One of my goals in writing this blog is to introduce readers to books about real women that they might not have had the opportunity to hear about. Many of the books that make the best seller list are about women who have some level of recognition and fame. Readers have some understanding of these women and can make a quick decision whether they want to read more about this particular woman or not. However, there are many books written about women whom most of us have never heard about, but who have lived rich and interesting lives that could can entertain, inform and inspire all of us. Hopefully, by reading this blog you can be introduced to some of them.
The women I would like you to meet in this blog entry are Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood. They are written about in Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. (Simon and Schuster, June, 2011, 290 pages, ISBN#978-1-4391-7658-0)
Dorothy and Rosamond are two young women who grew up in Auburn, New York, attended Smith College together and spent nine months on a grand tour of Europe in 1910. They became bored with society luncheons and chaperoned balls and answered an advertisement to teach the children of homesteaders in a remote schoolhouse in Elkland, Colorado.
This book is a fascinating glimpse into the social milieu of the period, along with insight into the personal lives of two families of considerable social standing in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The story has it all: romance, intrigue, adventure, politics and family histories. At times the narrative reads like a mini-series on the history of upstate New York with accounts of notable suffragettes, abolitionists, and politicians. Auburn, NY has a proud history as a hub of political reformers and a hotbed for social justice.
Equally fascinating is the story of the Dorothy and Rosamond’s ability to deal with hardscrabble life on the Colorado frontier at the beginning of the 20th century. They traveled to their new home on the new railroad over the Continental Divide and then by wagon to Elkland, a tiny settlement far from the nearest town.
One of the interesting facets of this book is that it is written by Dorothy Wickenden, the granddaughter of Dorothy Woodruff. Dorothy Wickenden discovered the letters that her grandmother and Rosamond had written about the nine months they spent in Colorado. Drawing from this rich resource of material, Dorothy Wickenden chronicles, among other things, their trials in the classroom, the cowboys and pioneering women they met, and the violent kidnapping of a close friend.
Having lived in both Colorado and the Finger Lakes region of New York, I found this book easy to relate to. It allowed me to think about how my life might have been had I lived in either of those places 100 years ago. However, even if you have never been to or lived in Colorado or the Finger Lakes of New York, this book will allow you to get a glimpse into the lives of two remarkable women who helped to shape, in their own small way, the changes that were beginning to happen for women those many years ago. Their determination, spunk and resourcefulness serve today as reminders of what we can accomplish when we step outside our comfort zone.
If you would like to find books about more women who did the same, check out my website at www.realwomen.com.
Diane Burke recently retired from a 30 year career in education and moved to Hampton Roads from upstate New York. One of her life long passions has been reading books about real women. A retirement goal was to find a way to share this passion with others. She created a website www.booksaboutrealwomen.com in which she has organized and reviewed over 100 books about women. She lives in Chesapeake with her husband and is the mother of three and the grandmother of eight.