Friday, March 6, 2009

Daughter of Homesteaders: Laura Ingalls Wilder

The way we live and our schools are much different now; so many changes have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven't changed. “It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.” This statement was made by Laura Ingalls Wilder in a letter to her sister Mary who was living at home after graduating from college.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author of Little House on the Prairie Series,
Daughter of Homesteaders
De Smet, South Dakota

By Amanda Neville
Southeast Community College

However, without this woman’s contributions, what we know as the little house on the prairie through our National Parks might not exist today. In my studies to find someone I came across a woman that some probably wouldn’t give a second thought to. I would like to take the opportunity today to acknowledge Laura Ingalls Wilder as a woman worthy of our commendation. Because of her skill, her intelligence, and her dedication to her work she has proven to be deserving of our appreciation and respect.

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was a pioneer and the second oldest of four children. She was born to Charles and Caroline's Ingalls on February 7, 1867, in Pepin, Wisconsin. As a young girl, Wilder moved with her family from place to place across America's heartland. In 1874, the Ingalls family left Wisconsin for Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where they lived at first in a dugout house (Majeske 2002).

Wilder attended regular school whenever possible. However, because of her family's frequent moves, she was largely self-taught. In 1882, at the age of 15, she received her teaching certificate. For three years, Wilder taught at a small country school a dozen miles from her home in De Smet, SD and boarded with a family who lived nearby (Wilder, 2002). Now as all adolescents we at some time have to move away from home and start our own lives and careers, as Laura Ingalls Wilder did, but can you imagine only being a few dozen miles from your family and not being able to see them when you want?

Almanzo Wilder frequently headed out into the country on his sleigh to pick up Laura Ingalls and drop her off at her parents' home for weekend visits (Wilder, 2002). I am sure you can all relate, at some point in time you needed transport from your school or your job.

Almanzo and Laura courted or as we know it now dated for two years. According to the 2004 Encyclopedia of World Biography Almanzo, also called Manly, and Laura were married on August 25, 1885. Wilder then quit teaching to help her husband farm their homestead. The couple's only child, Rose, was born on December 5, 1886 (Thomson, 2004).

Although all homesteaders had to endure the hardships and uncertainty of farm life, the Wilders experienced more than their share of tragedy and misfortune. In August 1889, Wilder gave birth to a baby boy who died shortly after; her husband then came down with diphtheria, which left him partially paralyzed. Finally, their house, built by Wilder himself, burned to the ground (Thomson 2004).

Imagine if Laura Ingalls Wilder had not made it through all the hard ships and pain that Laura and her husband have endured. For this alone she deserves admiration. But that’s not where her story ends.

After a little more research on Laura Ingalls Wilder, I think it is safe to say she one of Americans favorite storytellers. Wilder’s is known for her classic writings Little House book series. You know, one of those storytellers you can’t get enough of? In 1911, she published her first article.

Laura’s first article was a piece in the Missouri Ruralist entitled Favors the Small Farm. She subsequently worked as the home editor of the Missouri Ruralist and the poultry editor of the St. Louis Star and contributed articles to periodicals such as McCall's and Country Gentleman (Wilder, 2002).

According to 2002 edition of The New Encyclopedia Britannica Laura Ingalls Wilder was prompted by her daughter, to write down her childhood experiences. Her stories centered on the male unrest and female patience of pioneers in the mid-1800s and celebrated their peculiarly American spirit and independence.

In my opinion, her greatest work is the book collection that tells about her life throughout the pioneer days. Wilder completed her first autobiographical work in the late 1920s. Entitled Pioneer Girl, it was a first-person account of her childhood on the frontier from the time she was 3 until she reached the age of 18 (Guinn 2000).

Wilder was 76 years old when she finished the final book in her Little House series. By that time, she and her husband had sold off the majority of their land and virtually all of their livestock, but they still lived on the remaining 70 acres of Rocky Ridge (Guinn 2000).

I am sure we can all agree that living during the pioneer era would be difficult, but as Mrs. Wilder said, it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. Being a pioneer was hard work yet they lived for the simplicity of life.

So in the time I’ve spent with you today I’ve taken the opportunity to acknowledge that Laura Ingalls Wilder as a woman worthy of commendation. In doing so, I’ve proven that because of his intelligence and skill and heartfelt dedication to her work Laura Ingalls Wilder is indeed deserving of our appreciation and respect. Obviously, we can now say that we gave Laura Ingalls Wilder the full credit that she is due.


Wilder, Laura Ingalls. (2009). In Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. (2004). Encyclopedia of World Biography.

Majeske D. (2002). Laura's life. Springfield News-Leader (MO). Retrieved February 15, 2009 from NewsBank.

Guinn, J. (2000). A Little dream When Laura Ingalls Wilder published 'Little House on the Prairie' 65 years ago, she never could have imagined its powerful legacy - or its angry critics. Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX). Retrieved February 15, 2009 from NewsBank.

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