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Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America Paperback – January 11, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Surprising, inspiring. . . . Hunt skillfully brings this story alive.” —The Seattle Times

"Allows us to follow Helga Estby not only across the physical landscape of 1896 America . . . but across the country's social, political, economic, and cultural landscape as well. . . . Fascinating." --Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, authors of Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier

“A heroic ‘forgotten first’ . . . a new women’s history classic has emerged.” —Foreword Magazine
“A thoughtful discussion of the social and psychological factors that often silence family stories. . . . Fortunately [Hunt] has broken the silence of Helga’s story to embolden the spirits of future generations.” --Bloomsbury Review

From the Publisher

This long forgotten story is an inspiring true tale of courage and determination set in a period where women didn't do such things. Helga's adventure and its sad conclusion is well captured in this beautifully designed book. An excellant selection for a book club. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400079934
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400079933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If only Bold Spirit was twice as long a book! As it is, author Linda Lawrence Hunt had to supplement the skin and bones story with some history of Norwegian immigrants and of women pioneers in general. I've been fascinated with stories of immigrants and pioneers since I was in grade school, and this is an unexpected story of both, with an almost unbelievable twist - Helga Estby and her nineteen-year-old daughter Clara, walk across the United States hoping to win a $10,000 prize in a contest.

The trouble is, the only information that survives about the walk that took place over a hundred years ago, are newpaper accounts written as the Estbys made their way across the country. There are no diaries or memoirs, and there were no family tales passed on to succeeding generations.

Hunt reconstructs the trek with the newspaper articles and with the little information the surviving family members and acquaintances can provide. It is a fascinating story, and a surprisingly controversial one. Many people at the time condemned Helga for abandoning her husband and children in Washington State while she and Clara pursued a thoroughly unladylike adventure. From what we can tell, Helga was not out to prove anything, she was trying desperately to get the money the family needed to keep their home and land. But the strain Helga and Clara's absence caused in an already stressful time of economic depression was too much. Many of the family couldn't forgive Helga, and Clara left home soon afterward and even changed her name. We aren't told if this move and name change were due to fallout from the walk or if there was some other reason.

Bold Spirit is a great story of an immigrant family's struggle to make it in America (before there were any safety nets), of two women's unprecedented walk across an entire continent, and of an historian's search to reconstruct the remarkable events.
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Format: Hardcover
Linda Lawrence Hunt has crafted a real gem from her extensive research. Helga and her daughter Clara set out on their trek across America on a dare, from an anonymous sponsor, promising a whopping $10,000 if they could walk the distance in the time alotted and under strict rules. The lure of money was strong, because at the time Helga feared they were about to lose the family farm to forclosure. This little book ought to be required reading for young people, who cannot imagine what life was like for these pioneer women. Hunt takes the reader through Helga and Ole's homesteading years on the Minnesota prairie, living in a sod house, a harsh environment which included fires, tornadoes, winter blizzards and illness.
Lured to Spokane, WA life seemed much better, till the big fire of 1889. After that the big financial panic of 1893 sent life tumbling for just about everyone in the country, especially for Helga and Ole.
That Helga and Clara's feat could not be celebrated, and in fact was never talked about over the years is so sad. They deserved a parade, and instead were not even given train tickets home.
Author Hunt reminds us that silencing of family stories prevents grand children and future generations from knowing interesting and sometimes awsome personal revelations. History books dwell more on very big events and momentous catastrophies. But our own family history gives us a sense of where we came from and who we are.
Eighth grader Doug Bahr knew he had a good story when he wrote an essay in a history writing contest, and I admire Linda Lawrence Hunt for recognizing that it was a story worth presenting to a wide audience. Thank you.
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Format: Hardcover
I confess to a penchant for accounts of pioneer history and this amazing biography offers far more than the oft-published times, dates and places.
Bold Spirit-Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America, is simply riveting. Helga's true story, brimming with struggle, loss, hope, peril and audacious moxie, portrays a complex woman pushing prevalent cultural boundaries, while holding loyally to her values surrounding family ties and religious conviction.
Born in Scandinavia, Helga emigrated to Minnesota as a child. Following her marriage at 16, she, Ole and their growing family eventually homestead south of Spokane, Washington. Within a short time, the depression of 1893 finds them desperate for work and for funds with which to pay their mortgage.
When an anonymous donor offers $10,000 to any woman who will walk across America under stringent constraints, Helga and her 18 year-old daughter Clara accept the dangerous challenge and strike out together for New York City. Defying the era's "suitable" behavior standards for women, and confronting myriad hazardous obstacles, Helga and Clara display a determination to save their home that results in a confusing combination of respect and condemnation from those who follow their journey. Their arrival in New York heralds both an ironic ending and another beginning to this fascinating story.
Utilizing accounts garnered from extensive research and personal interviews, Linda Hunt recounts this absorbing saga with the objective of preserving the truth of Helga's gifts, tragedies and legacy. The story, stilled for many years by members of Helga's family, might have been lost altogether. We are indebted to Professor Hunt for her gift of presenting this glimpse of a truly surprising Victorian woman. Historically intriguing, poignant, engrossing and beautifully illustrated with vintage photographs, Bold Spirit is absolutley recommended for individuals and Book Groups alike.
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