Book Review, Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden
Nothing Daunted is a nonfiction story of two young women, who traveled from Auburn, NY to Colorado in 1916 to teach school.
I found the information about the author interesting. Dorothy Wickenden is the executive editor of the New York Times, and writes for it, is on the faculty of The Writers’ Institute. and teaches a college course on narrative nonfiction. She, her husband, and two daughters live in West Chester, a NYC suburb.
Not in Colorado, in the years of its still being pretty wild in the West, as her book depicts things way out in them thar’ mountains and prairies.
The book was both excellent and poor, depending on your interest in various parts of the story and, I think, on whether you are a man or a woman.
I found the parts about Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, both of upscale Auburn, NY, preparing for their trip and their time spent in Colorado at a school building on a lonely hilltop in 1916 to be interesting. Actually, more than interesting as those parts of the story give a day-by-day picture of traveling by train, wagon, horse, and foot as well as living in the then-Colorado. This was after the hayday or cowboys, although they were still a major staple of life of the West. Of course, it was before what we consider modern, travel by auto was tentative, computers never dreamed of, internet??, twitter (isn’t that what birds do?), and other conveniences we take for granted.
The parts I didn’t enjoy were, in my opinion, too much of the young ladies’ travels in Europe and the sophisticated life there. I think Wickenden’s intent was to contrast the European cultured life with the rougher, plainer life in the West. I just thought there was too much Europe.
The cynic in me believes that one reason for so much Europe was to provide enough type to fill the 126 pages of text. If you’re going to price a book at $26 in the U.S., did Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 in 2011, you need a long enough book to encourage readers to buy it.
We, of course, only paid a fraction of that price, $5 or $6 or thereabouts at Daedalus Books, P.O. Box 6000, Columbia, MD 21046-6000.
Adding to the interest were small black-and-white photos from around the time the tale took place, showing life as it actually was. I’m right now looking at a photo of one of the main characters in his then-modern law office, yup, out there in the Wild West. To me, the office looks very old-fashioned. It shows a desk, lots of dark-wood library shelves and their books, but, naturally, not a computer, printer, fax machine, or other necessary office tool of today.
Other photos show such parts of the story as an distant view of a town and one of a coal mine, an important industry in 1916, but, of course, no cars or other modern features we take for granted. A photo of an Auburn street in the early 1900s shows large, grand old houses -- old in 2013, carriages parked on the wide street with what may be one auto a bit farther back, stately trees as we like to see in old towns, but no utility poles or wires. Ah, imagine a town with no utility poles or wires to photograph.
One striking photo is of the Moffat Railroad clinging via trestle to a very steep -- too steep for me or for my favorite trail, the Appalachian Trail -- rocky mountainside.
If you haven’t guessed, I love old photos. Life as it was is pictured as if taking place right now.
A description of that railroad reads: “In Denver on July 27, as Dorothy and Ros boarded the train at the Moffat Depot, a man lifted their suitcases onto a brass luggage rack in the parlor car. There were facing leather lounge chairs near the back, with little tables between.”
Sounds almost modern, but more accurately luxurious, as train travel tended to be in years past. Other parts of the story picture the two on horses, headed off in the morning to teach, living in a ranch house with parents of students, travel over rough trails, cattle freezing in bitter winter storms, and more that lets you know you’re in the West of nearly a century ago.
The “central heat” in the school, of course, was a large wood stove.
The students sounded pretty much like the ones I taught in a farming community back in the 1970s, friendly, not sophisticated, helpful, and mischievous. Of course, one thing those 1916 students couldn’t do was keep their teachers’ cars running, as mine kept my 1972 Plymouth operational. I could do the reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, while they did the Plymouth. (One course my students could have taught was “Creative Uses for Clothes Hangers.)
Some of mind did wear high rubber boots, as did some of Dorothy and Ros’ gang.
Nothing Daunted takes us back to a time probably none of us remember, although my late father was born before the two Auburn gals headed west to teach.
Both afterward were married, one to a Westerner and one to a New Yorker.
On a scale of 0-10, I’d give Nothing Daunted a rating of 8.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013