Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Women of Wednesday--A Book Recommendation

I thought today I'd recommend a book for those of you who like nonfiction. It's Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden (Scribner, 2011).

It's a detailing of the author's discovery of her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff's, early life. Woodruff, and her childhood friend, Rosamund Underwood, were born in Auburn, New York at the end of the 19th century. They both came from well-off families and lived lives of relative ease with servants to take care of their needs. They attended the all-women school, Smith College, and graduated in 1909. But rather than pursue the path of others of their station--marriage and/or performing acts of charity--the women traveled, and then, a half-dozen years later, took jobs as school teachers in the newly settled Elkhead Mountain region of Colorado.

I found the book to be perfectly fascinating, most especially in the way it shattered the conceptions I had of women in the pre-World War I United States. For example, my idea of a Smith College education didn't include this, as related by Dorothy Woodruff, "I loved every minute...I was invited to join all of the fun and social clubs that there were." And, "Life was very relaxed and easy." This easiness was not as a result of Dorothy's being an exceptionally quick learner. According to her granddaughter, with grades of two Ds, two C-s, a B-, and a C+, Dorothy "was put on probation." Somehow I saw a college education at the time as being close to torturous in its demands and expectations. Dorothy stayed at Smith for all four years, had FUN, and still managed to graduate.

Even in the wilds of Colorado, while teaching the "backward children," the two women found the time and energy for extracurricular activities! Wickenden tells the reader that the two "became adept at organizing community-wide parties."

Of course, the book is about more than girls wanting to have fun--there's a little about the settling of the west, a little about the hardscrabble existence of those in Elkhead, a little about western romance, and a whole lot about living a life of your own making!

Nothing Daunted has its own website where there are many pictures--click here. I hope you'll pick up a copy of the book and see if it doesn't make you rethink your idea of early 20th century society women! It would also make a great book discussion title for those of you in a book group.



I'm Jet . . . said...

Two fascinating women. Thanks for the lead, D. I'm putting it on my list.

Dorothy's college experience sounds a lot like my own!


Mur said...

Sounds like a good read!