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  • Joan Schweighardt

Spotlight on Donna Pedace

Donna Pedace discovered her literary talents on the heels of several already engaging and colorful careers. But rather than write a novel or a memoir as many first-time writers do, she opted to research and write about the lives of some of the old Wild West’s most amazing females—women who shunned traditional roles in order to explore their own options. Some of the stories she uncovered and wrote about would never have reached the light of day without her. Others reached the light in their time, but only briefly. Now Donna’s new book, Scandalous Women of the Old West: Women Who Dared to Be Different, promises these female trailblazers the illumination they deserve.

Please tell our readers about your career history and how it led you to write Scandalous Women of the Old West.

My career is rather eclectic. The early years were spent as a program manager for the Trident Submarine Program at General Dynamics. I left the corporate world and became the National Director for OASIS, an educational program for seniors that we built into a 300,000+ membership. Later, I became the executive director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and Museum in Connecticut. After moving to New Mexico, I served as the executive director at the Spanish Colonial Arts Society and Museum in Santa Fe. While doing research for the creation of a private museum for a wealthy New Mexican businessman, I discovered women who played important roles in the history of the Southwest but were little known today. Over the next several years, I did extensive research on about 150 such women. This book is my modest attempt to give well-deserved recognition to ten of those women.

Of the ten women your book describes, who was your favorite and why?

Nellie Cashman is my favorite, because she reminds me so much of my mother, who was riding motorcycles in Alaska in her 70s.

Which of the women’s stories would make the best feature film and why?

Probably Doña Tules. She was a very colorful Santa Fe businesswoman. She forged important ties with the Mexican territorial governor and with General Kearney and his officers when the US military moved into the New Mexico Territory. She owned and operated a very successful gambling saloon that was known from California to Missouri and south into Mexico. When the US military needed to borrow $1,000 from her for an expedition into old Mexico, she negotiated an invitation to sit with an officer in the front row at the first English-speaking play performed in Santa Fe, much to the astonishment of the Anglo women in town. When she knew she was dying, she used her money to get the newly arrived Catholic bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, to officiate at her funeral and to provide nine priests to walk in the procession around the town of Santa Fe, again to the dismay of the local Anglos.

What kind of research was involved for this project? How long it did take and did you encounter many surprises along the way?

Doing research on women who lived in the Old West is much more difficult because newspapers seldom wrote about women unless they were prostitutes charged with killing a man in a public place. I used private journals, letters, and newspaper articles written either during their lifetime or shortly after their death. I was fortunate that several of these women were so extraordinary that they were written up in newspapers. I found more than 550 articles about Nellie Cashman as her legend spread from San Francisco to New York City to Miami and every other major city in the United States. She was also extensively written about in newspapers in the Canadian and Alaska Territories, where she spent the last third of her life.

Are you working on any new writing projects at this time?

I am currently researching a few amazing British women who traveled and lived in the Middle East during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and I may write a book about them. I am also considering doing a stand-alone book on Nellie Cashman.

Donna’s business career included management positions in large and small businesses—including steel manufacturing in California and the Trident Submarine Program for the General Dynamics Corporation in Connecticut, where she served as the government liaison—before she moved into the nonprofit world. She served as the national director of OASIS, a nationwide educational program with over 300,000 members and as the executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater and Museum in Connecticut and the Spanish Colonial Art Society and Museum in Santa Fe.

After moving to New Mexico several years ago, she became fascinated with the history of the Southwest. She created a museum for a private businessman, which featured exhibits telling the stories of individuals who had a significant impact on New Mexico's history following the arrival of the first Spanish expeditions. While researching those subjects, she discovered many extraordinary but little-known women of that period who she felt deserved more recognition.

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