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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  6,224 ratings  ·  1,367 reviews
In the summer of 1916, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, close friends from childhood and graduates of Smith College, left home in Auburn, New York, for the wilds of northwestern Colorado. Bored by their society luncheons, charity work, and the effete young men who courted them, they learned that two teaching jobs were available in a remote mountaintop schoolhouse a ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by Scribner
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The Library Lady
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-biography
Looking at the author blurb I was appalled to find that she teaches a course in "narrative non-fiction" to college students. Has she taken such a course herself?

She apparently has a wondrous cache of letter and other materials from her grandmother (Dorothy) and from Ros, but instead of letting them tell the story, she tells it herself and her style is flat and uninspired. The first part of the book is particularly bad--I assume she wants to fill in lots of background before getting to the meat
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, history
One would think that when an editor of a renown journal decides to write about her grandmother’s year of teaching in Colorado in the early 20th century that she would take the care to make it interesting and exciting, but one would be wrong. Nothing Daunted ; The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden is an exceptionally dry tale that jumps all over the place instead of following in a chronological line and goes on diversions which are profoundly uninteresting ...more
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I loved the tale, but not the telling. The author seemed to include every minute bit of her research into the book, and it would have been so much better with some ruthless editing. Individual paragraphs would have a random sentence inappropriately thrown in, interrupting the narrative. Disorganized! And where were the pictures?! No picture section in the middle of the book, just a single photo at the beginning of each chapter that was frustratingly tiny. The author included plenty of descriptio ...more
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book should be renamed "Nothing to Do with Anything: The Unexciting History of Random People in Colorado." This book was absolutely painstaking to get through. The author took what should have been an interesting subject and made it painfully dry. It was also full of so many sidebars that it would be easy to forget what it was *supposed* to be about. If you want to read about the girls teaching in Colorado, skip to at least page 100. If you want to be taken on a journey of their entire live ...more
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed by this book. It is the story of the author's grandmother, who was a society girl who went to western Colorado to teach school in the pre-WWI era. So the back story is an interesting look at "society" and at the West, which is what I was hoping for. However, the telling of the tale falls short. The author uses many, many long quotes from letters, and intersperses background information (about the building of railways in the west, the various characters the two main characters ...more
Lynne Spreen
Jun 26, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is about two wealthy and vivacious young women who, feeling unchallenged by their upper-class prospects in the early 1900s (marry well, have children, support philanthropy - yawn) rebelled by applying for jobs as school teachers in a primitive Colorado frontier town.

As a historical work, it was comprehensive but not always compelling. For example, I thought the descriptions of some of the peripheral characters were too detailed. As a memoir, the main characters were a bit one-dimensio
Jun 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I thought I would LOVE this book but the author's organization and writing style were SO distracting, that it actually was really hard to get through. The actual story of these 2 young women was fascinating but it literally took the author over 100 pages to even get them to the remote school that they were going to teach at. There is SO much "historical" background to every single event in their lives that you get lost. For example, the girls finally board a train in Denver to travel the last le ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of "Carney's House Party"
Returned this to the library weeks ago but am just getting around to my review. Maud Hart Lovelace fans, especially fans of Carney's House Party, will understand when I give this the alternate title of Win and Winkie Head West. It's the true story of Dorothy and Rosamond, two "society girls" from well-to-do Eastern families and graduates of Smith College (no, not Vassar, but close enough). In 1916, they set off on an adventure and accepted teaching jobs at a remote schoolhouse in Colorado.

The b
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This was a labor of love on the part of the author. Her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, was one of the two intrepid high society East Coast young ladies who set off for Colorado in 1916 to spend a year teaching in a rural school. A lot of research went into the preparation of this book, and there are certainly some interesting bits of history sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, it's just one big bundle of digressions, which made it a torture for me to get through. I did finish it, but I cannot r ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I could not stop thinking of this book as a screenplay with (obviously) Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter cast as the spunky, educated society girls who head to rural Colorado in the early 1900s to teach school for a year. Living myself 100 years later in rural Colorado about a two hour drive from where they lived, the book had some local interest for me. The ladies seem like absolutely delightful, adventurous people. The book had some issues, however. I couldn't stand the lack of pacing. I ...more
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is one of those books that has so much potential and falls so flat. A story about two young unmarried women heading out west to teach for a year in the early 1900's should be fascinating and filled with adventure. Unfortunately, the book is written in such a choppy and boring manner that it managed to bore me even during a kidnapping (undeniably the most interesting section of the book).

Relatively speaking, the amount of time spent on the actual women's lives in the west is minimal. Much o
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
Ths book was a HUGE disappointment. Billed as 2 woman conquering the Wild West-was really on only one winter as these 2 schoolmarms who were as ill equipped to handle the dangers as the ill fated Donner party.
Only on page 192 of 226(85 %through this silly book) do they realize what a horrible mistake they have made, cold, horribly homesick and unable to even cook, they somehow manage to survive as the community babies them through the winter at which they promptly get married and leave !!
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
I usually don't care for nonfiction but love historical fiction. This book got such rave reviews and was on every major list of suggested reading so I thought I'd give it a try.
I found the book to be heavy on the name dropping and setting up of the story of how the girls came to teach in the west. I could have done without the whole first half of the book. But finally we got to the part of the story I wanted to read about and it was captivating. Imagine my surprise then when a little more than
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Going out to western Colorado to teach in a two-room schoolhouse in the early days of the previous century must've been a bit like going to Siberia for the Peace Corps. Reading this book made me proud to have been a teacher, though my circumstances were never so tough as these gals experienced (walking to school for a couple of months when my car froze up in Dickinson comes close). At the beginning I thought the author was padding the book with too much extraneous information, like a long disser ...more
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
At the superficial level, this is a very enjoyable story of "Two Society Girls in the West" — specifically, two restless twenty-something women bored with the idea of the future that is expected of them, and drifting through mild adventures (and flirting with dreaded spinsterhood) until this quite astonishing opportunity arises: be schoolteachers (sans any training) at the frontier deep in the Rocky Mountains.

It isn't really the frontier — this was more than twenty years after 1893, when the U.S
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story of the Elkhead teachers in 1916 Colorado is as hard to resist as the women are likable. And yes, I know that stories of privileged white people helping the disadvantaged are unfashionable, but perhaps this will make you just a bit nostalgic for the days when the wealthy actually contributed to the common good, whether by teaching, working for civil rights, or by volunteering for military service. Several threads of my interests and personal history came together to make this book compe ...more
Nov 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
I expected this book to be about two society girls teaching in the west. The prologue explained that they were practically "old maids" (late 20s) and had spent most of their 20s traveling, etc, and explained how the author had come across her grandmother's (one of the society girls) letters that she had written while out west.

The next 75 pages expanded on how the girls spent their 20s. Lots of history and names of people who weren't central to the story or history itself.

The next 150 pages detai
Oct 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Oh my goodness this took me such a long time to finish. It was interesting while reading, but just didn't have the draw to come back to it like other books do. It was a fascinating true story of two society girls who come out west for a year to teach school, it just was a bit too detailed with other things than the immediate story. ...more
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Recently I submitted a query to BookPage-Book Fortune looking for a few suggestions of non-fiction that would leave me breathless. I've had one of the books, Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden on my TBR pile since it came out in 2011. I decided it was high time I read it.

Eliza knows me almost as well as I know myself. Nothing Daunted was a great pick. Starting from the opening chapter where Wickenden finds a forgotten file folder labe
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
2.5 stars. I wasn't sure if I'd finish this book, but I did, probably because the further I got in it, the more time I'd invested in the story and figured I may as well read until the end, as it was short (and I had started skimming). The actual story in this book was interesting, but it wasn't told in a way that commanded my attention, and because of this, the book ultimately failed to compel me in any way.

This is the true story of two society women from New York, Dorothy (Dot) and Rosamond (Ro
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood attended grade school and Smith College together. They spent nine months on a grand tour of Europe after college in 1910, and then, bored with society luncheons and chaperoned balls and no current prospects for marriage, they went off to teach the children of homesteaders in a remote schoolhouse on the Western Slope of Colorado.
Dorothy is presumably engaged during their 1 year term teaching but not much is mentioned about her future husband, nor do we get
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this story which has the intriguing subtitle: The Unexpected Education of Two Scoiety Girls in the West, more than I did. Written by the granddaughter of one of the women, the story is based on her arduous research and collection of letters and interviews with surviving famiy members of the two ladies, but it's such a dry narrative.

Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamund Underwood, best friends and recent Smith College graduates, who have done a European tour, lived for a bit in New York
May 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I have been on the waiting list at the library for months...the plot is my kinda story. Two women leave the comfort of the Northeast for the early 20th century midwest to teach for a year...the non-fiction tale is based on the women's letters home.

The story was BORING, disjointed and uninteresting. I feel as though the author felt she had too little information, so there was LOADS of backstory, much of it not related to the women or their experience, and
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
I was a bit underwhelmed by this book. I do not necessarily fault the author - she worked well with the materials on hand (how lucky that many in the families preserved the letters) - but, in the end, there were only a few pages in the book that actually offered a look at life as schoolteachers in the west. By the time the story actually got interesting, it was over.

Still, there are some interesting scenes - the kidnapping of Bob, the story of the Christmas party - but not enough, I fear, for a
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Whew! Simply devoured this wonderful book. I originally became interested because, like me, the two amazing women featured were graduates of Smith College. But they attended in a very different time, when the post-graduation choices were extremely limited, even more so for high society ladies of upstate New York. They could get married, work for charities, get married, do "settlement work" (a more intense kind of working for charities), get married, or if they were especially ambitious, become n ...more
Sally Wessely
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had a very difficult time rating this book because there were aspects of the book that I really liked, but then, there were aspects that I did not like at all. I have come to believe that it is very difficult to write a narrative based on information gleaned from old letters, newspapers, public records, and oral histories. The story for this book was taken from all of these many resources. That meant that the story held a lot of interesting facts, anecdotes, and historical happenings. These we ...more
Jul 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Um, well...I usually finish a book on principal because I hate quitting anything! It's a matter of pride, I think. But in this case, I was getting ready for vacation, with a bag full of books. I started reading this one last night and just didn't enjoy it--the story never started. I really like reading more entertaining books in the summer and opted to get on with the other ones in my bag instead! This one didn't bored me with details that never engaged me and after a decent amoun ...more
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
A beautifully written and researched book by the executive editor of the New Yorker magazine. The heart of the story occurs in 1916-1917. Dorothy Woodruff (grandmother of the author) and Rosamond Underwood, both single women in their late twenties, spent the year teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of western Colorado. Nothing in their previous life experiences--childhoods in wealthy families, college at Smith, a grand tour of Europe--is of much value in their new environment. Ho ...more
Diane Lynn
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Really 1.5 stars

Really very little about the two society women actually teaching or living day to day. More about their families, how well connected they were, coal mining, the Moffat Road (railroad), a kidnapping (the ladies didn't even know about it at the time). In short this reads like a bunch of loosely connected short stories. It really is disjointed and not at all what I expected from the title and book blurb.
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is non-fiction - a story about the author's grandmother and grandmother's best friend who, in 1906 after attending Smith college (a considerable accomplishment for women in the early 1900s), ventured out to the still-wild West to teach school in Colorado (because women could be teachers, librarians and nurses for the most part.) They did not teach in Denver, not even the tiny town of Hayden, but in a remote mountain school that served several homesteads within a few miles of the school hous ...more
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Dorothy Wickenden became the Executive Editor of The New Yorker in January 1996. She joined the magazine as Managing Editor in March 1995. She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast "The Political Scene." Wickenden is on the faculty of The Writers' Institute at CUNY's Graduate Center, where she teaches a course on narrative nonfiction.

Previously, Wickenden was Nati

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