Sanford, Mollie Dorsey

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SANFORD, Mollie Dorsey

Born 17 December 1838, Rising Sun, Indiana; died 6 February 1915, Denver, Colorado

Daughter of William Dorsey; married Byron N. Sanford, 1860; children: a son and a daughter

At the age of eighteen, Mollie Dorsey Sanford set out from Indiana with her family on what she considered a journey to the "far west," the Nebraska Territory. After two weeks aboard a waterwheel ship, she arrived in Nebraska City. To earn money for her family, she spent the next three years moving between the family homestead and Nebraska City, working at various odd jobs. In 1860 she married a New York blacksmith; soon after, Sanford was again uprooted. She and Sanford, having caught Pike's Peak fever, spent the next six years moving from mine to mine in Colorado, but they spent most of the remainder of their lives in Denver, raising a son and a daughter.

Sanford records these experiences in the journal she kept from March 1857 (just before her departure from Indianapolis) to January 1865 (just after the birth of her second child). In 1895 Sanford recopied her journal (unfortunately destroying the original) for her grandson to emulate and to profit by. Selections from the journal were published in The Echo in 1925 and in Colorado Magazine in 1930. Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866 was published in 1959 (and reprinted in 1975).

The journal's tone is resilient, paralleling the extremes of humor, pathos, and insight which the young and sensitive woman reached during those years. Sanford's themes are both universal and specific: not only morality and religion but male and female relationships in a shifting, mobile society; the importance of home and family to a woman raised on the domestic novel; and the problems a talented woman faces when forced to limit her interests.

Perhaps because of the shock pioneer life delivered to her eastern sensibilities, Sanford's journal combines two literary extremes: the romantic and the realistic. Before her marriage, a single entry might range from a selection of sentimentalized poetry Sanford sometimes wrote to a detailed account of killing a rattlesnake and triumphantly bringing home the trophy. Sanford's marriage and the trip to Denver caused her to lose the security of her home and family and to face the chaos and rigors of mining life: the sentimental becomes religious, her "journey" turns into a "pilgrimage," and the taxing details of existence take over the page.

As a journal writer, Sanford fits into a long tradition of young women who turn to a blank page for the friend life fails to provide, but Sanford also sought a world in which to play the roles of heroine and writer, in which she found release and inspiration.


Arizona and the West 49 (1960). Nebraska History 41 (1960). NYHTB (6 March 1960). SR (7 Dec. 1959).


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Sanford, Mollie Dorsey

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Sanford, Mollie Dorsey