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Nothing Daunted

Nothing Daunted

The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

  • reading group guide
  • bestseller
  • freshman reading
Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood attended grade school and Smith College together, spent nine months on a grand tour of Europe in 1910, and then, bored with society luncheons and chaperoned balls and not yet ready for marriage, they went off to teach the children of homesteaders in a remote schoolhouse on the Western Slope of Colorado. They traveled on the new railroad over the Continental Divide and by wagon to Elkhead, a tiny settlement far from the nearest town. Their students came to school from miles away in tattered clothes and shoes tied together with string.

Dorothy Woodruff was the grandmother of New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden. Nearly one hundred years later, Wickenden found the buoyant, detailed, colorful letters the two women wrote to their families. Through them, she has chronicled their trials in the classroom, the cowboys and pioneering women they met, and the violent kidnapping of a close friend. Central to their narrative is Ferry Carpenter, the witty, idealistic, and occasionally outrageous young lawyer and cattle rancher who hired them, in part because he thought they would make attractive and cultivated brides. None of them imagined the transforming effect the year would have—on the children, the families, and the teachers.

Wickenden set out on her own journey to discover what two intrepid Eastern women found when they went West, and what America was like at that uncertain moment, with the country poised for the First World War, but going through its own period of self-discovery.

Drawing upon the letters, interviews with descendants, research about these vanished communities, and trips to the region, Wickenden creates a compelling, original saga about the two intrepid young women and the “settling up” of the West.
  • Scribner | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439176580 | 
  • June 2011
List Price $26.00
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New York Society Women Trade it All to Rough it in the Old West

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.

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Nothing Daunted PROLOGUE




Miss Underwood (left), Miss Woodruff, and Elkhead students, 1916

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... see more

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Nothing Daunted includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Dorothy Wickenden. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

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.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the see more

About the Author

Dorothy Wickenden
Photograph © Rex Bonomelli

Dorothy Wickenden

Dorothy Wickenden has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast “The Political Scene.” She is on the faculty of The Writers’ Institute at CUNY’s Graduate Center, where she teaches a course on narrative nonfiction. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995 and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband and her two daughters in Westchester, New York.

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