Legendary Ladies performance comes to Steamboat in celebration of Women’s History Month

Audrey Dwyer
This historical photo shows Rosamond Underwood Carpenter and Dorothy Woodruff, two pioneering teachers who relocated from the East Coast to teach school in a homesteading community near Hayden in the early 20th century.
Courtesy Photo

If You Go...

What: Legendary Ladies: “Unconventional Women of the West”

When: 4 p.m. Sunday, March 6

Where: Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

— It was 1916. Women were expected to settle down young and tend to their families. But two New York socialites — Rosamond Underwood and Dorothy Woodruff — had a different idea.

Seven years after graduating from Smith College, they longed for adventure and headed West to a pioneer settlement near Steamboat Springs.

Their story of perseverance, determination and bravery as they worked to start anew as teachers in the Elkhead Rock Schoolhouse is one that is often left untold.

If You Go…

What: Legendary Ladies: “Unconventional Women of the West”

When: 4 p.m. Sunday, March 6

Where: Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

The nonprofit organization Legendary Ladies travels Colorado disguised as influential women in history, reviving such stories through their “Unconventional Women of the West” performances, which will be featured at 4 p.m. Sunday at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Library Hall.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Bud Werner Memorial Library will present the performance of monologues from characters such as Underwood, a Mother Jones Labor activist; Maud Nelson, a famous baseball player and team owner; and Anne Ellis, a famous author known for her bestselling, 1929 books about life in the mining camps east of the San Juans.

“This is about delving into the past and figuring out who did what and giving those women recognition,” said Joyce Nelson, Legendary Ladies program coordinator, who has been with the organization for 18 years. “When you look through some history books, even up to the 1950s, a vast majority of the historical facts are all about men. But women have done their share of historical moments, as well.”

The organization has been in existence since 1992, performing more than 50 shows on the Front Range and smaller communities throughout Colorado.

The characters each actor chooses are discovered in books or the compiled bibliographies the Legendary Ladies has kept record of throughout the years.

“If someone wants to do a new character, not only does she have to do the research for it, that character has to speak to her or relate to her in some way, so she can be in her shoes,” Nelson said. “The character may have been well-known in her day, but in today’s light, most people have never heard of her. It’s incredibly interesting to explore.”

Actress Susan Malmstadt fell in love with Underwood’s character after reading Dorothy Wickenden’s bestselling book, “Nothing Daunted.” The book is a firsthand account of what life was like for the two women as they made their way to Colorado to teach in the remote schoolhouse.

New York, Denver and Hayden were a few of the locations Malmstadt visited through the course of a year’s research into her character to develop the seven- to eight-minute monologue. She also interviewed Underwood’s son and daughter-in-law to develop an accurate portrayal of the character.

“They wanted to do this and would do it no matter what barriers were in front of them,” said Malmstadt, who has been part of the Legendary Ladies for four years. “They coped with everything from the snow and cold to getting to school and back. They came riding into these people’s lives and were exotic to them. And audiences get to meet more than one character who went through experiences like this at the performance. That’s what makes it special.”

Underwood is also related by marriage to Charlotte Perry, who, along with Portia Mansfield, founded Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in 1913.

Laurel Watson, curator at the Hayden Heritage Center Museum, said there will be a tour of the Elk Head Rock Schoolhouse on June 18. The tour, which will serve as a fundraiser for the museum, will show attendees how rough life was back then.

“I think they were mavericks,” said Laurel Watson, curator at the Hayden Heritage Center Museum. “They were some of the first women of that timeframe who did this kind of thing, because it was really hard for women who had the expectations to tend to the house and home. They really expanded those expectations to show how women could be influential in society.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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