Here are some potential questions to choose among for discussion.
writer, Eudora Welty, says that “all serious daring
starts from within.” What choices does Helga make throughout
her life that indicates her bold spirit? What appears to have
shaped her strength of character and given her the confidence
and courage to undertake this wager? What risks was she averse
2).....Helga faced fear, but
chose courage, yet almost everyone assumed that what Helga
and Clara planned to do was not only “outrageous, and
impossible.” Why? What fears did they need to face?
Did they prepare adequately, or does she appear naive to the
potential dangers? Since September 11, Americans now also
hear constant fear messages, often related to travel. How
do you think these “fear messages” are impacting
the spirit and actions of citizens?
than what Helga told male reporters for public audiences,
there are few hard facts on all of the motives that caused
her to accept the wager and the strict stipulations of the
sponsor. Do you imagine any other unspoken motives, besides
the stated financial reasons, that might have influenced her
4).....Helga rarely admits to her discouragements, appearing to follow
the western code of “swallowing your complaints; don’t
talk about trouble.” In what ways does this seem helpful
and/or harmful in the many challenges she encounters in life?
Does this ethos still exist anywhere in American?
5).....Helga claims she left
her home to save her home, an unconventional action for the
conventional reason of a mother helping her family. Why were
her actions seen as desertion, not devotion by some of her
neighbors? How do you think her actions affected her husband,
Ole, and reflected on his standing in his community? If a
mother of several children in America made a similar risky
choice today, what kinds of response to you think she’d
receive from family, friends, and the broader culture?
fashions, with the tight corsets and heavily weighted skirts,
created health problems for women. Yet, though a few women
argued for leg freedom in the 1890s, a physician lamented
“A woman clings to her corset.” How did fashion
reflect the culture for women in the Victorian era, and why
did most women resist change? Does popular culture still dictate
Baird Bryan, Jane Addams, and Helga Estby were born in the
same year, 1860, yet by age 26 their paths differed greatly.
What circumstances caused them to have quite divergent experiences,
and what experiences gave them some common understanding?
What advantages and disadvantages appear to affect women born
into “privilege”? How much does one’s birth
and family circumstances affect one’s destiny in America
and her family immigrated to America when she was 11 and she
spent most of her life living within Norwegian-American communities.
How could being an immigrant impact Helga’s decisions
in shaping her future? Why would the Norwegian- American immigrant
community be especially critical of her decisions?
and Clara traveled at the turn of the century, considered
a transition time between the strong ideals of Victorian womanhood
and the era of the “new woman.” How do you think
this affected people’s response to them along the route?
What transitions exist now for women at the turn of a new
do you think Helga chose to bring her eldest daughter, Clara,
as a traveling companion instead of having her eldest daughter
stay home to help with the younger children? What were her
contributions to their achievement in reaching New York?
women” challenged the common stereotypes and assumptions
about women’s physical and mental strength that existed
in the Victorian era. In what ways were Helga and Clara conventional
or unconventional for their era? Did the trip change this?
What similar or different attitudes prevail today towards
physically competitive and/or intellectual women?
Helga didn't receive the financial reward and suffered
immense loss, she also appeared to have gained many positive
intangibles that proved important for the second half of her
life. How did she change on the trip? What encouraged this?
does one know when keeping silent and secretive about family
stories is destructive and oppressive, and when might it be
wise and kind? Do the six threads that caused the silencing
of Helga’s story resonate with other stories that you
are aware have been silenced?
was an avid reader. What kinds of narratives were available
in the 19th century that might have influenced her attitudes
towards attempting the heroic journey? What female models
in books, or public figures might have been influential?
of the major reasons family stories get lost is “negation
by neglect” …when people just don’t bother
to keep stories alive. How have stories been kept and told
in your family? Have any been important to you during difficult
times? Are there any that you might want to preserve?