Nothing Daunted

The last time I posted On the Bookshelf, my Rowdy Readers were reading Nothing Daunted – The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. It was a wonderful book so here’s a little review.

“They took the new railroad across 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 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.” taken from the inside flap of Nothing Daunted

Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood were childhood friends in Auburn, New York, attended Smith College together . . . then became bored with the society life they were born into.  So in the summer of 1916 they headed west for a year that transformed them, and the children and families of Elkhead, Colorado.

Writer Dorothy Wickenden is Dorothy Woodruff’s granddaughter. The idea for Nothing Daunted sparked when she found the cache of letters her grandmother and Rosamond had sent home during their year out west. Those letters, the stories she heard growing up, and her interviews with descendents of students and residents of Elkhead, add flesh and bone to this snippet of history.

I enjoyed the book for several reasons. First, the voices of Dorothy and Rosamond come through and I liked these spunky young women. I admired them for their grit, determination and sense of humor. Second, the East and the West were still vastly different in those years just before WWI,  Wickenden captures that contrast and allows the reader to fully grasp the strange new world these women entered. And finally, she doesn’t leave us in 1917. Dorothy brings her grandmother and ‘Aunt’ Ros into adulthood, shows how their lives continued to intertwine, and reveals the surprising results of Ferry Carpenter’s scheme to bring two young women west to teach in the Colorado wilderness.


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