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

by Dorothy Wickenden

Paperback, 2012




Scribner (2012), 320 pages


"A captivating book about Dorothy Wickenden's grandmother, who left her affluent East Coast life to "rough it" as a teacher in Colorado in 1916"-- Provided by publisher. "A captivating full-length book derived from a widely read and much beloved New Yorker piece about Wickenden's grandmother and her grandmother's best friend who left their affluent East Coast lives to "rough it" as teachers in the wilds of Colorado in 1916"-- Provided by publisher.

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½ (150 ratings; 3.5)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
Around one hundred years ago, two bored society girls did something completely unheard of in their town - they applied to teach in a school in a rural mountain community in northwestern Colorado, escaping the suitors and charity balls of their homes in Auborn, New York. Lured there by a rugged
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young lawyer and cattle rancher Ferry Carpenter, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood learn to control unruly children who have never heard of the Pledge of Allegiance or who the president of the USA was at the time, safely deflect the advances of hopeful, amorous cowboys, and watch as one of their closest friends is violently kidnapped by two coal miners. Pieced together by Woodruff's granddaughter, Dorothy Wickenden, who found the letters the two young women sent home from Colorado, "Nothing Daunted" is an inspiring tale that shows that the lifestyle you are born into doesn't have to be the one you live by, and that sometimes doing the unthinkable is the best possible option.
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LibraryThing member 22soccermom
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
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more story and a little less history might have made for a more entertaining book, but I loved the premise.
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LibraryThing member l_manning
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
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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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LibraryThing member ladycato
My feelings are torn as I write a review for this book. It's a fascinating, true account of the author's grandmother and best friend leaving behind their life of spoiled society for a formative year of teaching children in the wilds of Colorado. This is what the cover copy promises. The reality is
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that this is makes up only a little over half the content of the book.

The start of the book is slow, riddled with irrelevant information that tries to establish the time and place but overdoes it in a major way. Background information on Woodrow Wilson and even the two women's time in Europe ends up feeling like prolonged info dumps. Once the narrative finally gets to Colorado--and stays there--the book is a fast, intriguing read. I became very fond of Dorothy and Ros. The author had access to a wealth of letters between the two women and their families--what a treasure trove! Their descriptions are vivid and delightful. I loved the epilogue, though I was very sad at some of the grief they endured at such young ages. It intrigued me to see how their year of teaching in Colorado impacted not only their lives, but that of the town where they lived and the small cluster of students they taught.

I will be keeping this book because it does offer a unique perspective on this time period, but potential readers should keep in mind that they may need to skim to reach the best parts of the book. And once they get there, they will be rewarded with a fantastic tale.
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LibraryThing member BBleil
One of my favorite things to do when reading nonfiction titles is to look at the pictures. Whether there is an insert of glossy pictures in the middle of the tome or they are interspersed throughout the book, I linger on those images because the people come to life for me. I enjoy looking at their
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clothes and surroundings, and I’m always surprised at how normal they look. With a current haircut and wardrobe, they would be the people that I know today. The pictures in Dorothy Wickenden’s Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West are particularly fascinating.

As the title suggests, Dorothy Woodruff and her best friend Rosamond Underwood go west in 1916 and just before First World War. They had lived a privileged upbringing that included college at Smith and a year in Europe. But when they were disinterested in the young men hovering around them and felt the need for adventure instead of marriage, they applied to be teachers in a very rural school in Colorado. They move west and endure the hardships of living on a Homesteader’s ranch and traveling by horseback to work every day in the long and cold winter months. Both women said that year was the most formative of their lifetime.

The story seems improbable except when you look at the pictures. It is the images of Dorothy and Ros on horseback and with their students that confirm what you really can’t believe. And my favorite picture is one of Dorothy’s granddaughter, the writer, who visits Ferry, a central figure of the story in 1978. That image connects the lives of two young women from 1916 to their later generations in a more current time period. History is that cool.
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LibraryThing member cfk
Nothing Daunted is the true story of two young society girls who simply are not ready to settle marriage and their expected role.

Dorothy and Rosamund grew up as best friends, attended college and toured Europe for a year and then endured all of the usual coming out parties of New York society.

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response to an add from Ferry Carpenter, the girls packed up and traveled to northwest Colorado to begin a school in the Elkhead Settlement. There experiences and enduring humor make this reader feel like a wimp.
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LibraryThing member asomers
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.
LibraryThing member busyreadin
Interesting story of 2 New York socialites who in the early 1900s sign up to be teachers for a year in the backwoods of Colorado. The book is based on the journals and letters of the 2 young women.

I think I found it interesting, because at the same time, my grandmother was getting her teachers
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certificate in Kansas.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
What indomitable spirits these two women had. Enjoyed reading about their amazing lives and the contributions they made to society and many schoolchildren in whose lives they made a difference.
LibraryThing member book58lover
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member TracyK1
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.
LibraryThing member Meggle
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member susanamper
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.
LibraryThing member Ella_Jill
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
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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 part about it all is the way they love school, and their rapt attention is really thrilling,’ and, in another letter, the children ‘fairly eat up work, and I rack my brains to keep them busy.’” This made me wonder how many contemporary teachers would have willingly given up their centrally-heated homes and classrooms to have such students. Dorothy and Ros clearly gave their students their all too, as Dorothy “made up a long series about a little boy who was traveling around the world on a spectacular boat – the best way she had found to teach geography,” and both teacher used every excuse to organize school parties.

People who like unhurried descriptions of how life used to be will enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member ccayne
I was struck by several things - the age of Rosamond and Dorothy when they set out and the hardships faced by the homesteaders at this time in history. You come to have tremendous admiration and respect for all the people who struck out and made a life in these harsh conditions and who were willing
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to keep pursuing education. These young women were utterly committed to their task despite being unprepared for the way of life they encountered. I
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LibraryThing member AmronGravett
"Dorothy and Ros, however, were more bothered by the idea of settling into a staid life of marriage and motherhood without having contributed anything to people who could benefit from the talents and experiences they had to offer.

Two young Yankee girls from high society New York took teaching
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positions in rural northwestern Colorado for the school year of 1916-1917. Determined to have an adventure and do something for society along the way, they endured an extremely harsh winter and isolation, only to return with a husband and a greater sense of self. The author, granddaughter to one of the women, retells their journey from the letters, diaries, and interviews that serves as a combined work about the Wild West and the society on the brink of change.
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LibraryThing member KateBaxter
The year is 1916 with two Smith College graduates, Dorothy Woodruf and Rosamond Underwood who are just not eager to settle into society luncheons and charity work as is expected of their station. They spot an advertisement accepting applications for two school teachers for a homesteading settlement
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in Elkhead, Colorado and are soon on their way west for a year's adventure. Neither had studied to be a teacher but they were eager, bright and willing to try. The story is revealed through the correspondence of the girls with their families back in Auburn, NY. They face hardships but believe them to pale in comparison to those of the local homesteaders. The girls never shirk a challenge and embrace every moment with joy and vigor. Their compassion for their young charges is evident throughout the telling.
This is a wonderful story with lots of historic detail. It can be a bit confusing at times as it goes from one historic vinette to another with little story threading. But overall, this is a most enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in pioneer history.
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LibraryThing member KristySP
i enjoyed this book. It was a light, easy read and brought me out of my terrible reading slump, in which I must have started and abandoned at least 5 books.
LibraryThing member mazeway
Mostly loved this. It moved along quickly at first, but then bogged down in history lessons. Then it picked up again with our characters and rollicked along. I'm not sure we needed all the historical context she gave us, it made the story stop dead at times. But it was worth it to meet these
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fascinating women. i do love a plucky pioneer gal, even one just dabbling in it for a few months.
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LibraryThing member m2snick
I was a bit underwhelmed by this book. The potential for a ripping good story is there but I felt bogged down throughout the first half...second half is better but then it's over. An excerpt made a great New Yorker piece and maybe that was enough.
LibraryThing member lisa.schureman
This book got interesting when the Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood decide to accept jobs as teachers in Colorado. Their Grand Tour experiences aren’t really relevant to their Colorado sojourn save in that they used postcards they purchased as teaching aids. I didn’t mind the back
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stories on Farrington Carpenter, Bob Perry, the Moffatt Road, coal mining and the Harrison family. Commuting to and from the school for both teachers and their pupils was rough in the winter when a trail had to broken through the snow by horse and Dorothy and Roz would awaken to find snow on their blankets. It was a wonder that none of students lost digits to frostbite. Sometimes the families ran short because a lot of things came in by train from Denver to Hayden, Colorado and then it had to be delivered to the various homesteads and the track over the Great Divide was often blocked by snow. I don’t think Butch Cassidy, Elzy Lay, Queen Ann Bassett or her sister were relevant to the story as by 1904 most of the outlaws associated with the Bassetts were dead, imprisoned or had left the country. It was interesting once Dorothy and Roz got to Colorado but it took 79 pages to depart for Colorado.
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LibraryThing member lissabeth21
How truly inspiring!
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
2 society girls — Auburn NY
Taught school NW Colorado 1916 — Very good — from letters — in awe of Western beauty

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
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northwestern Colorado. Bored by their society luncheons, charity work, and the effete young men who courted them, they learned that two teaching 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."
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LibraryThing member Rdra1962
This was not the book I expected. Based on the author's Grandmother's letters this is the story of 2 rich, spoiled debutants who head out to a small settlement in Colorado to teach, something they have never done. The women are wealthy, spirited and NEVER complain. Everyone loves them, they
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overcome any and all hardships without complaint and every man falls in love with them. The author fleshes out the story with background into the settling of Colorado, the mining and cattle industry etc. That part was rather dull - which it should not have been. The author also covers the ladies adventures in Europe, which was not relevant to the Colorado story. This could have been a nice article in the New Yorker, but it is too stretched.
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LibraryThing member GennaC
Wickendon's account of Dorothy Woodruff's and Rosamond Underwood's transition from bored society girls in the East to pants-wearing pioneering teachers in rural northwestern Colorado is exhilarating and often hilarious. Pulled primarily from letters exchanged between the women and their families,
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the text offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of both upper-class families in New York and the rough and challenging existence of struggling frontier families in the West. Dorothy and Rosamond are refreshingly game for whatever challenges comes their way as they begin and end their adventure on the western frontier.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

320 p.; 5.5 inches


1439176590 / 9781439176597
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