This was no hidden, quiet story. Newspapers all along the long and weary route, up to and including the New York Times, reported, at first with incredulity, but later with admiration, on their progress. And along the way they met president-elect Kinley, his defeated opponent, and a number of governors and mayors. Yet this is a story that was very, very nearly lost to history.
Helga had made extensive notes about it and prepared them for publication, yet, as Hunt explains: "personal, family, and cultural forces contributed to the almost total silencing of Helga's stunning story.... the family united in their communal silence of this chapter the mother's story. Even Helga's grandchildren who lived in her home had never heard of her achievement.... Then her daughters burned her written manuscripts."
The reasons were both individual and social. For the family, despite the women's physical triumph, the promised $10,000 was not forthcoming, so the journey, in terms of its purpose, was a failure, and while Helga was away, the family was struck by diphtheria, which killed two children, and scarred the survivors and their father with a huge burden of grief and fear.
Socially, as Hunt explains: "she had flagrantly broken the most basic code of Victorian and Norwegian motherhood: mothers belong in the home.... The weight of the unspoken question, 'would she have been able to save them?' was unanswerable."
This is not, however, a tragic story. There is not only Helga and Clara's great physical feat, but also, as Hunt makes clear, Helga's political and social development. She became an enthusiastic supporter of the Populist Party presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, an enthusiast for the suffragist cause, and an enthusiastic participant in public life.
A number of photos of her (and Clara) are presented in this book, and Hunt does a fine job of piercing together scattered evidence - the newspaper reports, contemporaries' accounts of the places through which the women passed, and fragmentary family records. Nevertheless, there is a great hollow at the heart of this book, through no fault of Hunt's; the voice, the explanations, the emotions of Helga (and Clara). That is, as is so often the case, the part of women's history that cannot be reconstructed. But at least the story has now been recovered for history.