"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.
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.
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.
I think I found it interesting, because at the same time, my grandmother was getting her teachers certificate in Kansas.
Two young Yankee girls from high society New York took teaching 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.
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.
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.
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.
I was interested in it because the protagonists are two young women from upstate New York, and it's the true story of their going out to the frontier (in Colorado) to be schoolteachers. Unfortunately, the book is very dry in tone, with lots of telling rather than showing. The nature of the source material (letters, news stories, etc.) necessitates minimal dialog, but boy, it's intimidating to read paragraphs of infodump.
Someone else more interested in the economics, politics, and fashions of the time might have an easier time than I did. I just didn't get much of a sense of the *women* involved.
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.
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 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."