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Why Won’t You be a Good Girl, Ethel? Just Settle Down and Get Married to that Sheepherder!

by Heather Frey Blanton
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Ethel_waxham

Again, I am intrigued to read between the lines. A city girl leaves Denver, degree in hand, to accept a job as a teacher on a Wyoming ranch. Her classroom consists of seven students. During her school year, she meets her future husband, a handsome, ambitious sheepherder. It takes this stubborn Scotsman five years and dozens of sappy letters to convince Ethel to accept his proposal. What was she waiting on?

Born into a relatively wealthy family, Ethel was a fearless young thing with a big heart. She spent a summer volunteering in the slums of New York, if that tells you anything. In 1905 she finished at Wellesly and took a job teaching the children on the Red Bluff Ranch in Wyoming. Her letters indicate she fell madly in love with the place and its people, but not so much with John Love. Oh, she liked him well enough and appreciated the fact that he made the eleven-hour ride to see her several times during the school year. Ethel, though, apparently wasn’t ready to settle down. She had, you know, places to go, people to see, things to learn. Or was she simply afraid marriage might mean her life would pass into obscurity?

At the end of that first teaching job, she enrolled in the University of Colorado to obtain a master’s in literature. That’s when the letters started arriving. Lots of them. And John made no secret of why he was writing. Ethel needed to be his wife and he would wait for her. No matter how long it took. Unless and until, she married another.

When Ethel received her degree in 1907, she took a job in Wisconsin, again as a teacher. Still the letters followed. And she answered, often with an apology that she shouldn’t. She didn’t want to give him false hope, after all. Once she even scolded him for closing his letter with “ever yours,” instead of the customary “sincerely yours.” Yet, Ethel did not entwine her life with any other men. She didn’t often attend dances or parties. Strange girl. It’s almost as if she was the female version of George Bailey. Perhaps restless, she moved back to Colorado in 1908 and continued her work, but where was her heart?

Ethel spoke four languages, enjoyed writing, especially poetry, even staged theatrical productions. But that sheepherder, who buy now was doing pretty well for himself, wouldn’t give her any peace. Finally, this fiercely independent American girl caved. The two were married in 1910.

Maybe John just had to prove he could respect the lace.

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About Heather Frey Blanton

"I believe Christian fiction should be messy and gritty, because the human condition is ... and God loves us anyway." -- Heather Blanton

Posted on February 11, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Raleigh G. Love

    I’m the great-grandson of that couple. Might I venture a guess that with the info here you encountered their story in the Ken Burns documentary? If you’ve deeper interest, there is a book called “Lady’s Choice: Ethel Waxham’s Journals and Letters, 1905-1910” that is as complete a compilation of the correspondence from that time that my aunts could put together.

    • Raleigh, how cool to meet you!!! I wrote this particular blog b/c I was so intrigued with Ethel I wanted to keep the notes for when I get around to writing a novel about her. What a story. What a tough woman. Thank you so much for reading and contacting me!

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