Ros and Dorothy?

9. Discuss the title of the book. Do you think it refers to the heroines’ courage? What kind of education did Dorothy and Ros themselves receive in the West?

10. After Ros and Dorothy applied to be teachers, Ferry was told that one of the applicants “was voted the best-looking girl in the junior class of Smith College!” What advantages—educational, social, physical—did Ros and Dorothy have over other applicants? What were their potential disadvantages?

11. Ros and Dorothy received nearly identical scores on their Colorado teacher’s exams. Ros wrote to her mother: “I think Mrs. Peck must have been perjuring her soul, to give [those scores] to us.” (p. 161) What did she mean?

12. How did the structure of the narrative, with its flashbacks to the past and flash-forwards to the current day, influence how you read Nothing Daunted?

13. Do you think anyone else could have written this story about Ros’s and Dorothy’s time in Colorado? How would the story have been different if it was not written from the perspective of a family member?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Wickenden writes that Dorothy “recorded an oral history, speaking with unerring precision about her childhood and about her time in Colorado. Retrieving the transcript of the tape, I was reminded of the breathtaking brevity of America’s past.” Try recording a brief oral history of your own, perhaps about an important trip you took, a big event in your family, or some other significant milestone. Did you remember details from the story by saying it aloud that you had forgotten?

2. Find some old letters, post cards, diaries, or other artifacts of your family’s past. After carefully reading and taking notes on their contents, write a short narrative of an event from within—a trip, a wedding, or some other event. Be sure to include whatever details you can to give it real shape.

3. Prepare some recipes that have been passed down in your family. Perhaps, like the miners of Oak Creek, members of your family were immigrants, bringing recipes with them. Alternatively, look through a relative’s cookbook for something you’ve had with them before. Bring the dish to your book club meeting and share the history of the dish.

A Conversation with Dorothy Wickenden

You write that you remember your grandmother being “impeccably attired and sometimes stern.” But the picture of her in the book is of a loving teacher. What did you learn from writing this book about your grandmother that changed your idea of her?

My sense of her wasn’t changed as much as it was enhanced. I was surprised at how readily she and Ros adapted to a life that, as she described it in one of her letters, was “real living, with none of the frills which fill up so much of our lives at home.” It was also extraordinary to get a full, unfiltered, picture of her, from her letters, at the age of 22 in Europe, and then at 29 in Colorado.


You write of the forced removal of the Utes, the treacherous laying of the rail up Hell Hill, and the dangerous conditions of the coalmines. Why were these stories important to you in setting the scene for Hayden?

Dorothy and Ros knew almost nothing about the settling of the West. Dorothy wrote about the men who built the railroad that took over the Continental Divide, “I can’t imagine how they ever did it.” Similarly, Ros wrote after their tour of a mine, “I never appreciated ‘coal’ before.” I had the advantage of hindsight, and knew, even before I began the research, that the often-harrowing experiences of the early pioneers would provide a compelling backdrop for their own exuberant discoveries.


Nothing Daunted is an extension of a much-beloved New Yorker article. Can you describe the process of turning an article into a full-length book? How did you arrive at the right structure for this story?

The New Yorker captured Dorothy and Ros during their year in Colorado. I knew from my grandmother’s stories when I was growing up, and her oral history, that she had been brought up to lead a very different kind of life, and that the history of Auburn alone was full of compelling material about 19th- and early-20th-century industrial America. The little towns in the West, like Hayden, the coal town of Oak Creek, and even tiny Elkhead, were rushing to catch up to the East. I wanted to show the lives of people who often don’t find their way into history books, even though they played an important role in the building of the country. One way to do that, I thought, was to tell the stories about the men and women who created these communities.

The structure took some work. I wanted to juxtapose their years leading up to their decision to go west with my hero’s, Ferry Carpenter. This ruled out a straight chronology, and required some splicing and flashbacks. But I tried throughout to keep the focus on Dorothy and Ros.


When Bob Perry is kidnapped, you narrate action with novelistic details like “when Perry instinctively ordered him to put it back, the tall man grabbed it and threw it to the table.” What were some of the research methods you used to get such great details? How did you choose and refine raw information to craft a story from it?

Virtually all of that action was taken from court transcripts of the inquest held over the miner whom Perry shot when he escaped from his captors. There were also newspaper stories that recounted the kidnapping. One of the things I found in the attic boxes of the Perry family was a letter from a Greek miner in Oak Creek who begged Perry—who managed the largest mine there—not to blame all of the Greek workers.


In your opinion, is there a modern-day frontier that works the same magic on our imaginations and our culture today?

There’s nothing quite like the old West to inspire the American imagination, and the frontier is long gone, but you still see an idealistic yearning, to help out and to explore, in college students who spend their junior year in Bangladesh, and post-grads who join Doctors Without Borders—or, for that matter, Teach for America. Wendy Kopp’s vision about improving substandard schools in benighted parts of the country is a modern, institutional, version of what Ferry Carpenter was experimenting with in Elkhead.


How long did the research for this book take? Did you travel much to Colorado? To Auburn?

The research began in the fall of 2008, when I started my New Yorker article, “Roughing It,” I went to Auburn, and several times to Colorado, where I wanted to experience the summer and the winter in Elkhead. I rode a horse from the spot where Dorothy and Ros lived with a homesteading family to the schoolhouse, to get a sense of what their commute was like. I also wanted to learn as much as I could about the history of Denver, the railroad over the Continental Divide, Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Hayden, and Elkhead. The museums and libraries along the way were invaluable, as were the descendants of many of my characters.

What advice do you have for others who want to get to know their family histories?

I was lucky that my mother and aunt had saved Dorothy’s letters and recorded her oral history. If available, that’s the best place to begin—with any firsthand accounts that you can find. Interview surviving family members, who may remember more than they think they do about stories that have been passed down. These accounts contain extraordinary clues to help with the rest of the hunt. A passing reference my grandmother made to a visit she and Ros made to a palatial estate in Cannes in 1911 led me to the Cannes Municipal Archives. The staff knew the villa and sent material on its history—including the date it was bought by Dorothy’s mother’s cousin. There are also great genealogical and other resources online, including Google Books, and every town I looked into had good histories of its early years and inhabitants.

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Nothing Daunted 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 88 reviews.
l_manning More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was so amazing and inspiring to read not only about Rosamund and Dorothy but all the different people trying to make a life of it in Colorado. They really were working hard and making the best of what they had. Of course, the two women at the middle of this book were really fantastic. They approached everything before them with an open mind and good attitudes. Coming from very wealthy backgrounds, you don't see any indication that they think they are better than the settlers in Colorado. Ros and Dotty were determined to make the most of their experiences, and this shaped their entire lives. There was a lot of history given not only about our heroines, but also Colorado and the railroad there. Some of this was a bit dry to read. However, once the story in Colorado began in earnest, I was thoroughly engaged. I did not want to put the book down. I even found myself cheering for one potential suitor over another. You can clearly feel the personalities of the people coming through. Their stories have some interesting twists and turns, and I was so surprised by some things that happened. More than anything though, I felt like these were two women I could have been friends with. They lived their lives on their terms, and they were able to have some amazing adventures in the process. I think we could all stand to learn to take all the opportunities in our live with equal excitement. This was a great book, and I hope many people will take a chance to read it. Galley provided by publisher for review.
Hoodo More than 1 year ago
If you want to learn about an era of the West that is not familiar to most of us, read this book. It's educational, entertaining and fascinating. The author certainly is to be commended on her research and patience in gleaning enough to write about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was extremely enjoyable. At first I thought the two upper class women were spoiled and lazy but their view of life at the school and their real life for the children made them very likeable and I found myself cheering them on remembering my first year as an inexperienced teacher. Some reviewers found the historical bits dry but I love history and turn of the century America is fascinating. I think this bits of history really brought their society and culture to live. I definitely recommend this book.
Laura Stevenson More than 1 year ago
Wickenden does a good job keeping in thbe little details of the history of these remarkable women. If you love history and a little adventure this is a great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden is a fantastic documentary of two girls, Rosamond Underwood and Dorothy Woodruff, on the journey to become teachers in Colorado during the 1920s. Both girls came from very wealthy families in Auburn, New York and went to one of the best colleges in the United States and they were two of very few women to be accepted to colleges during the time period. After their lives of luncheons and courting the same men became a bore, Dot and Ros decided it was time to make a change in their life. They traveled to Paris to help learn French and be exposed to another culture, but decided to return to New York to become teachers. During the time of the Homestead Act, Colorado was just starting to develop, and Ferry Carpenter, a homesteader in the West, needed two teachers at the new school in Routt County. He also wanted to find a wife, and Rosamond and Dorothy seemed to be the perfect fit for the new job. He convinced them to come to Colorado. After moving west, Ros and Dot learned to love Colorado and became the most wonderful teachers the new school had ever seen. All throughout the story, Wickenden uses their letters home from Routt County to make a wonderful book. The message of Nothing Daunted is to try something new and to go against all odds for a true passion and goal in life. By examining the girls, the reader can clearly see their dedication to teaching in Colorado even though it seemed so outrageous and risky during the early 1900s. Ros and Dot never once gave up during their journey and became a role model for other women during this time period. They had a passion very different from that of their parents, and decided to do something so different and adventurous that they would sometimes even doubt themselves. Both girls never gave up and tried their best to be different and discover their passion in life in a whole new way. Nothing Daunted had many historical aspects to it, and could make any reader learn and cherish the book. Both girls in the story were very relatable people for women today and the author gave them so much personality. The reader was really able to connect to Ros and Dot through the use of their letters and the wonderful imagery throughout the story. Some negative aspects of the book were the dry historical chapters and the extensive descriptions of the time period. Occasionally, the reader would become bored because Wickenden discussed what people looked like too much and give historical facts rather than telling the story of the two girls. Readers interested in history and women¿s rights should read this book, but understand there are some areas of the book that are very dry and hard to focus on. Another book like this to read would be the Little House on the Prairie series. Overall, the book receives 4 stars.
SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
Easy read about not too distant challenging circumstances. I highly recommend this book and am in the process of at least asking the older of my teenage daughters to read it. Why? As a counterpoint to the crass, crude and very depressing stories of the self-absorbed and entitled-feeling Kardashians, 16 & Pregnant girls and all the other awful media personalities who influence (& take down) our culture today. Regardless of how this story is written (yes - it could have been more lyrical), it is a WONDERFUL real-life story of two young women of substance, spirit, grit and adventure. I absolutely adore the epilogue (one of the most romantic end notes to a story I have ever read!). One fair criticism I feel I can write is, 'Gosh-darned, I really wish there were more photos throughout the book.' I cannot wait for someone to pick up the TV and movie rights to this book.
peakbagger06 More than 1 year ago
Dorothy Wickenden's account of two adventurous women who travelled to Colorado to teach rural children is outstanding. Wickenden's research blew me away. Saved letters are the basis of the book but her dogged work into the minutae of these women's lives while living for a year as single women in very rough country is a testament to her skills. So many interesting details make the book a delight. Children walking miles in the snow only to arrive at school crying from the cold; a dance school that attracts Agnes DeMille to choreograph dance for them; a main character is kidnapped and escapes; the women's hometown reaching out to their "sister" town by sending clothing, books and Christmas presents for their much needier counterparts. The two main characters are easy to like! A great read...would be a good book for high school students to read regarding history and perseverance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed and appreciated these very likable down to earth ladies who left their comfortable New York life of wealth and privilege and met and accepted a life of many sacrifices in early 20th century rural Colorado. They accepted much of their new lives with humor which added to the enjoyment of the book. Instead of being depressed and ready to call it quits during stressful times (truly stressful), they continue on with determination and dedication to this new life, new friends and their pupils, the school children, who are a very touching part of this book. There is a humorous conclusion to a long dark necessary night's horseback ride in deep freezing snow, an experience that would probably send most city girls back to the comforts of home, but not these two undaunted daring ladies. They find a surprising solution to this exhausting frightening journey and carry on. Humor and drama against the background of history with an interesting cast of characters who add to the enjoyment and appreciation of this adventure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this story about two adventurous young women from western New York State. One gets a great feeling about the West (Colorado) in its early days. I love reading books about smart women and this is a good one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can relate so well to Dorothy and Rosamond-- I just wish I had been alive when heading west was still an adventure. I couldn't put this book down once I started!
JuliaInPa More than 1 year ago
What a disappointment! I wanted desperately to love this, since it told a parallel story to my own great grandmother's life. Good lord, could it have been any drier? I hoped for more excerpts of their letters and diaries; instead there was way too much on the permutations of what people wore, ate and did for entertainment. This wasn't a treatment of women's journey toward independence, nor even a story of two intrepid teachers... It was like reading a travel journal written by someone who didn't want to dig too deeply into their experience.
SissyAL More than 1 year ago
I learned there were brave young women back in these early days. They were an inspiration to me.
FunkyMonkey68 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I love that it was a true story, written in their words. I am not going to go into what it is about, you can read the excerpt. I would definitely recommend this this book to other readers that enjoy historical biographies! Rosamund and Dorothy were amazing women!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an enchanting walk through the past. Whether you've grown up in the "wild west" or just dreamed about it, this book is a fun read, painting an incredible picture of life in rural Colorado when the world was still moving at about three miler per hour. You come to know the main characters intimately -- so much so that you hate the see this tale end!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I teach AP US history and I'm always looking for something new to have them read. This would be fine for a high school student.
Joan50JM More than 1 year ago
Would have liked more chapters on their teaching adventures. Too much background information.
Lelania More than 1 year ago
I guess I expected more. I thought it was a little disjointed, slow and less interesting than I wanted it to be.
Ella_Jill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author of this book describes the experiences of her grandmother and her grandmother¿s best friend growing up in Auburn, NY, studying in Smith College, going to Europe on a grand tour, and teaching for a year in rural Colorado in the early 20th century. So it¿s not just about how two society girls learned to live on a homestead on the western side of the Rockies accessible only by four-legged transport, but the focus is on that region which may serve as a mirror for what life was like then in the rural northwest in general. I found particularly interesting the mention of the ¿violent wars between cattlemen and sheep men over grazing rights¿ fought throughout the West since the 1870s.¿ The cowboys thought that sheep overgrazed pastures and polluted streams; as one of them wrote in his memoirs quoted in this book, ¿`The sheep. Always we live in fear and hatred of them. In Wyoming on our north and Utah on our west they reign supreme and look across the line with covetous eyes on our green grass.¿¿ There were also conflicts between miners and mine owners, which the author describes: ¿In addition to the physical demands, the double shifts, and the perils of work, miners had virtually no control over their lives¿. Miners were paid in scrip, counterfeit money printed by the company. It was good only at the expensive company store.¿ The miners went on strike, demanding, among other things, ¿the right to live where they wanted.¿ The owners responded by calling the National Guard which opened fire, killing twenty people, and by erecting ¿towers with spotlights and machine guns around its mines¿ and hiring a ¿detective agency to provide security.¿ Since the last two measures couldn¿t be cheap, I wonder why on earth the company couldn¿t just pay the miners in US currency and let them live wherever they wanted, instead of virtually declaring war on them and making them work in what can only be described as prison-like conditions. Interestingly, despite all the company¿s measures, the miners were only defeated when President Wilson sent federal troops to subdue them. The author, however, seems sympathetic to the local coal companies, probably because the son and heir of the owner of the largest of them was a close friend of the teachers. She writes that he ¿was good at his job¿ and explained the company¿s position by saying that ¿`First we have to think about production.¿¿ However, by the description in this book it seems to me that it was less about production than greed and desire to take unfair advantage of workers by forcing them to buy everything they needed from company-owned stores ¿ and ¿expensive¿ stores, to boot.But, of course, the majority of the book is devoted to the teachers¿ experiences. They found many of the kids clad in rags and wrote to their families for help, which luckily arrived before the winter. Still, when it snowed heavily some preteen children had to walk for miles in snow ¿that was almost up to their necks in some spots,¿ while others were lucky enough to be given horses to ride to school or have their fathers ride them there. I found it amazing that these kids took such pains to get to school: ¿Even the horses had trouble extracting their hoofs, and the teachers couldn¿t see how the children had made their way on foot.¿ Not that the teachers¿ lot was much better. The author writes that ¿it snowed through the chinks in the logs upstairs onto Dorothy¿s and Ros¿s bed, and many mornings they woke up under a coverlet of snow.¿ On such days, their landlady brought them ¿a pail of boiling water, which they poured into their pitcher, to break up the ice on top.¿ Still, the two women found it easy to distract their students ¿ and themselves ¿ from their conditions by telling them about distant current events and showing them slides and postcards of Europe which caused ¿a stampede to the front of the room as everyone jostled for a closer look.¿ One of the teachers wrote home that ¿`the nicest p
Meggle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did but at times it read more like a too-thorough text book list of facts. What initially caught my attention about this book was the premise of the story, two wealthy girls, Rosamund and Dorothy, setting out on this exciting and unexpected journey to the American west to teach at this backwoods school in Colorado. I enjoy reading about history, particularly women's history and I enjoy it even more when it's a rather unknown story about your average person doing something unusual. This book seemed to fit that perfectly. I thought I would love this book but it was simply too thorough for its own good, going into so many details about just about every place or person the two ladies encountered throughout their journey. In the end it really took a lot away from the experience and by that I mean it was difficult to feel any emotional connection to any of the characters. Overall, the book does a worthy job of detailing the era but I wish it would have read less like a dry historical account and more like an historical adventure.
book58lover on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of the year two society women from central New York lived and taught school in Elkhead Colorado. Although automobiles were available Ros and Dorothy travelled on horseback from the home in which they boarded to the newly built school house miles away. They were enticed there because the miners wanted eligible bride material but they gave it their all.The book is quite a testiment to the friendship of these two women who had known each other all their lives and were never separated until they married in their 30s. The information comes from prodigious correspondence so common at that period among upper class families. The difficult part was remembering that this was just prior to World War I instead of post Civil War.It was a sweet story, long on good times and short on the real difficulties they experienced. Those belonged to the others in the story who were dirt poor and barely able to eke out a living in the snowy mountainous region. Ros and Dorothy were able to effect change and years later see many of their students go on to become professionals themselves.I enjoyed it because I lived about 25 miles from their hometown so I am very aware of the neighborhoods of Auburn and the families that were in their social circle. This is the reason I purchased the book and I wasn't disappointed.
TracyK1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very enjoyable book. It is amazing that these two young women did this (especially at the time)! A must read for anyone interested in history.
asomers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting account of two school teachers in Colorado in the early 1900's. Ms. Wickendom clearly did her research on the subject matter. You get the feling that this telling of her grandmother's adventures was a real labor of love.
22soccermom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great story about two Smith graduates who go on an adventure to teach school for a year in Colorado, pre-WW1. I loved the part of the story about the two young women and their hardships, romances, and life out west, but I got a little bogged down in the many historical details of the time. A little more story and a little less history might have made for a more entertaining book, but I loved the premise.
susanamper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Definitely an interesting story about two women who head West to be teachers leaving behind their lives of comfort in NY. It's non fiction which adds a bit, but the story has no real arc.
l_manning on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was so amazing and inspiring to read not only about Rosamund and Dorothy but all the different people trying to make a life of it in Colorado. They really were working hard and making the best of what they had. Of course, the two women at the middle of this book were really fantastic. They approached everything before them with an open mind and good attitudes. Coming from very wealthy backgrounds, you don't see any indication that they think they are better than the settlers in Colorado. Ros and Dotty were determined to make the most of their experiences, and this shaped their entire lives.There was a lot of history given not only about our heroines, but also Colorado and the railroad there. Some of this was a bit dry to read. However, once the story in Colorado began in earnest, I was thoroughly engaged. I did not want to put the book down. I even found myself cheering for one potential suitor over another. You can clearly feel the personalities of the people coming through. Their stories have some interesting twists and turns, and I was so surprised by some things that happened. More than anything though, I felt like these were two women I could have been friends with. They lived their lives on their terms, and they were able to have some amazing adventures in the process. I think we could all stand to learn to take all the opportunities in our live with equal excitement. This was a great book, and I hope many people will take a chance to read it.Galley provided by publisher for review.