The Year We Were Famous

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ISBN13: 978-1-7376263-0-5

Age Range: 12 up
Paperback edition


The Year We Were Famous is based on the true story of Clara Estby and her suffragist mother, Helga, who walked 4,000 miles from their farm in Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City in 1896 in a heroic attempt to win $10,000 that would save the family’s farm and prove women could do it.

Equipped only with satchels containing compass and maps, first-aid supplies, journals, pistol, and a curling iron, they headed east along the railroad tracks. In 232 days, they wore out thirty-two pairs of shoes, crossed mountains, deserts, and plains, and survived a highwayman attack, flash floods, blizzards, and days with out food and water. For a year, they were famous as they met governors and mayors, camped with Indians, and visited the new president-elect himself, William McKinley.

They intended to write a book about their adventures, but because of the way their trip ended, their journals were burned. Fortunately, newspapers across the country reported on their travels, and The Year We Were Famous is based on those articles, with imagination filling the gaps between known facts.



“The journey in itself is amazing, but Dagg’s tender portrayal of a mother and daughter who learn to appreciate and forgive each other makes it unforgettable.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Pulse-pounding encounters—outlaws! rattlers! flash floods!—will leave readers invigorated and inspired by the determination of two courageous pioneer women.”
—Horn Book

"Truth can be stranger than fiction in this outsized adventure that encompasses women’s suffrage, mother-daughter relationships, economic catastrophe, the presidential race that put McKinley in the White House, and 8 million steps over four thousand miles…this is a page-turner.”

"...Dagg engagingly develops the growing bond between mother and daughter as they struggle daily to survive...Author Dagg does an outstanding job of bringing the voices of her colorful ancestors to life. Both daughters and mothers are likely to identify with the normal generational clashes that happen in any time period but set as a story of women in the 1890's West, facing a bold and unique challenge, adds important layers."

"When we stumbled across Carole Estby Dagg’s new book, The Year We Were Famous: Helga and Clara’s Estby’s Walk Across a Changing America, we were as impressed not only by the subject (more in a bit) but by her professional tagline..."
The Entertainment Report

Winner, Will Rogers Medallion
Winner, Sue Alexander Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Winner, WILLA award from Women Writing the West
Selected by the American Library Association for its annual Amelia Bloomer List of feminist fiction


This photograph of Clara and Helga Estby was taken in Minneapolis on their way home in 1897.

My first memory of Great-aunt Clara was from 1950: I sat beside her on the edge of her bed, looking down as she struggled to draw stockings over gnarled and vein-roped feet. I didn’t know it then, but fifty-four years before those feet had trod 4,000 miles in a trek with her mother from Spokane, Washington to New York City.

My last meeting with Clara was at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. I tiptoed behind my aunt Thelma (my father’s sister) and the nun who was breaking hospital rules to let me in to see Clara one last time before she died. I found out later that of all her nieces and nephews, I had been the only child brought in to see her. It was as if Aunt Thelma knew that someday I would want to write about her and wanted to make sure I had a clear memory of having met her. 

I didn’t discover details about the walk until I was grown, when two articles from Minneapolis newspapers that had been salvaged from a burn barrel started circulating among family members. When I learned that the journals which Clara and Helga had intended to turn into a book had been destroyed, I vowed that someday I would tell their story for them.

Discussion & Activity Guide

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Complete a jigsaw puzzle of the cover by TeachingBooks

Cover of The Year We Were FamousPublished by: Clarion, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN13: 978-0618999835
Out of Print

When the original Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition went out of print, the author re-issued the book in a new paperback edition with a cover photograph of Helga and Clara and ten other illustrations.