Tuesday 7 February 2017

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)

Laura Ingalls Wilder head and shoulders
By Unknown photographer
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series of autobiographical novels, was born 150 years ago today, on 7 February 1867. Between 1932 and 1943, she produced a total of eight such novels, all based on her childhood experiences growing up in various parts of the US northern mid-west during the 1870s and 1880s, as part of a pioneer and settler family. "Years of sunshine and shadows" as she would later describe it.

She was born near village of Pepin in the Big Woods region of Wisconsin. Her family moved around quite a lot and this feature of her life would continue after she got married. She had worked as a teacher in the meantime, from the age of just 15, in order to supplement her family's earnings. Each of the books in the Little House series are set in one of the locations that she had lived while growing up.

The family resided for only two years in Walnut Grove, Minnesota before crop failure forced them to move on. Nevertheless, it provides the setting for the TV series, Little House on the Prairie, loosely based on her accounts. The book of the same name actually tells of the time that the Ingalls family spent on the prairie of Kansas, near the town of Independence, on what subsequently turned out to be a Native American reservation. The decision to move was based on the fact that the land was not legally open to settlement and that the US army might force them to abandon it.

By Laura Ingalls Wilder
(scan from the Internet)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Her writing career began around 1911, when she found an outlet for her particular talent and style in articles that she submitted to mostly farming and rural publications. In her early 60s, she began writing an autobiography with the title, Pioneer Girl. It was rejected by publishers but she re-wrote most of the stories, adapting them to a format suitable for juvenile and young adult readership. She was assisted in her efforts by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, herself a prominent journalist, writer, polemicist, staunch libertarian. The Little House series were, in many ways, a literary collaboration of the mother and the daughter, with Rose also acting as her agent, using her connections as a successful writer in her own right to get the books published.

Another motivating factor may well have been the stock market crash of 1929, which saw both Rose's savings, as well as that of her parents, wiped out. Their fortunes were restored far beyond what they could have expected with the success of the Little House series, recollecting pioneer life of the late 19th century, based on the Ingalls family's experiences on the American frontier. Some unfinished manuscripts have been also published posthumously.

Laura Ingalls Wilder died on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday.

Almanzo and Laura Wilder gravesite Mansfield MO
Gravesite of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder in Mansfield Cemetery, Mansfield, MO.
Buried next to them is daughter Rose Wilder Lane.

By Julie Jordan Scott [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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