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An Improbable Pioneer: The Letters of Edith S. Holden Healy 1911-1950 by Cathy Healy (2013-07-28)

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  • Washakie Museum & Cultural Center (1830)
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Review Text

  • By Karling Abernathy on May 12, 2014

    Hooked ¿ ¿ ¿ ! Edith Holden Healy's letters about her life in Wyoming from the early 20th century to 1950 draw one in like a trout tugged to the shore of a crisp Wyoming stream. These engaging, lively, and thoroughly enjoyable letters, were written chiefly to Elizabeth Holden (Edith's mother) in the early years of her marriage. She moves on to other correspondents (addressed in fewer letters) as her life changes, illustrating her maturation and self-confidence. Edited and explicated by Cathy Healy (her granddaughter), they show how a genteel easterner engages and accepts the tough and dusty West. One could think of Edith as a pampered princess, but she was so game! She rode in wagons that plunged up and down muddy roads near early Buffalo, Wyoming (founded in 1879); slept in sheep wagons; rode out with her husband on many journeys to check on sheep, territory, herders and neighbors. Her excitement with her surroundings and circumstances comes through in her commentary and sketches; she liked Buffalo and its inhabitants. Life was an adventure for Edith! Alec Healy, a Utah and Wyoming sheepman, with an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1903, met Edith Holden, a more-than-accomplished violinist in Boston. They endured a long-distance, eight-year courtship as he established himself in business and she helped her immediate family cope with several changes, including the deaths of her sister and father. Raising two boys (Alec, Jr. and Dan Healy), Edith and Alec later moved to Worland, Wyoming, after the dissolution of his ranching partnership with his brother. Alec served as a bank officer; they eventually purchased the LU Ranch--still run by family members--based near Meeteetse, Wyoming. Edith was instrumental in nurturing girl scouting in the Bighorn Basin and organized many community institutions. The Healys adopted two girls, sisters, from the Cathedral Home in Laramie, enlarging their family to six. One remaining daughter, Helen Healy Bonine, lives in Powell, Wyoming. Edith's life was full of family, community service, music, and travel--and, I would say, happiness. Woven within are maps by Meagan Healy (her great-granddaughter) and numerous family photographs. Embellished with family history and sometimes-poetic illumination by Cathy Healy, An Improbable Pioneer : the Letters of Edith S. Holden Healy, 1911-1950 speaks of a woman, "the unexpected choice," as her granddaughter puts it, who enriched many lives. Edith's descriptions, wit, observations, and asides will enrich yours.Delightful!

  • By Donald Smith on January 11, 2015

    Historians give us the 32,000-foot view of an era. For an up-close look, a taste of how real people actually lived in bygone times, we turn either to good historical fiction, or to the source of such fiction: the letters and journals of those who were alive at the time and experiencing life as it came at them. "An Improbable Pioneer" is a masterful, endlessly fascinating collection of such documents. It deals with the early 20th-century West - in particular a region resonant with familiar names and events, including Buffalo Bill Cody, the famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a certain yellow-haired U.S. army officer who met his fate not far away. Veteran journalist Cathy Healy arranges and provides historical context for the prolific letters-to-home of her grandmother, proper Bostonian Edith Sampson Holden Healy, as she navigates her surroundings in the early 1900s. Edith was an accomplished writer. History owes her a debt for her vivid descriptions of everyday life and travels in the West and elsewhere. And now that debt extends to the granddaughter for bringing these writings together in an accessible place: a well-organized, well-researched, and delightfully readable book.

  • By Donna G. Simonson on August 12, 2013

    What a wonderful cast of characters Cathy has assembled and they are all real people. I could imagine myself up on the Big Horn Mts. in the early days as I read the letters of Edith Healy written to her mother in Boston. How she coped with living in a sheep wagon after being brought up as a lady in Boston was very interesting. Alex, her new husband, must have had a heart of gold to help her adjust to her new life. Edith Healy was the Juliette Low of Girl Scouts in the Big Horn Basin and WY. I was a girl scout and a brownie scout under her tutelage.Kudos to Cathy for writing this extraordinary book about her ancestors and for making it interesting to the rest of us.Donna Graff Simonson

  • By Joe Healy on May 30, 2015

    Fantastic book. As someone doing genealogic research, I really enjoyed reading this. An even bigger thrill was to discover I'm "dna related" to her ancestor Maytor. Great insights to the wild times they lived in.

  • By Tartancorgi on August 14, 2013

    Edith Healy is my great grandmother. I wish I had known her. The stories that my mother & grandmother have told about her over the years highlight what an extraordinary woman she was and the legacy that she has passed on. I have read many of these letters prior to publication, as well as a few others not included in the book, and find them absolutely facinating. Edith had tremendous powers of observation and a way of describing things that allows you to picture exactly what she was seeing. This is the type of book that I love to read about real history & real people, living "ordinary" lives. There was nothing ordinary about Edith Healy.

  • By Elizabeth Catren on March 2, 2016

    Very readable and engaging story of an impressive woman and the times in which she lived. Well done, Cathy Healy.

  • By Terrell Harris Dougan on March 16, 2014

    Cathy's collection of her grandmother's letters warmed my heart when I first read them a few years ago. I told her then, "These tell so much about western history! You ought to publish them."And here she's gone and done it!I highly recommend you get a cup of tea and curl up with this book. Do NOT miss her letter to her granddaughter toward the end, when she knows she is dying, but still has many tips on how to get through this life with class and manners.This ought to be part of every Wyoming resident's library.Terrell Harris Dougan

  • By Pam on December 9, 2013

    I am from Wyoming and was surprised that a woman from Boston moved to Wyoming in the early 1900. It was moving and sweet. Women were Pioneers too.

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