Laura Ingalls Wilder: Life, Family Story, Works, and more!

| | February 22, 2024

Laura Ingalls Wilder is a name that resonates deeply in the hearts of many who have grown up reading her Little House series.

Born into a world that was rapidly changing, Laura’s early experiences on the American frontier shaped not only her life but also the captivating stories that would later enchant generations of readers.

Early Life

Laura Ingalls Wilder, born Laura Elizabeth Ingalls on February 7, 1867, in Pepin, Wisconsin, entered a world of vast wilderness and pioneering spirits. The second of five children, Laura’s early life was marked by frequent moves across the American Midwest, a testament to her family’s quest for a better life on the expanding frontier. Her father, Charles Ingalls, and mother, Caroline Ingalls, were instrumental in instilling in Laura a love for exploration and a resilience that would define her character and her writings.

The Ingalls family’s journey took them from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to various key locations that would later serve as the backdrops for Laura’s books, including Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and finally Dakota Territory. 

These moves were often driven by the hardships and opportunities that shaped the lives of many American pioneers during that era. Laura’s formative years were filled with the challenges of settler life, including harsh winters, crop failures, and the constant push westward in search of a stable home.

Growing Up on the Frontier

Growing up on the frontier profoundly influenced Laura Ingalls Wilder. The vast landscapes of the American prairie, with its open skies and untamed nature, left an indelible mark on her. Life on the frontier was not easy; it was filled with both beauty and hardship.

Laura and her family faced the realities of pioneer life head-on, including the isolation from other communities, the struggle to cultivate the land, and the necessity of being self-sufficient.

These experiences on the frontier taught Laura valuable lessons about resilience, hard work, and the importance of family. The challenges of frontier life, such as dealing with unpredictable weather, wild animals, and occasional conflicts with Native American tribes, were countered by the simple pleasures of family gatherings, storytelling, and the joys of discovering new territories. This blend of hardship and happiness would become a central theme in Laura’s later writings.

Laura’s upbringing instilled in her a pioneering spirit that she carried throughout her life. The prairie became not just a setting for her stories but a character in its own right, shaping the lives of the characters she created. Her detailed descriptions of life on the frontier brought the American dreams of freedom and adventure to life for young readers across the country and around the world.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experiences growing up on the frontier did not just influence her; they became the foundation for a body of work that celebrated the American pioneer spirit, making her one of the most beloved authors in children’s literature.

Teaching Career

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s teaching career was a significant chapter in her early adult life. At just 15 years old, Laura took on the responsibility of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse.

READ MORE: Who Invented School? The Story Behind Monday Mornings

This step into teaching was driven by her family’s financial needs and Laura’s own determination to contribute. Despite her young age, Laura faced the challenges head-on, traveling miles from her home to teach students who were sometimes older than she was. Her experiences during this time not only tested her resolve but also deepened her understanding of prairie life and the simple pleasures and hardships of rural communities.

Teaching in these small, rural schools, Laura Ingalls became adept at managing diverse age groups in a single classroom, a skill that required patience, creativity, and a firm yet kind discipline. The prairie schools were often in remote locations, challenging Laura with isolation and the harsh realities of frontier life. However, these experiences also enriched Laura’s appreciation and optimism for the simple pleasures of family, community, and the natural world.

Her teaching career, though short-lived, was an essential precursor to her writing career. It provided Laura with a wealth of experiences and a deep understanding of the American frontier, elements that would later be vividly portrayed in her Little House books.

Becoming a Writer

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journey to becoming a writer was a natural progression from her life experiences, deeply rooted in the American frontier and her desire to preserve the stories of her family’s adventures across the prairie. It wasn’t until Laura was in her sixties that she turned these rich memories into the beloved Little House series.

Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, played a crucial role in this transition, encouraging Laura to write and assisting in the editing and publishing of her stories.

The Little House books began as a way to share the stories of Laura’s childhood, moving from the big woods of Wisconsin to various parts of the American prairie, including Walnut Grove and De Smet. These stories captured the spirit of American pioneer life, filled with challenges, adventures, and the simple pleasures of family and community life. Laura’s writing resonated with readers, offering a window into the past and the hardships and joys of settling the American frontier.

Her experiences as a teacher, farm journalist, and pioneer woman enriched her narratives, adding depth and authenticity to her portrayal of the prairie life.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Works and Books

Laura Ingalls Wilder is renowned for her Little House books, a series of autobiographical novels that capture the spirit of the American frontier. These stories, based on Laura’s own life, follow the Ingalls family as they navigate the challenges and adventures of pioneering in the late 19th century.

READ MORE: US History Timeline: The Dates of America’s Journey

The Little House Series

The Little House series begins with “Little House in the Big Woods” and follows Laura and her family as they move across various parts of the American frontier, including Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. The series captures the essence of pioneer life—from building a home on the prairie and tilling the land to enduring harsh winters and finding joy in the simple pleasures of family life.

Through Laura’s eyes, readers experience the challenges of pioneer life, including encounters with wildlife, the changing seasons, and the family’s perseverance through adversity. Each book in the series builds on the last, showing the growth of Laura from a young girl into a young woman, her marriage to Almanzo Wilder, and their life together on Rocky Ridge Farm.

In the Land of the Big Red Apples

“In the Land of the Big Red Apples” is a title from the series of Little House books, but it’s important to note that it actually falls within the Rose Years, written by Roger Lea MacBride, based on the life of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter. This series continues the legacy of the Ingalls family by exploring Rose’s childhood and early adult life.

“In the Land of the Big Red Apples” specifically delves into Rose’s experiences growing up on Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri. The book captures Rose’s adventures and the family’s daily struggles and joys in the early 20th century. Roger Lea MacBride, a close friend of Rose Wilder Lane, intricately weaves these tales, ensuring the continuation of the Ingalls Wilder legacy through Rose’s perspective. The narrative focuses on Rose’s education, her interactions with her parents, especially her mother Laura, and the challenges and achievements of rural life.

This book, while a step removed from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s direct authorship, remains true to the spirit of the Little House series.

Marriage and Children

Laura Ingalls Wilder married Almanzo Wilder when she was 18 years old. Together, Laura and Almanzo had three children, but only one, Rose Wilder Lane, survived into adulthood. 

Tragically, their second child, a son, died shortly after birth, and the couple also had a baby who died at birth, not widely documented in Laura’s own writings.

End of a Career

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing career concluded with her last book, “These Happy Golden Years,” which was published in 1943. Although not her final work in terms of publication order, it marked the end of the Little House series, effectively capping off her career as a children’s author.

Laura’s storytelling, which vividly captured life on the American frontier, ceased in terms of new works after this publication. Her later years were spent revisiting her earlier writings and maintaining correspondence with her readers.

Later Life and Death

Laura Ingalls Wilder passed away on February 10, 1957, at the age of 90. She died at her home in Mansfield, Missouri, the place where she spent many years of her life and wrote the majority of her beloved Little House books.

Laura’s later life was marked by the recognition of her contributions to children’s literature, though she lived relatively quietly, enjoying the fruits of her labor and the company of her family. After Almanzo’s death in 1949, Laura continued to live on Rocky Ridge Farm until her own death.

Award Controversy

In recent years, Laura Ingalls Wilder has been at the center of an award controversy that highlights the changing perspectives on historical narratives and cultural sensitivity.

The American Library Association (ALA) made the decision to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This decision was based on the acknowledgment of Wilder’s works containing language and depictions of Native Americans and African Americans that are considered insensitive and offensive by today’s standards.

The ALA stated that Wilder’s portrayals of certain groups of people could potentially harm young readers, particularly those from the communities depicted in a negative light.

The controversy stirred a wide range of responses, with some arguing that the decision erased an important part of literary and cultural history, while others applauded it as a step towards more inclusive and respectful representation in literature.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum celebrates the life and works of one of America’s most beloved children’s authors. Dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the Ingalls family, the museum features a collection of artifacts, documents, and personal items belonging to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. Visitors can explore various exhibits that bring to life the pioneer spirit of the Ingalls family as depicted in the Little House books.

Mansfield Missouri

One key location of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is in Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and her husband, Almanzo Wilder, spent the majority of their lives. This site is home to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, also known as Rocky Ridge Farm. Here, visitors can tour the historic Wilder home, where Laura wrote many of her famous Little House books.

The museum houses a significant collection of Wilder’s personal belongings, original manuscripts, and other memorabilia that offer insights into her life and the times in which she lived.

Rocky Ridge

Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, Missouri, holds a special place in the hearts of Laura Ingalls Wilder fans. It is here that Laura and Almanzo built their life together and where Laura turned her pioneering childhood experiences into the timeless Little House series.

The Rocky Ridge Farm has been meticulously preserved, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the world that Laura so vividly described in her books. The farm includes the original Wilder home, now a museum, and offers a unique opportunity to explore Wilder’s domestic life and Laura’s legacy as a writer.

Legacy

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s legacy extends far beyond the pages of her books. Her stories have not only remained a staple in children’s literature but have also transcended mediums to become a beloved TV series. This adaptation introduced Laura’s tales of life on the American frontier to a new generation, further cementing her place in American culture.

Beyond television, her influence reached international audiences, inspiring a Japanese anime series, “Laura, the Prairie Girl” (1977) that brought her stories of resilience and adventure to viewers around the world.

In addition to her original books, Laura’s life and works have been explored through rediscovered writings and an annotated autobiography, providing deeper insights into her experiences and the historical context of her time.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s historic home, where she penned many of her famous narratives, has been preserved as a museum, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the environment that inspired her timeless stories.

Through these various forms—books, TV series, rediscovered writings, animated adaptations, and museum exhibits—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s legacy continues to inspire and educate.

References

Boustead, B. M., Shulski, M. D., & Hilberg, S. D. (2020). The Long Winter: Verifying Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Account of 1880/81. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101(7), 583–589. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27092453

Baker, Maggie Koerth. “The Meterology of ‘Little House On the Prairie.’ “ Boing Boing, December 11, 2012. Accessed 4 April 2017.

Brammer, Rebecca, and Greetham, Phil. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Frontier Girl, 2008. Accessed on 24 March 2017.

Eschner, Kat. “The Little House on the Prairie Was Built on Native American Land.” Smithsonian.com, February 8, 2017. Accessed 4 April, 2017.

“Historic Locations and Points of Interest.” Little House on the Prairie, 2013-2017. Accessed 4 April 2017.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder.” A&E Television Network, nd. Accessed 24 March 2017.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder.” DeSmet, South Dakota: The Wilder Life. DeSmet Development Corporation, 2017. Accessed 24 March 2017.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Advameg, 2017. Accessed on 22 March 2017.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Independence, Kansas, 2017. Accessed 5 April, 2017.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder: Historic Homes.” Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Society, n.d. Accessed on 24 March, 2017.

” ‘Little House’ Still Resonates After 75 Years.” USA Today, May 27, 2007. Accessed 7 April 2017.

“The Long Winter of 1880-81.” Black Hills Pioneer, 31 January 2017. Accessed 4 April 2017.

“Ma Ingalls Describes Family Life in 1861.” Wisconsin Historical Society, 2017. Accessed 24 March 2017.

“Rose Wilder Lane and Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. Accessed 24 March 2017.

Thurman, Judith. “Wilder Women: The Mother and Daughter Behind the Little House Series.” The New Yorker, 2009. Accessed 7 April, 2017.

Vergano, Dan. ” ‘Little House’ Author Right on 1880’s Winter.” USA Today, August 21, 2011. Accessed 4 April, 2017.

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