The Year We Were Famous
Having previously reviewed a book about Helga and Clara Estby’s walk across the U.S., I was eager to read this. And I was not disappointed. Carole Estby Dagg brings more than meticulous research to the story of these remarkable women. As a descendant of both, she brings heart.
In danger of losing the family farm, gutsy Helga Estby proposes to walk across the U.S. from Spokane to New York City, gathering famous signatures and garnering publicity for suffrage along the way. A publisher promises $10,000 if Helga completes the walk within seven months, as an advance on the book she’ll write of her travels. In 1896, such a journey is unheard of, especially by a woman. Her 17-year-old daughter Clara, an aspiring writer rather than a suffragette, reluctantly comes along, with curling iron and notebook in her satchel. Shy Clara is tested in ways she never imagined – fighting bandits, flash floods, and hunger – but finding in herself strength she never knew she had.
Estby Dagg limits her story to the months of Helga and Clara’s journey, choosing not to include their plans beforehand or the aftermath. She gets directly into their adventure and then keeps the action going through short chapters peppered with Clara’s letters home. The hardships faced on the journey mirror the hardships in their relationship, and Estby Dagg steers the characters through this admirably with a realistically fallible mother-daughter relationship. Whether learning to stand their ground in the face of danger or learning to trust one another, this is a story of women finding strength in each other.