A detailed study of two spirited and privileged young women who unexpectedly became a small part of the history of the American West.
Rosamund Underwood and Dorothy Woodruff, both Smith College graduates, spent their 20s traveling to Europe and Manhattan and pouring tea for suffragettes at home in Auburn, N.Y. Nearing 30, they were becoming restless and, longing to do useful and interesting work, applied to become teachers in the small community of Elkhead, Colo. New Yorker executive editor Wickenden, Woodruff’s granddaughter, relates their experiences with a vivid, gossipy flair, and readers get an excellent sense of what everyday life was like, not only for the privileged and highly educated, but for the mine worker, the homesteader, the elementary-school teacher. However, readers expecting a straightforward, linear narrative will be baffled by the sinuous curve of the story as it makes switchbacks and loops, like the much-discussed Moffat Road Railroad. In fact, the momentous first day of school for the young teachers doesn’t arrive until halfway through the book. The earlier material covers their journey to Elkhead, their childhood and college years and their extensive domestic and international travel. The author’s frequent diversions into local and national history demand careful attention, and they might delight one reader but bore another. Wickenden defers the discussion of the women’s marriages until two-thirds of the way through the book, which both prioritizes their accomplishments and entices the reader. We know at the outset that Dorothy has children, and this knowledge pulls us gently through the narrative’s many turns.
An absorbing maze of a book—readers may well, like Woodruff and Underwood, find their hearts lost to the West.