Park Hill Community Bookstore staff picks

Each week as part of SunLit — The Sun’s literature section — we feature staff recommendations from book stores across Colorado. This week, the staff from Park Hill Community Bookstore in Denver recommends three nonfiction books about pioneering women.

The Park Hill Community Bookstore has been around for over 50 years with the goal of expanding literacy within the community. It generally has about 15,000 used books on its shelves with most books priced between $3 and $5. While the store can’t guarantee that the books it recommends will still be on its shelves should you happen to stop by, it can guarantee that you’ll have a generous selection of book categories to browse through, including lots of children’s books.

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains

By Isabella Bird; Introduction by Daniel J. Boorstin
University of Oklahoma Press
List price: $9.95; PHCB price (if available): $3 paperback, $5 hardcover
December 1975

Purchase: In store only

From the publisher: In 1872, Isabella Bird, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes ‘in search of health’ and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode her horse through the American Wild West, a terrain only newly opened to pioneer settlement. The letters that make up this volume were first published in 1879. They tell of magnificent, unspoiled landscapes and abundant wildlife, of encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears, and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers. A classic account of a truly astounding journey.

From Tina Celona, Volunteer: The stunning natural landscape of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has attracted “transplants” and visitors to Denver and the surrounding area since the city’s founding in the middle of the 19th century, but few have written about the scenes they witnessed in sentences as captivating or terms as glowing as Isabella Bird’s. Possessing both grit and a poetic sensibility, Bird was among the first white women to summit Longs Peak.

Originally composed as letters to her sister in England, Bird’s magnificent descriptions of mountain scenery and astute observations of pioneer life were published serially in 1878, and have been reprinted numerous times since then in book form. In 1892 Bird became the first woman elected a Fellow of the National Geographic Society. A hundred and fifty years later, her words have lost none of their luminosity: As Daniel Boorstin writes in his introduction to the paperback edition, “No one has better captured the iridescent changelessness of these mountains.”

Doc Susie: The True Story of a Country Physician in the Colorado Rockies

By Virginia Cornell
Manifest Publications
List Price: $19.70; PHCB Price (if available): $3 paperback; $5 hardcover
January 1991

Purchase: In store only

From the publisher: When Susan Anderson, M.D., stepped from the train into frigid Fraser, Colorado — “Icebox of the Nation” — she had everything to die for and nothing to live for. This is the true story of how Doc Susie recovered her health, then ventured forth on snowshoes, horseback or in cabooses to save the lives of lumberjacks, miners, ranchers, railroaders and their families. So desperate were they for medical attention that they didn’t care that she was a mere woman. One woman’s search for success and romance led her to a deeper love; her devotion to her working stiffs thrust her into confrontation with two of the most powerful men in the state.

From Tina Celona, Volunteer: A biography of a woman doctor who lived for most of her life in the Colorado mountains, who used her education, professional training and practical experience to preserve the lives of often destitute miners, lumberjacks, ranchers and their wives and children in a harsh environment where survival depended on laboring from dawn to dusk at jobs that frequently threatened life and limb, Virginia Cornell’s “Doc Susie” tells the story of a few major conflicts that defined life in Colorado in the early years of the 20th century, and for decades to come.

There was the legal battle over rights to increasingly scarce water, needed to supply Denver’s growing population; the newspaper war between the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post that shaped the course of progress in the metropolitan area; and the political intrigues that led to the building of the Moffat Tunnel between Rollinsville and Fraser, which allowed freight and passenger trains to cut 150 miles from their route across the Continental Divide, linking Denver with Salt Lake City and cities farther West. Dr. Susan Anderson’s courage and compassion shine on every page of this gripping account of the early history of the Centennial State and the individuals who helped make it what it is today.

Emily: The Diary of a Hard-Worked Woman

By Emily French; Edited by Janet Lecompte
University of Nebraska Press
List Price: $22.95; PHCB Price (if available): $3 PB; $5 HC
March 1987

Purchase: In store only

From the publisher:  “Oh how I do wish I could have a little help in maintaining my home. I shall dread the cold winter so much. I don’t have very good success getting employment,” wrote Emily French in her diary in 1890. Emily was recently divorced but received no alimony or child support. She worked as a laundress, cleaning woman, and nurse, first in the farming community of Elbert, Colorado, then in the growing city of Denver, the mining town of Dake, and back into Denver.

From Tina Celona, Volunteer: The 1890 diary of Emily French, a divorced mother of nine who was abandoned by her husband in Elbert, Colorado, after 31 years of marriage, is a moving account of financial struggle, arduous physical labor, frequent illness, homesickness, religious piety, and fleeting experiences of joy and pleasure. Although Emily had no more than a grade school education, her daily entries in a “brown, cloth-covered book of 3 by 5 inches,” now held by the Tutt Library at Colorado College, describe the incessant toil and uncertainty of a working woman’s days during Denver’s most prosperous and volatile period.

Janet Lecompte, a capable editor, provides context for Emily’s commentary on the mundane events that gave structure to her days: meals taken at her employer’s house after a long day of manual labor (“I washed till noon” “I sewed till dark” “had fried potatoes, meat, milkgrava, tea & bread”); physical ailments: “I coughed and shivered all night” and plaintive expressions of longing for her young children in Denver: “I sat by the fire, it so cold, I wish I was with my children so often — how I suffer, shall anyone ever know?” With this transcription, Emily’s expressive record of her fears, occasional triumphs, modest successes, and frequent bouts of despair are made available to modern audiences, bringing vividly to life the experiences of this early resident of Denver, and the particular challenges a single woman faced during those turbulent times.


Park Hill Community Bookstore

4620 E 23rd Ave, Denver

(303) 355-8508

As part of The Colorado Sun’s literature section — SunLit — we’re featuring staff picks from book stores across the state. Read more.

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