Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America


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by Linda Lawrence Hunt


The Vikings, Roald Amundson, Fridtjof Nansen, Thor Heyerdal …Norwegians whose names evoke a spirit of exploration and adventure. Add a new name, Helga Estby. Helga went through many of the hardships experienced by Scandinavian immigrants — adventurers in their own right — but Helga went a few steps more, 3500 miles more . . . on foot.

Born in Oslo, Helga came to America with her mother and step-father at the age of eleven settling in New York. At a young age Helga gave birth to Clara, married and moved to Minnesota. She eventually bore nine children, had a difficult life on the prairie, and moved with her family to the state of Washington in time for the 1893 depression.

Lured by an offer from a mysterious sponsor, Helga was promised $10,000 — money which could prevent foreclosure and save the family homestead — if she could walk to New York City. Helga and her daughter Clara left Spokane in April 1896. During the journey they faced extreme temperatures, hunger, exposure and even shot a man in self-defense, but they also met with mayors, governors and other important people, including President-elect McKinley. They arrived in New York City on Christmas Eve, 1896. What followed was an American tragedy. You’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.

Bold Spirit was written by Linda Lawrence Hunt, Associate Professor of English at Whitworth College in Spokane, who researched Helga’s life and journey for her Ph.D. dissertation.