Library Association of Rockland County Book of the Year winner
Raised in the gritty Mississippi River town of Davenport, Iowa, Cora Keck could have walked straight out of a Susan Glaspell story. When Cora was sent to Vassar College in the fall of 1884, she was a typical unmotivated, newly rich party girl. Her improbable educational opportunity at “the first great educational institution for womankind” turned into an enthralling journey of self-discovery as she struggled to meet the high standards in Vassar’s School of Music while trying to shed her reputation as the daughter of a notorious quack and self-made millionaire: Mrs. Dr. Rebecca J. Keck, second only to Lydia Pinkham as America’s most successful self-made female patent medicine entrepreneur of the time.
This lively, stereotype-shattering story might have been lost, had Cora’s great-granddaughter, Greta Nettleton, not decided to go through some old family trunks instead of discarding most of the contents unexamined. Inside she discovered a rich cache of Cora’s college memorabilia—essential complements to her 1885 diary, which Nettleton had already begun to read. The Quack’s Daughter details Cora’s youthful travails and adventures during a time of great social and economic transformation. From her working-class childhood to her gilded youth and her later married life, Cora experienced triumphs and disappointments as a gifted concert pianist that the reader will recognize as tied to the limited opportunities open to women at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as to the dangerous consequences for those who challenged social norms.
Set in an era of surging wealth torn by political controversy over inequality and women’s rights and widespread panic about domestic terrorists, The Quack’s Daughter is illustrated with over a hundred original images and photographs that illuminate the life of a spirited and charming heroine who ultimately faced a stark life-and-death crisis that would force her to re-examine her doubts about her mother’s medical integrity.
“Greta Nettleton, through her great grandmother’s memorabilia, letters and diaries, has written an expansive, extraordinary book that delves into the mores, and constraints of the age. Nettleton has triumphed doing the very thing so many people threaten to do: she has written the story of a fabled, somewhat notorious ancestor. And she’s done this brilliantly.”—Bethany Ball, author, What to Do About the Solomons
“Offers a rare glimpse of life in late 19th-century Davenport through Cora Keck’s eyes . . . and takes readers to Vassar’s Poughkeepsie NY campus and Cora’s favorite partying place, New York City.”—Quad City Times
“Readers hit the jackpot. . . . Greta Nettleton provides a fascinating snapshot of life for women of the late 19th century. . . . Cora and her friends defy the Victorian stereotype.”—Huffington Post
“I was fascinated by the story of Mrs. Dr. Rebecca Keck and her willful daughter Cora. The Quack’s Daughter is good medicine!”—Charity Nebbe, Iowa Public Radio
“A complex and superbly written book.”—Professor Emeritus Elizabeth A. Daniels, Vassar College Historian
“In this riveting family history the author explores the life of her adventurous great-grandmother, Cora Keck, daughter to one of the most successful female patent-medicine entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century. . . . Cora’s diary and a trove of astonishingly personal memorabilia enliven the book.”—The New York Researcher
2017 Library Association of Rockland County Book of the Year