The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West
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.
New York Society Women Trade it All to Rough it in the Old West
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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... see more
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Reading Group Guide
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.
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1. In the see more