Why do we take this trip? Well, to make money … I have simply got to make a stake some way, for I don’t want to lose the farm and it is the only way I can see of saving it.
— Helga Estby,
quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 5,
In 1896, when Norwegian immigrant Helga Estby and her
oldest daughter, Clara, walked from Spokane, Wash., to New York
City, their feat made headlines across the country. They were
congratulated by mayors, governors, and president-elect William
McKinley, and hailed as an example of womanly strength. Their own
family wasn’t so impressed. Though Estby embarked on the trek
to win a $10,000 wager and thus save the family homestead, most of
her eight children were furious at their mother for her long
absence. In later years, they destroyed Estby’s memoirs and
never spoke of her adventures to their own children.
Fortunately, Whitworth College English professor Linda Lawrence
Hunt has pieced Estby’s story back together. She relies
mostly on newspaper accounts, filling in the gaps with details of
the times: She describes the debate over women’s right to
wear ankle-baring skirts (then called the “leg freedom”
controversy), the dramatic presidential contest between McKinley
and populist William Jennings Bryan, and the harrowing personal and
economic struggles faced by homesteaders. Even the bare outlines of
Estby’s vigorous, rebellious life are fascinating, and the
book is a quiet argument for the preservation of family stories.
Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk
Across Victorian America
by Linda Lawrence
300 pages, paperback: $16.95.
of Idaho Press, 2003.
A tale of tough women walks out of the past
You can buy this book and help High Country News, too.
BookSense.com is an on-line family of independent booksellers in communities near you. When you use the link below to buy a book through BookSense.com, you'll not only support local booksellers, you'll also help us: Five-and-a-half percent of each purchase goes to High Country News.