Elizabeth Daingerfield, Horsewoman, Pioneer and Book Reviewer
By Eliza McGraw
When Man o’ War retired in 1920, his owner Sam Riddle hired Elizabeth Daingerfield as his stud manager. She was one of the first women to hold such a position, and the first to care for such a famous horse—probably the most famous in the country. Her appointment made news: headlines included, “Man o’ War’s Boss A Woman,” and “Woman Manages Famous Breeding Farm.”
Outsiders may have been shocked, but no Kentuckian was surprised at Riddle’s choice. Raised at her horseman father’s side, Daingerfield had internalized lessons about blood and breeding and farm management. Before she was 13 years old, she had compiled everything she knew about Thoroughbred breeding into a “horse biography,” and as an adult, she was a sought-after pedigree expert.
But the rest of the country marveled at her. Writer Marie Dille titled a column: “Miss Elizabeth Daingerfield—Horse Farmer,” noting that, “with perhaps one exception Miss Daingerfield is the only woman who is striving in this unusual field of endeavor.” Another reporter asked if she ever found it necessary to employ a male manager. “No,” Dangerfield said. “I make a point of managing everything myself; then I know it is done right. I feel myself frightfully necessary, you see.”
Daingerfield was unafraid to take stands that could prove unpopular, arguing that 2-year-old racehorses were overused. “If the racing interests were interested in breeding instead of in betting, we should have a standard of thoroughbreds such as we can only dream about now,” she said. She also spoke up when New York enacted anti-racing laws in 1912. “From time immemorial,” she wrote, “the zealots, bigots, fanatics and self-seeking have destroyed the treasures of art, the splendors of literary achievement and values of many kinds far beyond their power to recreate. Yet rarely, if ever in the world’s history, has such immediate and far reaching destruction been wrought in one locality by the act of another far distant as the blight which the ignorant fanaticism or political greed of the officials of the distant State of New York has sent upon the fair fields of Kentucky.”
Daingerfield didn’t only know horses. She was a learned reader, too, and reviewed books for the Lexington paper. Sometimes she wrote about up to eight books at a time. The introspection that made her reach for pedigree study apparently also made her a deep, thoughtful reader, and she published reviews that straddled genre, type, and author. She reviewed many books that have been forgotten today. In one column that was The Book of Baby Beasts—”as perfect as anything Rosa Bonheur thought of doing”—and a Western romance called The Two-Gun Man. “The Two Gun Man certainly found nothing amiss with the sister of the suspected rustlers,” she wrote.
Like many horse people, though, Daingerfield seemed always to be hunting for horse associations. Once, she reviewed a horsemanship guide, which, she told readers, she passed along to her father (“Good, very good,” he wrote in the margins). From a review about Tennessee historian John Trotwood Moore’s The Gift of the Grass: “… the story is so unaffected and so effective that it will without doubt find a wide circulation and do much good in making a truer understanding between the horse and the people who love and do not understand him.”
Whether reading or tending horses, Daingerfield clearly worked to further that understanding. And her expertise and success defied gender norms to the point that a reporter had to shift some language around. “To describe her as mistress of Haylands [her farm] is to fall short of accuracy,” said a 1925 Liberty Magazine article. “She is master.”
Sources, from Newspapers.com
Elizabeth Daingerfield, “Current Book Review,” Lexington Herald, November 26, 1911, 3
Elizabeth Daingerfield, “Current Book Review,” Lexington Herald, October 4, 1912, 2
Elizabeth Daingerfield, “Nicotine and Hemp Succeeding the Thoroughbred,” Colorado Springs Gazette, August 18, 1912, n.p.
Walter Davenport, “Man o’ War’s Boss A Woman,” Liberty Magazine, May 9, 1925, 38
Marie Dille, “Women Who Lead The Way,” Altoona Tribune, February 19, 1916, 15
Emma Fetta, “Her Success As Horse Breeder,” New York Times, July 16, 1922, XX2
“Sprints Opposed By Horse Breeder,” Trenton Sunday Times-Advertiser, October 29, 1916, 4
“Woman Manages Famous Breeding Farm,” San Francisco Call, January 12, 1913, 11