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Ladies of the Canyons
A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest
By Lesley Poling-Kempes
Multimedia Format / 2015
Paper (978-0-8165-2494-5)
Multimedia (978-0-8165-3231-5)
Related Interest
  - Women's Studies
  - Western Americana / Regional Interest

Ladies of the Canyons is the true story of remarkable women who left the security and comforts of genteel Victorian society and journeyed to the American Southwest in search of a wider view of
WILLA 2016 Award Winner

Reading the West 2015 Nonfiction Award Winner

New Mexico-Arizona Book Award Winner: Best Biography - Arizona subject

Poling-Kempes has done an admirable job scouring archives for these women, who have been largely left out of the historical record of the West. It's a kind of prequel to our common history of the Southwest, peopled by women with long skirts and cinched waists in the desert heat, riding cowboy style, trying to do right by the land they all loved.

—Los Angeles Times

Both enjoyable and edifying.

—Library Journal

The members of [Poling-Kempes's] 'league of extraordinary women' come together in the Southwest much like the members of television's A-Team assemble for their maverick adventures.

—Western Historical Quarterly

Poling-Kempes is an experienced writer of both history and fiction, and deftly weaves a clear and engaging narrative from what could have become an overwhelming barrage of people, places, and events.

—The Journal of Arizona History

This book fills an important niche in the history of the Southwest.

—New Mexico Historical Review

We've long been told, boringly, emphatically, that the American West was 'won' by men, that it was essentially a male saga. Even from the beginning, everyone who had anything to do with it always knew this 'take' on western history was, at best, only half true. What has been generally lacking is great narratives about great western women, but here, in this fine, vivid volume, we have just such a tale. Part Willa Cather, part Thelma and Louise, here is a story of heroines, of mischief-makers and epic-builders, told by a writer who knows and loves the grand landscapes on which these larger-than-life women left their indelible mark.

—Hampton Sides, author of Bloodand Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West and In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

Poling-Kempes's lively prose brings to life a chain of unconventional women who fell in love with the American Southwest. The author reconstructs the remarkable careers of the women who were the first 'New Women' of the Southwest long before Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O'Keeffe arrived on the New Mexican scene.

—Carolyn Brucken, Curator of Western Women's History, Autry National Center of the American West

Ladies of the Canyons shows the way in which O'Keefe and others were just the latest in a tradition of audacious women who carved a well-traveled path of freedom and challenge.


Poling-Kempes weaves together remarkable tales of remarkable individuals and introduces a star-studded cast of friends, colleagues, artists, writers, musicians, a president, cowboys, and Indians.

—Christine Mather, author of Santa Fe Style

Lesley Poling-Kempes captures readers with her captivating combination of storytelling, analysis, and cultural contexts. Her capsule biographies of a coterie of energetic, courageous women will appeal to everyone.

—Dr. Richard Etulain, author of Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era

A wonderful and inspiring story of women who wanted more to their lives than that set in their rather tedious, staid world. Women will love the book; and men can't help but admire the rare and admirable ladies who came west and never looked back. It is a fitting tribute to the land and peoples of the Southwest and those who challenged their own society, embraced and enriched their new wild canyon country and who thrived because of it.

—True West Magazine

themselves and their world.

Educated, restless, and inquisitive, Natalie Curtis, Carol Stanley, Alice Klauber, and Mary Cabot Wheelwright were plucky, intrepid women whose lives were transformed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the people and the landscape of the American Southwest. Part of an influential circle of women that included Louisa Wade Wetherill, Alice Corbin Henderson, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin, and Willa Cather, these ladies imagined and created a new home territory, a new society, and a new identity for themselves and for the women who would follow them.

Their adventures were shared with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Robert Henri, Edgar Hewett and Charles Lummis, Chief Tawakwaptiwa of the Hopi, and Hostiin Klah of the Navajo. Their journeys took them to Monument Valley and Rainbow Bridge, into Canyon de Chelly, and across the high mesas of the Hopi, down through the Grand Canyon, and over the red desert of the Four Corners, to the pueblos along the Rio Grande and the villages in the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos.

Although their stories converge in the outback of the American Southwest, the saga of Ladies of the Canyons is also the tale of Boston's Brahmins, the Greenwich Village avant-garde, the birth of American modern art, and Santa Fe's art and literary colony.

Ladies of the Canyons is the story of New Women stepping boldly into the New World of inconspicuous success, ambitious failure, and the personal challenges experienced by women and men during the emergence of the Modern Age.

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