|photo from HistoryLink.org |
Helga and Clara Estby, Minneapolis, May 1897
Photo by C. S. Ricker Studio, Courtesy Carole Estby Dagg
In 1896 Clara Estby, or Clara Doré, the daughter of Helga Estby joined her mother on a cause-related walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City. As a grand promotional event, both women wore reform skirts, a huge departure from modest Victorian dresses. The skirts allowed women to move more freely and still maintain modesty while participating in the pastimes such as bicycle riding.
Author Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical fiction account of their journey and the subsequent lives of these women is wonderfully captured in the novel entitled “The Daughter’s Walk”. The writing and character development were a little light in the beginning but by the middle of the story I was completely hooked by Helga’s family prison and Clara’s determination for financial independence and security.
It is difficult for most of us to imagine walking along railroad lines across this enormous country but for some reason, their journey seemed more comprehensible to me than that of their family’s reaction to their accomplishment once they returned home. The family’s shame and resentment over the trip and the time spent away from them were immortalized by tragic family events that occurred while Helga and Clara were away. This large Norwegian immigrant family, who in all other ways represented in the book seemed like a wonderful, loving family punished Helga and subsequently Clara for the choice they made. In the story, Helga was brow-beaten by her family. Neither Helga or Clara were “allowed” to discuss their adventure around the family. Even the mention of “New York” was forbidden. Instead of recognizing the amazing strength and courage these women demonstrated, they were completely ostracized from their family. Helga made the painful choice to shed all the strength of her external achievements so that her family would welcome her back into the fold. While reading the novel, it pained me to watch this woman be defeated by those who loved her best but as I write now, I recognize that Helga’s strength wasn’t beaten out of her, rather it became more humble and inward for it required significant strength to stifle her own personality for the communal love of her family. Helga and her choices is again a reminder that we really ought not judge ourselves and others so harshly. We all make decisions that we feel we must and no matter what the outcome of those decisions, our own strengths at the time are what carry us forward.
Clara’s path was one I identified with more keenly and I deeply admired the tenacious way she continuously strove to improve herself and establish an independent and financially secure future for herself. Clara did not choose to succumb to her family’s prison and instead she made her own way in the world – a remarkable demonstration of courage as well. She knew that she couldn’t let anyone quite her voice and her drive though as she aged, she did find value in conceding to some of the needs of those around her as a demonstration of her love toward them.
Living from 1877 until 1950, Clara is truly a role model demonstrating drive, consistency, and tenaciousness. She is nearly a Victorian Ayn Rand hero. She rose from her family’s financial struggles to become a property owner who mostly purchased her properties with cash. In the novel, she studied business and though she had few female role models, she made a success of herself through education, proper planning, taking calculated risks, and sheer will. Any woman feeling isolated in the pursuit of her dreams of financial independence will find a compatriot in the character of Clara Doré.
Learn more of these two inspirational Victorian era women:
The Daughter’s Walk, a historical novel by Jane Kirkpatrick
Book Review: A
Helga Estby life and story (1860-1942), details on her life found on HistoryLink.orgLooking for more? Please visit FaMiss Women- Women's Success Profiles, including books and movie reviews highlighting historical and modern women experiences. Women's Success Profiles is a feature on www.faMissWomen.com, a company dedicated to helping talented women become visible online.