Greta Nettleton’s The Quack’s Daughter tells the story of her great-grandmother, Cora Keck, through her diary and memorabilia from her days as a Vassar College student. This lively biography challenges our assumptions about women’s lives in the late 1800s as it offers an intimate glimpse of a wealthy young woman’s coming of age. Editor Catherine Cocks spoke to the author about what she learned in researching the book.
Catherine Cocks: How did you find out about your great-grandmother’s college years? And why did you decide to write about her life?
Greta Nettleton: When first I opened up Cora Keck’s 1885 Vassar diary, I knew my great-grandmother’s name, but nothing else. Her voice immediately drew me in. As she wrote, Cora tossed off so many creative starting points. I had her internal thinking, but none of the “obvious” facts about her external life. The mysteries of her lost world begged to be solved. And I quickly developed an emotional link with her warmth and wit, and her genius for relationships.
Catherine: Did your research into your family’s past change your view of your family?
Greta: I come from a very small and sparsely populated family, and it was exhilarating to expand my relationships with some “new” relatives back into the past. The biggest revelation for me was to discover our link to the Anabaptists and the Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite/Amish tradition. It explains a lot about my father’s deep idealism and quiet approach to life. I was also excited to discover a real feminist heroine in Cora’s mother, Mrs. Dr. Rebecca Keck.