The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West
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.
Read an Excerpt
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...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.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the see more