Leonie von Zesch (1882-1944), daughter of a German countess, was born in Llano, Texas. At age 19, she graduated as a Doctor of Dental Surgery joining the ranks of the few women dentists of the times. Her professional credentials allowed her the freedom to ignore the then current social conventions and follow her heart, combining work with adventure, preferring the wilds of Alaska, California and Arizona to the tameness of city life.
She aspired to be a writer and recounted her experiences with the Hopi people of Walpi; the Mormon families of Northern Arizona; her travels to the remote interior of Alaska by dog-sled; her Grand Tour of Europe and the Middle East in the Roaring Twenties; working with the UAX during the Great Depression and her final professional appointments with the Civilian Conservation Corps in The Mother Lode Country and dentist at California’s women’s prison in Tehachapi.
“Leonie – A Woman Ahead of Her Time” immerses the reader in another era as seen through the eyes of a woman of extraordinary courage and determination.
Leonie left her personal effects and papers to her niece, Jane Troutman, who was 18 and out of state in college at the time of her aunt’s death. The short stories and manuscripts containing the various versions of Leonie’s memoirs were stored in banker’s boxes for 35 years. They were discovered after the death of Leonie’s sister, Jane’s mother. However, it wasn’t until 2002 that Ms. Troutman read all of her aunt’s writings and understood the remarkable nature of Leonie’s life. She started piecing together the various versions of her aunt’s manuscripts, a herculean task as many pages were unnumbered and out of order.
“Leonie – A Woman Ahead of Her Time” was released in May 2011 and the San Francisco Chronicle published one chapter in April 2011, to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Great Earthquake.