Nothing Daunted is the story of America in the early 1900’s, the story of the settlement of the West, and one man’s vision of education in a far-flung outpost. But mostly it is the story of two women, two fast friends, Dorothy (Dot) Woodruff and Rosamond (Ros) Underwood, and their quest for adventure. No matter what straitened circumstances they found themselves in. No matter what the prevailing opinion about what women should be.
Dorothy and Rosamond’s friendship began in kindergarten, continued through shared family summers, a college education together at Smith, and a year of travel abroad. They were at once typical of their time and atypical. They were society girls who volunteered in their communities, considered eligible bachelors, and remained mindful of their parents’ wishes. Yet they longed for something more.
During a fateful tea back home in Auburn, New York, they learn of a gentleman cowboy, Ferry Carpenter, looking for two female college graduates to teach at his consolidated school in the Colorado mountains. Dot and Ros signed on.
Friends at home believed they were wasting yet another year. Unlikely to find worthy suitors among the cowboys and merchants of Routt County, they were apparently dooming themselves to be old maids. 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 few talents and experiences they had to offer. The notion of a hard life – for a limited time – was exactly what they had in mind.
As the story of Dorothy and Rosamond’s grand adventure unfolds, Dorothy Wickenden, the author and real life granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff, enriches the tale with family lore and historical context, a rewarding tableau of who’s-who against major events of the time.
Susan B. Anthony, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Isadora Duncan all have walk-on roles in the story. We also learn about the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859, and its impact on the development of Denver, Colorado. So, too, the gut-wrenching work required to expand the railroad west. And the hard life of miners and their desperate attempts to improve life.
But once situated in Elkhead, Colorado, the lives of Dot and Ros revolve around the schoolhouse and their pupils. The school is the pride of the community, and Dorothy describes her first impression: “It is perfectly beautiful and a monument to the courage and ambition of these wonderful people.”
Rosamond and Dorothy determine that Dorothy will teach the younger, more rambunctious children and Rosamond the older, more advanced students. They were nervous in the beginning, but very conscientious about their lessons, often staying after school until six o’clock or later in preparation for the next day, after which they had a long horseback ride home to the Harrisons, their second family in the west.
Love blossoms for both women. Ros, “the belle of Auburn,” becomes the focus of attention between Ferry, who secretly harbored matchmaking designs, and his best friend and rival, Bob Perry, heir to a leading industrialist in Denver.
The year in Elkhead, and all they encountered, leave an indelible mark on the lives of Dorothy and Rosamond. Both women remember the experience as an integral part of their lives. In fact, when they became young mothers themselves, some of the tough situations they faced in Elkhead gave them much-needed resolve. At different periods in their lives they returned to Elkhead for reunions, overjoyed to reconnect with fond friends.
Many of the children they taught went on to college or professional school, a rare occurrence for the period. As one student remembers: “I don’t believe there ever was a community that was affected more by two people than we were by those two girls.”
Nothing Daunted is an ambitious, personal story of a time, a place and an ideal. A hearty romp of a read, the book combines the stark frontier of Zane Grey with the chatty, journalistic style of Bridget Jones Diary. A must-read for anyone with a sense of adventure.
Tori Grant Welhouse is a writer and poet from rural Wisconsin. She holds a BA in English from Carroll College (Wisconsin) and an MFA from Antioch University International (London). She has worked in media for the past two decades and is currently at work on a YA novel, as well as a poetry collection. Connect with Tori on her new blog: http://torigrantwelhouse.wordpress.com