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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West [Kindle Edition]

Dorothy Wickenden
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (276 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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. Carpenter’s 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.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

“A compelling story...”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Wickenden is a very good storyteller, and bracingly unsentimental. The sweep of the land and the stoicism of the people move her to some beautiful writing.”—Joan Acocella, Newsweek

"Wickenden uses personal history to illuminate the larger story of manifest destiny."--The New Yorker

"A great story, with a richly appealing character at the center...a tale of the triumph of determination over adversity...wonderfully American."--Slate

“Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood come alive in Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden’s fascinating slice of social history... Their story is blessed with a cast of supporting characters that novelists would envy.”—USA Today

“Wickenden is a lucky and talented writer... Both women spring to life in this wonderful book.”—Houston Chronicle

“Lovingly pieced together.”Los Angeles Times

“Scrupulously researched... Both an entertaining and an edifying read, bringing early 20th-century Colorado to vivid life.”--Bookpage

“Century-old letters composed in the wilds of Colorado by two young schoolteachers provide the backbone of this stirring narrative.”--Newsweek

“Dorothy Wickenden’s recounting of her grandmother Dorothy Woodruff’s treacherous cross-country journey is as charming as it is rugged... This is Little House on the Praire in petticoats, and it is enchanting.”—Rachel Syme, NPR.org

“Dorothy Wickenden has crafted an exquisite book.”Boston Globe

“A rich narrative... Nothing Daunted is an extraordinary book.”—Denver Post

“An intimate and joyful work that captures the best spirit of the 1910s—and today.”—Shelf Awareness

“Woodruff’s breezy letters could easily have stood on their own, but Wickenden chose to shape them into a narrative...Her instinct was right: Nothing Daunted is at once enjoyable and enlightening.”American Way

Review

“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

Product Details

  • File Size: 8096 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1439176582
  • Publisher: Scribner (June 21, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004G8QNG2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,546 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
113 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Americana June 21, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, paints a picture of the lives of two Victorian women who break from tradition to pursue their youthful passions. The author's grandmother and her friend received the best education available to women at the time and still yearned for some real world experiences. Formal education at Smith College, and learning abroad both paled in comparison to the time Dorothy Woodruff spent out West as a "working girl."

Woodruff's granddaughter, Dorothy Wickenden, tells the story of these two individuals who were brought together for nine months in Elkland, Colorado. A portrait emerges of two worlds in 1916--the predictable, comfortable life in the upper-class society of the industrialized East Coast and the remote, hardscrabble life on the western frontier. The author breathes life into the stories of men and women on the frontier by researching and reconstructing Dorothy Woodruff's letters and memorabilia.

This book is a fascinating glimpse into the social milieu of the period, along with insight into the personal lives of two families of considerable social standing in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The story has it all: romance, intrigue, adventure, politics and family histories. At times the narrative reads like a mini-series on the history of upstate New York with accounts of notable suffragettes, abolitionists, and politicians. Auburn, NY has a proud history as a hub of political reformers and a hotbed for social justice. Wickenden characterizes the town as a world where "Sons and daughters inherited their elders' names and their fortunes." I felt as though I came to know Dorothy Wickenden's charming grandmother through her own words.
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97 of 111 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but not compelling June 26, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is about two wealthy and vivacious young women who, feeling unchallenged by their upper-class prospects in the early 1900s (marry well, have children, support philanthropy - yawn) rebelled by applying for jobs as school teachers in a primitive Colorado frontier town.

As a historical work, Nothing Daunted was comprehensive but not always compelling. For example, I thought the descriptions of some of the peripheral characters were too detailed. As a memoir, the main characters were a bit one-dimensional, they went here and there, seeing and doing this and that, but without any sense of their emotional reactions.

That last point is what I found most daunting about this book. I didn't connect emotionally with any of the main characters, although the schoolchildren, esp. Tommy Jones' crying about having received no sweater, were more compelling. I wondered if the girls ever got depressed about their circumstances (waking up in the morning wearing a light dusting of snow)? Did they feel sad about leaving their students after that wonderful year? Were they ever moved by the contrast between their students' poverty as compared to their own affluence?

It must be difficult to insert imagined emotion into the characters of historical figures, but since the author imagined other unknowable aspects, I believe it wouldn't have undermined the integrity of the work to have interjected this for the sake of the story. However, if the main mission of the book was to describe the landscape of the era, it succeeded very well.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Historical Book June 20, 2011
By Lisa
Format:Hardcover
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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story, but not a great book October 3, 2011
By Elle
Format:Hardcover
The real-life story of these two women is fascinating - unfortunately, the book is a bit of a slog. It's bumpy reading that feels like Wickenden isn't comfortable in the voice or format she's chosen. I'm puzzled as to why she approaches this story as a dry historical account, instead of crafting an adventure novel about Dorothy and Ros: their courage, choices, trials, romances, etc. (ala Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel). All the elements of a great story are here - just buried under pages of historical context. Odd editorial choice.

Despite that, I pushed through the book because I was so deeply interested in Dorothy and Ros. I wanted to know about their lives after the year in Elkhead, too. But the `wrap up' in the book's final pages is equally unsatisfying.

I wanted to love this book. I'm glad I read it, but it really doesn't do service to the lives of these brave women. It's not a book I'll add to my library. This one gets passed along. Perhaps someone else will enjoy it more than I.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars At best, maybe 10% of the book was on their ...
Very misleading title since most of the book was NOT about the year these women spent in the West. I found myself skimming through much of it. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Polar1
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Enjoyed the story but the history at the beginning got old.
Published 2 days ago by Pamela Ogburn
4.0 out of 5 stars An Authentic history and very well written
This work is only for those knowledgable of life in early twentieth century and interested in history. Others would be bored. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Anne moffitt
4.0 out of 5 stars This book was wonderful -- it made me laugh and cry
This book was wonderful -- it made me laugh and cry! The story was historical and touching. It is amazing the impact a creative teacher can have on a life!!
Published 4 days ago by Barbara U. "booklover"
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent read! I am just so sorry that I ...
This is an excellent read! I am just so sorry that I wasn't around at that time (1910) to have a similar adventure! It gives a very interesting look into the time ... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Jerry L Dobyns
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting.
Published 25 days ago by Morella
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Historical Memior
The story of 2 ordinary women who created extraordinary lives, shaped in a large part by their experience teaching in a rural Colorado schoolhouse in the early 20th century.
Published 26 days ago by Eileen Clough
5.0 out of 5 stars These two women were very brave considering their age when ...
These two women were very brave considering their age when they went "out west" to become school teachers. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Judy A. Gasser
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
As a Smith graduate, I loved this book.
Published 1 month ago by Jodie Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Old maids make a life in the west
History of a period in the east and the west, lived by real people, who liked to write. It was a fun read.
Published 1 month ago by Bonnie B. Phemister
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