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A Digression -- back to 1896 and far away to Spokane Washington

For the past nine months I have been prevented by my work schedule from enjoying the delights and distractions of the Friends of the Peoria Public Library (Illinois) Book Store. Today I carried away 8 books for the bargain price of $4 and saved these books from the tragedy of recycling! Upon reaching my home, I immediately sat down and read the most intriguing title.

Bold Spirit by Linda Lawrence Hunt. She tells the story of Helga Estby and her daughter Clara and the cross country walk they made in 1896. Spurred by a challenge from an unnamed party who promised $10,000 to the person who complete the challenge of walking from the other side of the United States to New York, Helga and Clara walked from Spokane, Washington to New York City in less than 8 months! They were accosted by hoboes, highwaymen and mountain lions, tried by storms, flooding and injuries but persevered, with the hope that they could save their family farm from foreclosure.

The challenger reportedly wanted to demonstrate that women were as strong as men and that using rational dress, they could succeed in a physical challenge. They were required to obtain the signatures of governors and mayors in the places they visited in order to prove their completion of the trek on foot. They met William Jennings Bryan and President McKinley's wife.

The tragedy is that this story could have gone completely untold. After completing the challenge, the family never spoke of the adventure again, such was the shame that they felt when a mother abandoned her children in the face of public disapproval and prevailing mores. Her papers were burned after her death, despite her wish that the story be told. But thanks to the actions of a daughter in law and Helga's grandchildren, Hunt took on the challenge of reconstructing this story from the newspaper stories that were published at the time.

If you have a family story -- Tell it! Especially if it concerns the women in your family. Don't let the words and actions of women be silenced.

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