Bold Spirit

Hunt, Linda Lawrence. Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003.

Reason read: I think it’s ironic that I am reading my first book in honor of Just ‘Cause the same year I chose not to participate. But, there you have it. Another irony is that this year Just ‘Cause is not doing their walk in May. It’s in June.

On May 5th 1896 Helga Estby and her daughter, Clara, embark on a cross country journey on foot to raise money for their impoverished family. Everything about this journey is fraught with risk. Consider the facts. First, her home life: Helga has nine children she must leave in the care of her out-of work-husband. As a Norwegian, this is a scandalous decision simply because women do not leave their families for anything. Second, the “scheme”: a wealthy yet unknown sponsor with ties to the fashion industry is offering a reward of $10,000 if Helga can walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City in seven months. Helga knows very little about this benefactor and the trip will be extremely dangerous. In addition, although this unknown sponsor wants to prove the physical endurance of women, she has a few rules.

  1. Helga and her daughter may only start out with $5 a piece. All other income must be earned along the way. [They end of selling photographs of themselves and doing odd chores.]
  2. They must visit each state’s capital.
  3. They must acquire the signature of prominent politicians
  4. Once arriving in Salt Lake City, must don a “reform costume” otherwise known as a bicycle skirt. This was an effort to display the latest fashion – a dress that was several inches shorter to give women “leg freedom” and was considered quite scandalous.
  5. They could not beg for anything – rides, food, or shelter.
  6. They could not pay for rides.
  7. They had to arrive in New York by early December.

This sets the stage for Hunt’s Bold Spirit but what emerges is a story about courage and commitment. Unfortunately, because Helga Estby and her family were so ashamed of her venture when it was all said and done, very little evidence of her walk was properly preserved. Most everything was willfully destroyed. As a result Hunt has to rely on speculation to fill in the gaps. Language like “they were likely”, “perhaps”, “it is possible”, probably”, and “they might have” pepper the entire book.

Book trivia: I like the design of this book a great deal. The photography is wonderful, too.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Walk Right In” (p 250).


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