Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American children’s book author, best known as the author of the Little House on the Prairie series. The children’s book series was released from the years 1932 until 1943 and was based on Laura’s childhood in a settler and pioneer family. The critically-acclaimed books garnered vast interest and are still read across the world to this very day.
Laura was born in Wisconsin on February 7, 1867 to Charles Phillip and Caroline Lake Ingalls. Laura had 3 other sisters, Mary Amelia, Carrie and Grace Pearl. The real-life documentation of Laura and her family’s lives in the late 1800’s captured the attention of readers all over the globe, especially in America.
There were originally eight books that drew from the real-life childhood experiences of Laura Ingalls, both today there’s a whopping 45! The books further entered public consciousness when they were turned into a television show during the ‘70s and ‘80s. NBC produced over 200 episodes of the said show, with the last produced in 1983. Melissa Gilbert portrayed Laura Ingalls while Michael Landon played Charles Ingalls, the patriarch of the family. The show went on to win four Emmy awards and 2 Young Artist Awards. You can still see it on air today, remaining popular in syndicated reruns.
The American Library Association’s book award for children’s literature ‘The Newbery Medal’ included Laura Ingalls Wilder as a runner-up 5 times. In 1954, they inaugurated a lifetime achievement award named ‘The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal’ to honor artists and authors who made “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children”. Laura’s incredible legacy continues to live on. Take a look at her incredibly life story, it is nothing short of amazing.
Ma And Pa In Real Life
You are looking at the photo of the original Ma and Pa from the Little House books: Charles and Caroline Ingalls. This image was captured on the day of their wedding, February 1, 1860. At the time, Charles Ingalls was 24 years old and Caroline Lake Quiner was 21. He grew up in Campton Township in Illinois whereas Caroline worked as a schoolteacher. The couple decided to settle down in Pepin County, Wisconsin. They welcomed Mary Amelia, their first daughter, in January 1865. Laura followed not long after in 1867. Two years after this, Charles felt some wanderlust and the family relocated to Missouri.
From One Place To Another
When they were living in a place near what we now know as Independence, Kansas, the family was blessed with their third child Carrie. When Charles and Caroline decided that Kansas was not a welcoming environment for settlers, they spent the following years relocating from one state to another. The girls could be compared to what is now known as army brats. They resided in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and then Iowa. In 1877, they welcomed Grace Pearl, their fourth daughter. Around this time, they were facing financial difficulties. In 1879, Charles landed a job as a bookkeeper and clerk at a Dakota Territory railroad. The following year, they settled down in De Smet, South Dakota.
A Teacher At 15 Years Old
When they were living in South Dakota, they experienced quite a number of winter storms. This encounter was what served as the basis for The Long Winter, one of Wilder’s novels. As a teenager, Laura did well in De Smet, a new but prospering South Dakota town. She attended school and made a lot of friends there. The young girl also decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and get her teaching certificate. Can you believe that she was only 15 years old when she started teaching in 1882? Whoa. She was only two months away from her 16th birthday when Laura became head of the class. Impressive.
An Intense Romance
Although Laura had her hands full with her teaching career, she made time for relationships. She had a suitor by the name of Almanzo Wilder. A homesteader, Laura lovingly called the older man by the moniker “Manly”. He had 10 years on her but it did not stop the pair from falling in love with one another. Almanzo had a big crush on her that he did not mind bringing her to and from De Smet to where she worked, despite the distance of 12 miles. The two decided to make it official and got married in 1885. They decided to settle on his land and became farmers together.
Almanzo Suffered From Diphtheria
Life did not prove to be easy for the young homesteaders and newlyweds. The pair had difficulties making a good life for the first few years of their marriage. They had their first child Rose in 1886. Despite this, the young family suffered from drought, illnesses, terrible weather, and eventual poverty. Almanzo was the one who endured the most. Although he was a young and active man in the beginning, he caught a bacterial infection called diphtheria that eventually rendered him partially paralyzed. Of course, he could no longer perform certain duties that wheat farming required. These days, babies are given vaccinations against the rare disease.
Tragedy After Tragedy
If you thought that sounds terrible enough, things actually got worse for them during the summer of 1889. Laura was busy taking care of their three-year-old daughter and maintain the household when she fell pregnant again. In August of that year, they welcomed a son who passed away after only two weeks. In the same month, their house burned down, and drought caused their crops to die. The family did not only suffer from a terrible personal loss, but they also lost both their home and only source of income. In 1890, they decided it was time for a fresh start and decided to move to Spring Valley in Minnesota.
Life Got Better
This photo shows the Ingalls family back in 1891. You are looking at Caroline, Carrie, Laura, Charles, Grace, and Mary in this image. From 1890 until 1891, Almanzo, Laura, and Rose decided to take a break and recover from the tragedies they faced. A studio photographer snapped an image of the whole family here. You can see from this photo that Laura appears healthy and well-rested. It goes without saying that although she did not have the best early years as a mother and wife, life found a way for them to turn things around after moving to Minnesota.
Moving To The Sunshine State Did Not Go As Expected
Almanzo was still experiencing a lot of difficulties, although Laura never failed to help him when he needed help with work. The two kept their eyes peeled for opportunities that they could take. Together with Rose, the couple decided to up and move to Florida in 1891. The photo below shows the couple in the so-called Sunshine State. They were under the impression that the weather would do wonders for Almanzo’s health and make farming easier. Unfortunately, they had to deal with the fact that things rarely go as planned. Laura did not enjoy the weather and humidity at all, so they came back to De Smet the following year.
Reaping The Rewards After 20 Years Of Labor
In 1894, the Wilders relocated once more, this time to Mansfield, Missouri. Using their savings, they purchased an undeveloped plot of land outside town and dubbed it Rocky Ridge Farm. Here is Almanzo proudly showing us the apple trees in their orchard. They earned money by chopping up and selling firewood. The apple trees started to bear fruit after seven years. Laura’s parents-in-law helped them pay for the house they had been renting, which made things much easier. They would later own 200 acres of land, sell the house in town, and live on the farm. Overall, they spent about two decades creating their fruit, dairy, and poultry farm.
Her Name Was Dropped From A Literary Award Because Of Racism
Just last year, Laura Ingalls Wilder was dropped from a certain children’s literature award after they determined that her works had racist content. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award was then changed to the Children’s Literacy Legacy Award. It was the Association for Library Service to Children who made this rather controversial decision. This was what the statement read, “While we are committed to preserving access to Wilder’s work for readers, we must also consider if her legacy today does justice to this particular award for lifetime achievement, given by an organization committed to all children.”
Kicking Off Her Writing Career
When she was staying on the farm, she made sure to be an active community member. Laura participated in different clubs and helped out in regional farm associations. She was considered a specialist in rural living and poultry farming, going so far as to give talks about these topics in the community. In 1911, her writing career took off after she submitted her work to the Missouri Ruralist. During the mid ‘20s, she worked as an editor and permanent columnist for the publication. She talked about all things related to family and home. The Farm Loan Association also paid her to help grant small loans to farmers.
The Autobiography Of A Pioneer Girl
During the ‘20s, her daughter Rose Wilder Lane started to encourage Laura to pursue her writing career. Laura wrote two articles describing the farmhouse interior for Country Gentleman magazine. It was in May 1930 that she wrote Pioneer Girl, her first book. Basically, it was an autobiography that detailed what it was like to grow up on the frontier whose target audience were adult readers. Rose, who would become a writer herself, served as her editor for the book and even helped Laura market it. Although the manuscript did not sell, it was still a success because this endeavor launched her children’s author career.
Published At Long Last
The Wilders no longer had any financial difficulties, but things changed after the stock market crash in 1929. Although they managed to hold onto the 200-acre farm, the family lost almost all their savings during the Great Depression. This was when Laura started writing more. There were two children’s book editors in New York who felt drawn to the autobiography, originally titled When Grandma Was A Little Girl. However, alterations had to be made. After listening to their requests, she expanded the story and made it more children-friendly. We are sure Rose’s publishing network helped as well. Harper & Brothers released Little House in the Big Woods in 1932.
Suspicions She Wrote For Her Mother
Although Rose helped her mother publish the first book, its success also ended up helping her. The two most popular novels written by Rose, Let the Hurricane Roar and Free Land, had been written at the same period that the Little House series was published. The books talked about the same topics, although they were written for an older audience. The similarities in the subject matter made some people think that Rose acted as a ghostwriter for her mother. Meanwhile, others are under the impression that Rose merely turned Laura’s drafts into the well-loved children’s books as we know them now. Nonetheless, dairies and manuscripts revealed that they indeed collaborated.
The Death Of The Great Writer
When Laura was writing the books, she and her husband still lived at Rocky Ridge Farm. Although they sold chunks of the property, they still kept several farm animals and continued to garden. It was not uncommon for Little House fans to drop by to personally meet the woman who worked on them. At 92 years old, Almanzo passed away in 1949. The author lived by herself for the next eight years, although her friends and neighbors made sure to take care of her. In 1957, Laura died peacefully in her sleep only three days after she turned 90 years old. She was interred right beside her daughter and husband.
Publication Of West From Home
Harper & Row also published West From Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1974. The book was a collection of letters between Almanzo and Laura that dated all the way back from 1915. In that year, Laura went to San Francisco to visit Rose and report about the World’s Fair. Back then, she was 48 years old and Rose was 28 years old. To some people, it served as an extension of the Little House series. Essentially, it served as a documentation of the family’s relocation from South Dakota to Missouri. Meanwhile, Rose used her childhood recollections to present the setting. The book was published in the same year that the television adaptation came out.
The Legacy Of Laura Ingalls Wilder
After Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, the books have never gone out of print. Moreover, they have underwent translation into 40 languages! Laura got her first royalty check courtesy of Harper in 1932. This was the smallest amount she received, and it was $500, which would now be $8,780 when you account for inflation over the years. For the Wilders, writing proved to be a good business move. The couple finally had a steady source of income after 50 years of marriage. The books let the Wilders hold on to the farm, which they nearly had to sell after the stock market crash. Laura did not only receive numerous accolades and honors, but she also earned a huge following.
Moving To The Indian Reserve In Kansas
In 1869, the family decided to move to the Osage Indian Reserve in Kansas. While living there, Laura met Indians and saw cattle drives going through the open plains. After a year there, they opted to go back to Wisconsin before going out to Walnut Grove in Minnesota. This photo below shows you a farm and the kind of farming the family probably did while they lived in Kansas. It might not seem like a lot of work based on the photo, but you probably have no idea how tough these things are unless you do farm work yourself.
Living In South Dakota A Decade Later
“I realized I had seen and lived it all – all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers and the towns,” Laura said. A decade after experiencing life in Kansas, the family decided to move to De Smet, South Dakota. This was where she spent her childhood. Before moving back, Mary caught a fever that led to her blindness, so Laura had the extra responsibility of taking care of her sister. Their father claimed a piece of land right outside the city and worked hard on it to make the best possible life for the entire family during the ‘80s.
South Dakota Came With Blizzards
During the second year of their stay in South Dakota, the blizzards struck and gave them a shock. The town was in full-on survival mode at the time. The family did not have enough food and wood in stock, so they had to take certain extreme measures. In order to make flour, they took turns using a coffee grinder to produce wheat. Aside from this, they also packed hay tightly in lieu of firewood. Charles also resorted to tying a string between the barn and the house, so that he would not get lost in the blizzard. Can you imagine living in these trying conditions?
She Was Too Smart for School
When she was a high school student, Laura was quick to stand out in her class. She made it look easy as the best scholar. This might have had something to do with how her mother was once a school teacher. Caroline always made it a point for the girls to never run out of reading material. Laura did not get the opportunity to finish high school because there was no full education program in De Smet and ended up teaching as soon as she could. Clearly, this was one extraordinary girl who walked away with a lifelong passion for learning.
Romancing The Teacher
When 1882 rolled in, Laura snagged her very first teaching job at a place near De Smet. Each week, Almanzo Wilder would drop by in his buggy and take her to and from her workplace. This was how their friendship started. As we all know, it is not hard for friends to turn into lovers when they have chemistry together. That was how things began for this pair of lovebirds. They got married on August 25, 1885. A year after this, they were blessed with their first child. But as we know by now, their good fortune would not return for a while.
What Prompted The Move To Missouri
“Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American History,” Laura once said. It was not until 1894 that Almanzo and Laura opted to relocate to Missouri. Apparently, the two felt inspired to move after seeing an advertisement that called Missouri “The Land of the Big Red Apples”. This image is what made them pack their bags and start their new life there. After experiencing a better life there, they knew it was going to be the place to set their roots. After everything they endured, it makes perfect sense to us.
Farming Paved The Way To Writing
Almanzo and Laura both earned the respect of their neighbors and the people in the community thanks to their amazing farming skills. Their agricultural career also paved the way for Laura and her writing gigs. As previously mentioned, Laura started writing articles about farming for the Missouri Ruralist in 1911. You are looking at Laura attempting to document her travels from South Dakota to Missouri. She once wrote about how her horse got so scared of railroad cars that it ran into barbed wire! Rose, her daughter, also served as a large influence on her blossoming writing career.
How Rose Helped Her
We all know that it is hard to find better inspiration than the kind you get from your loved ones. Rose had a big impact on Laura during her early writing days. As a young adult, Rose Wilder Lane managed to make a name for herself as a prominent writer. She was able to help her mother in more ways than one. She was once her mother’s editor, but she did not stop there. As a matter of fact, she helped her mother get published by two national magazines: Country Gentleman and McCall’s. Not many children can claim that they helped their parents move forward with their careers!
Giving Her Mother The Support She Needed
Like we said earlier, the stock market crash of 1929 made things very difficult for both Almanzo and Laura. They wiped out nearly all of their savings, so Rose felt the need to help her mother out in Rocky Ridge Farm. Clearly, she is the ideal to have whichever way you look at it. Rose certainly sounds like an incredibly reliable person even in the toughest times. At the time, Laura wrote more and even wrote an unpublished autobiography. It was only after receiving the suggestion that she write fiction instead that she came up with the beloved Little House series.
What Rose Was Up To: Part 1
Rose Wilder Lane was born on December 5, 1886 in De Smet, South Dakota. We have already heard of many young people moving to San Francisco after high school, and she was no different. She was briefly married there and kicked off a great writing career. The Golden State has always been a go-to place for people who want to go into the arts, so Rose clearly knew what she was doing at the time. She once identified as a socialist but eventually called herself a libertarian after spending time in Europe and returning to take care of her parents during the ‘30s.
What Rose Was Up To: Part 2
Now that you know a lot of the facts revolving around the influence Rose had on Laura’s life, you can probably figure out for yourself that things would have been very different for Laura without her amazing daughter. In 1935, Rose had this to say: “I am now a fundamentalist American; give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit.” She continued this by saying, “Also I will tell you why the relative freedom of human spirit is better — and more productive, even in material ways — than the communist, Fascist, or any other rigidity organized for material ends.”
As The End Approaches
Laura’s books achieved a different level of fame after a reprinting in 1953. The newer version included artwork by Garth Williams. This is the same person who made illustrations for other popular children’s books such as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. “I have thought that I would spend what is left of my life living, not writing about it, but a story keeps stirring in my mind and if it pesters me enough I may have to write it down,” the author once explained. Truly, a good storyteller will be tempted to write down a great story.
Leaving Something Else Behind
It was a great tragedy when Almanzo passed away at the age of 92 and left his wife behind. After his passing, Laura’s health began to show decline as well. She passed away eight years after he did in 1957, only three days after the writer celebrated her ninetieth birthday. At the time of her death, she had been working on a project inspired by the struggles she encountered during the early years of their marriage. Despite this, she did not plan on getting it published. They found the manuscript in Rose’s things after she herself died in 1968. You can check out The First Four Years if you want to read about it.
Her Work Continues To Move People
“The children send me their pictures, Christmas cards and presents, valentines, birthday cards and gifts,” she said. “I think I had letters from every state.” We do not need to further expound on how the stories and characters in her books moved countless children from different parts of the globe. Laura continues to change lives even long after her death. She does not only have reading rooms, elementary schools, and libraries named after her, but her books are mainstays on reading lists as well! We know this already sounds impressive but just you wait until you hear more of her legacy.
More Impact On The World
When the ‘70s rolled in, Little House on the Prairie became incredibly popular because of the television adaptation loosely based on her books. One way to tell if your work has made an impact is when they adapt it for the small screen! Sometimes, television shows fall short of the source material, but the show was actually good on its own. Apparently, nearly all the locations Laura lived in have since become tourist destinations and National Historic Landmarks. We are sure she would be humbled by all these distinctions if she was around to witness them.
An Award Named After Her
Although she was never the recipient of the prestigious Newbery Medal, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a five-time runner-up for the literary award. This might be the top book award for children’s literature by the American Library Association, there was another even more admirable accolade that was about to come her way. The ALA made a lifetime achievement award for writers and illustrators of children’s book in 1954. And get this – they named it after her! Of course, she was also the first person to receive the award. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal is given to recognize a certain illustrator or author with works published in the United States of America that have created “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children”.
Her Daughter’s Impact
We now know that Laura left a huge mark on the world, but her daughter could say the same thing for herself. We hope you aren’t tired of hearing about how great Rose is because she deserves the praise. She and another author published books that have been attributed to the beginning of the modern Libertarian movement. In the ‘30s, liberal journalist John Chamberlain talked about their impact: “If it had been left to pusillanimous males probably nothing much would have happened… Indeed, it was three women — Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand — who, with scornful side glances at the male business community, had decided to rekindle a faith in an older American philosophy.””
How The TV Show Started
NBC released a movie pilot of Little House on the Prairie in 1974. The two-hour film starred Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, and Karen Grassle. It focused on the family’s life on a farm off Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the ‘70s and ‘80s. NBC executive and producer Ed Friendly explained that he heard about the story during the early ‘70s and told Michael Landon to take the reins. Landon agreed to do it but under the condition that he would play Charles Ingalls. This was a great business move as the show went on for nine seasons! The last season was aptly titled Little House: A New Beginning.
The Little House Books
Little House on the Prairie shows the Ingalls family leaving the cabin and crossing over to Kansas Territory. Farmer Boy focuses on Almanzo and his boyhood spent on a New York farm. In ON the Banks of Plum Creek features the Ingalls moving to a Walnut Grove farm in Minnesota. In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the Ingalls sold their Minnesota farm and relocating to Dakota Territory. Meanwhile, we watched the family survive on no coal and little food in The Long Winter. Of course, let us not forget about Laura studying to be a teacher and helping her sister go to school for the blind in Little Town on the Prairie. Finally, These Happy Golden Years showed Laura’s teaching career and her relationship with Almanzo.
Standalone Or Last Series Installment
As we said before, the Little House books had been written for school-age kids. Laura Ingalls Wilder penned eight volumes about the pioneering life based on the real-life experiences she and her family experienced on the American frontier during the 19th century. When Rose died in 1968, literary executor Roger MacBride found The First Four Years in her belongings. It focused on the early days of the marriage between Laura and Almanzo. Her mother wrote the books in pencil, apparently. Without any editing whatsoever, they published it in the original manuscript form in 1971. To date, no one has any clue if it was going to be a standalone or the ninth installment in the series.
Inspired By Her Childhood
“The spirit of the frontier was one of humor and cheerfulness no matter what happened,” Laura once said, “It shines through all the volumes of my children’s novel.” If you still have no idea where the author received her inspiration for the series, let us reiterate that she based it on her childhood. Each volume reveals a new perspective of her life as a young girl. The single exception would be Farmer Boy, the second book, as it focused on Almanzo’s childhood instead. Every book in the series told a story, and they were actually more non-fiction than most stuff we find in the newspapers these days.
Narrating Her Different Stories
As we have previously mentioned, every book in the series drew inspiration from different parts of her childhood. This is nothing unusual in the arts as many musicians make albums about specific points in their life. This is a chance to learn more about the artist on a more personal level! However, we still do not know if this was what Laura had in mind. Nonetheless, Little House in the Big Woods practically outlines their time in Wisconsin, On the Banks of Plum Creek revolves around their days in Minnesota, and Little House on the Prairie details her stay in Kansas.
Not Completely Based On Her Life
There is no denying the fact that the main themes of the stories in the books drew inspiration from her own childhood. However, she did not turn them into tell-all books and left out certain bits. Among other things, she had to add in fictional elements that would make the books more enjoyable for young readers. Rose reportedly stayed at the Rocky Ridge Farm when the writing was going on, probably to help her mother out as the editor of the books. Aside from helping publish her mother’s works, Rose likely had her pioneer stories of her own to tell!
Everything Changed For Her After 1932
Like we previously discussed, it was in 1932 that Laura got her first book released. It was, of course, Little House in the Big Woods. At the time, she was sixty-five years old and living a much better life than in her earlier years. The book was well-received by both critics and readers, but you could say the same thing for all the books in the amazing series. It goes without saying that we all have our own stories to tell. It might be time to start documenting your very own life! After all, it was her personal battles and life that turned her into an international celebrity.