Back in the hardscrabble past, our grandparents walked barefoot 10 miles in the snow to get to school on time. Sound like a joke? Not for New Yorker editor Dorothy Wickenden, whose grandmother Dorothy Woodruff, with her best friend Rosamond Underwood, broke trail on horseback in a blizzard to get to their teaching post at the rural one-room schoolhouse in Elkhead, Colorado.
Nothing Daunted tells the delightful true story of how Dorothy and Rosamond, two well-bred Smith College graduates, lit out for the frontier in 1916 to work as schoolteachers rather than do the expected thing and marry. Little did they know that idealistic Ferry Carpenter, the lawyer and rancher who masterminded the building of the Elkhead school, hoped that importing schoolteachers would provide wives for the local ranchers and cowboys. (He requested a photo with each job application.)
Dorothy and Rosamond embrace the hardships of mountain life with irrepressible good humor. One of the first lessons they learn is that wearing spurs on horseback reduces their commute time to school by 15 minutes. Their pupils, the ragtag children of local ranchers and miners, charm and frustrate in equal measure; of maintaining order in the classroom, Dorothy writes, “my boys . . . say such funny things—but they are regular imps of Satan, too.”
Ferry Carpenter is a charismatic figure, a man of all trades drawn to the egalitarian West, able and willing to fill in as a Domestic Science teacher when it becomes clear that neither Dorothy nor Rosamond can cook. Ferry and Bob Perry, the son of a mine owner, engage in a friendly rivalry for the affections of Rosamond, but it’s hard for Ferry to compete after Bob endures a kidnapping and bravely escapes his assailants.
Nothing Daunted began life as a 2009 New Yorker article, after Wickenden fortuitously discovered her grandmother’s Elkhead letters. Scrupulously researched, it is both an entertaining and an edifying read, bringing early 20th-century Colorado to vivid life.