Monday, March 14, 2011

1896 Spokane, WA & New York City with Jane Kirkpatrick, author of The Daughter’s Walk

In 1896 Helga Estby and her daughter, Clara, made an historic walk from Spokane, WA to New York City hoping to earn $10,000 from the fashion industry that would be enough to save their family farm.

In 2003, when novelist Jane Kirkpatrick finished reading a book about that walk, what struck her was the unfinished story: that upon their return from the walk, Clara, the daughter, changed her last name and was separated from
the family for twenty years. Jane wanted to know what happened, why did she change her name? What did she do during those years? What brought the reconciliation after that extended exile? "I also liked the idea that one of the few things Clara carried with her as they followed the railroad track across the continent was a curling iron. What did that tell us about her character, or did it tell anything at all?"

The result of Jane's quest to find answers and to know "the story behind that story" resulted in her new release, the Daughter's Walk.

I'm thankful to Jane for agreeing to visit today and share some of the "footnotes from history" that led her to tell this unique story.

  • What was the most surprising thing you learned about “the real story” while researching this book? I found Clara living about 50 miles from Spokane during most of the separation and that she later became quite a successful business woman owning many properties in Spokane and eventually living not all that far from her biological family. Descendants whom I interviewed were stunned to know their great aunt had actually lived so nearby. They were also surprised to discover that the house Clara and her sister -- after the reconciliation -- lived in was owned not by the sister but by Clara. I also discovered that she had two close women friends who had been furriers in New York City about the time of the historic walk. That set me on the journey to research fur fashions in the early 1900s and took me to a contemporary fur auction, one of the largest in the Northwest and one that Clara and her business partners likely attended more than once years before. The Fur Commission staff were wonderful in helping me speculate about Clara's life during that time and told me that she would have had to have a male agent as women wouldn't have been allowed to bid at the fur auction. That helped explain a family story about Clara sometimes traveling to Europe "with a man" on business. Several years ago I wrote a series of books called the Tender Ties Series about a woman involved in the fur industry in the early 1800s. Now here I was researching that same industry in early 1900. It was fascinating to see what changes had occurred and how Clara might have been involved.
  • Is there a historical photograph that inspired you you’d like to share? On the left! To earn their way across the country, they had photographs taken which they sold for a nickel. Part of the reason we know about this journey at all is because a few of those pictures were saved by a relative and others were located in archival copies of newspapers. The women were to wear the new reform dress once they reached St. Lake City and they also modeled the dresses while in Chicago. Most photographs showed off their high button shoes, scandalous for the time period when modesty meant ankles were covered and corsets worn daily.
  • What one non-fiction book helped you research the most Linda Lawrence Hunt's book Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America (Random House, 2003) Her book tells of the walk, the social challenges of the period and explores the great silencing of the story by family after the women returned. It was there I read about Clara's name change and separation. Little was known though about what Clara did after the return and that's what I wanted to explore through fiction. I also wanted to imagine what Clara might have been thinking as a teenager walking across the country for eight months with her mother.
  • What spiritual encouragement did you draw from what you’ve learned? I had to explore the great emptiness of exile, of being sent out or away and how much we may play in that journey by our choices. I actually ached for Clara at times knowing her family was physically so close and yet so emotionally distant. Her efforts to deal with that made me sad and I longed for her to find a way to step over whatever had caused the rift and to mend the break. When we feel separated from God I think the pain is profound yet not unlike the heartache when a family rift defines our every day. It's said that forgiveness is required of us as Christians, as God forgave us; but reconciliation is not. That becomes a choice and it made me conscious of rifts within my own family that I wanted to heal. The story also made me want to seek forgiveness for my own choices that left me separated from God and to take action to allow Him to seek me out.

  • Did you meet a special woman from the past you’d like to tell about? Definitely Clara Estby Dore, the daughter on this journey. Her very wish to do things differently than her mother had actually taken her onto paths very similar to her mother's making decisions for family. Clara's journey reminded me that the word family comes from the Latin Famalus meaning servant. I believe that Clara discovered the true meaning of family and deepened my own understanding of family. I hope her journey brings nurture to readers as it did to me.
Thanks so much to Jane Kirkpatrick for sharing her footnote from history with us today.
To learn more about Jane's other wonderful books, visit her at


  1. Hi Stephanie:

    This is how I like to read history. I wonder how many more amazing events like this happened in the past that we will never learn about.

    Is “The Daughter's Walk.” a documentary or a novel. How should I approach reading the book?


  2. Oh I can't wait to read this book. Jane's books always have a wealth of history in them and make for awesome reading for anyone who loves historical fiction.

  3. Hi Vince,
    I like to get my history through story as well. This book is a novel, well-researched, but it involves speculation and the inclusion of conversation and motivation that can't be known for certain. I built on known facts. But for example, the actual argument/misunderstanding that caused the rift is not known so that scene and motivation is my view of what might have been. In writing the story, the first draft scene of that moment of separation didn't ring true for my editor whom I trust dearly. so I thought more, let Clara and the history get into my head and reworked it. It is a much better scene and makes more sense overall and my editor said "that's it!" Someone once wrote that if at the end of the story you believe it then you have found what is true within the fiction. I hope I found truth; family members have been supportive that I have. I hope you will too if you have a chance to read the book. Jane

  4. Wonderful interview, Jane. I'm always surprised to learn tidbits about your stories, and about your research methods.

    I am excited about being one of the first to grab this book when it comes out in a couple weeks!


  5. I've just started this book and this discussion has enriched my perception even more.

  6. I could not put this book down -every spare minute I found myself once again engrossed in this fascinating story. What a wonderful movie this would make.....

    1. Thank you so much, Wanda! It would make a great movie, wouldn't it? Until such time we'll just have to imagine that film reel..or digital our minds. Whenever I see a railroad track across a distant vista I think of Clara and Helga and their journey. And the next time I go to New York, I'll bring the memory of Clara and her mother with me! I hope you do as well.

  7. Thank you so much for letting us know ... and we'll make sure Jane hears it, too!
    Blessings to you from nancy & steph

    1. Thanks for letting me know about Wanda's post, Steph. You have great followers for your blog...they love books!