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Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder

Born Laura Elizabeth Ingalls
February 7, 1867(1867-02-07)
near Pepin, Wisconsin
Died February 10, 1957 (aged 90)
Mansfield, Missouri
Occupation Novelist, Teacher
Nationality American
Period 1932–1940s
Genres Autobiography
Subjects Midwestern & Western
Notable work(s) Little House on the Prairie

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) was an American author who wrote the Little House series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family.[1]

Contents

Early life and marriage

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born February 7, 1867, near the village of Pepin, in the "Big Woods" of Wisconsin,[2] to Charles Phillip Ingalls and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. She was the second of five children; her siblings were Mary Amelia, who went blind;[3] Carrie Celestia, Charles Frederick, who died when nine months old, and Grace Pearl. Her birth site is commemorated by a period log cabin, the Little House Wayside.[4]

Her paternal immigrant ancestor was Edmund Ingalls born 27 June 1586 in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, England, and died 16 September 1648 in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts.[5]

In Laura's early childhood, her father settled on land not yet open for homesteading in what was then Indian Territory near Independence, Kansas--an experience that formed the basis of Ingalls' novel Little House on the Prairie. Within a few years, her father's restless spirit led them on various moves to a preemption claim in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, living with relatives near South Troy, Minnesota, and helping to run a hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa. After a move from Burr Oak back to Walnut Grove, where Charles Ingalls served as the town butcher and Justice of the Peace, Charles accepted a railroad job in the spring of 1879 which led him to eastern Dakota Territory, where he was joined by the family in the fall of 1879. Over the winter of 1879-1880, Charles landed a homestead, and called DeSmet, South Dakota, home for the rest of his, Caroline, and Mary's lives. After staying the cold winter of 1879–1880 in the Surveyor's House, the Ingalls family watched the town of DeSmet rise up from the prairie in 1880. The following winter, 1880–1881, one of the most severe on record in the Dakotas, was later described by Wilder in her book, The Long Winter. Once the family was settled in DeSmet, she attended school, made many friends, and met homesteader Almanzo Wilder (1857–1949). This time in her life is well documented in the Little House Books.

At the age of 15, Laura accepted her first teaching position, teaching three terms in one-room schools, when not attending school herself in DeSmet. She later admitted that she did not particularly enjoy teaching, but felt the responsibility from a young age to help her family financially, and wage earning opportunities for females were limited. Laura stopped teaching when she married Almanzo Wilder on August 25, 1885. Wilder had achieved a degree of prosperity on his homestead claim, owing to favorable weather in the early 1880s, and the couple's prospects seemed bright. She joined Almanzo in a new home on his claim north of DeSmet and agreed to help him make the claim succeed. On December 5, 1886, she gave birth to Rose Wilder (1886–1968) and later, an unnamed son, who died shortly after birth in 1889.

The first few years of marriage held many trials. Complications from a life-threatening bout of diphtheria left Almanzo partially paralyzed. While he eventually regained nearly full use of his legs, he needed a cane to walk for the remainder of his life. This setback, among many others, began a series of disastrous events that included the death of their unnamed newborn son, the destruction of their home and barn by fire, and several years of severe drought that left them in debt, physically ill, and unable to earn a living from their 320 acres (1.3 km2) of prairie land. The tales of their trials at farming can be found in The First Four Years, a manuscript that was discovered after Rose Wilder Lane's death. Published in 1971, it detailed the hard-fought first four years of marriage on the Dakota prairies.

About 1890, the Wilders left South Dakota and spent about a year resting at Wilder's parents' prosperous Spring Valley Minnesota farm before moving briefly to Westville, Florida. They sought Florida's climate to improve Wilder's health, but being used to living on the dry plains, he wilted in the heat and Southern humidity. In 1892, they returned to DeSmet and bought a small house (although later accounts by Lane mistakenly indicated it was rented). The Wilders received special permission to start their precocious daughter in school early and took jobs (Almanzo as a day laborer, Laura as a seamstress at a dressmaker's shop) to save enough money to once again start a farm.

Rocky Ridge Farm

In 1894, the hard-pressed young couple moved a final time to Mansfield, Missouri, using their savings to make a down payment on a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town. They named the place Rocky Ridge Farm. What began as about 40 acres (0.2 km2) of thickly wooded, stone-covered hillside with a windowless log cabin, over the next 20 years evolved into a 200-acre (0.8 km2), relatively prosperous poultry, dairy, and fruit farm. The ramshackle log cabin was eventually replaced with an impressive 10-room farmhouse and outbuildings.

The couple's climb to financial security was a slow process. Initially, the only income the farm produced was from wagonloads of firewood Almanzo sold for 50 cents in town, the result of the backbreaking work of clearing the trees and stones from land that slowly evolved into fertile fields and pastures. The apple trees did not begin to bear fruit for seven years. Barely able to eke out more than a subsistence living on the new farm, the Wilders decided to move into nearby Mansfield in the late 1890s and rent a small house. Almanzo found work as an oil salesman and general delivery man, while Laura took in boarders and served meals to local railroad workers. Recipes that she used are included in the biography, I Remember Laura, by Stephen W. Hines. Any spare time was spent improving the farm and planning for a better future.

Wilder's parents visited around this time, and presented to the couple, as a gift, the deed to the house they had been renting in Mansfield. This was the economic jump start they needed; they eventually sold the house in town and using the proceeds from the sale, were able to move back to the farm permanently, and to complete Rocky Ridge.

Almanzo died in 1949 at the age of ninety-two, Laura died at the age of ninety on February 10, 1957, both on their Rocky Ridge Farm at Mansfield, Missouri.

Farm diversification

Laura and Almanzo Wilder, 1885

By 1910, Rocky Ridge Farm was established to the point where the Wilders returned there to focus their efforts on increasing the farm's productivity and output. The impressive 10-room farmhouse completed in 1912 stands as a testament to their labors and determination to carve a comfortable and attractive home from the land.

Having learned a hard lesson from focusing solely on wheat farming in South Dakota, the Wilders' Rocky Ridge Farm became a diversified poultry and dairy farm, with an abundant apple orchard. Wilder, always active in various clubs and an advocate for several regional farm associations, was recognized as an authority in poultry farming and rural living, which led to invitations to talk to groups around the region.

Following Rose Wilder Lane's developing writing career also inspired Wilder to do some writing of her own. An invitation to submit an article to the Missouri Ruralist in 1911 led to a permanent position as a columnist and editor with that publication — a position she held until the mid-1920s. She also took a paid position with a Farm Loan Association, dispensing small loans to local farmers from her office in the farmhouse.

Her column in the Ruralist, "As a Farm Woman Thinks," introduced Mrs. A.J. Wilder to a loyal audience of rural Ozarkians, who enjoyed her regular columns, whose topics ranged from home and family to World War I and other world events, to the fascinating world travels of her daughter and her own thoughts on the increasing options offered to women during this era.

While the Wilders were never wealthy until the "Little House" series of books began to achieve popularity, the farming operation and Wilder's income from writing and the Farm Loan Association provided a stable enough living for the Wilders to finally place themselves in Mansfield middle-class society.

Wilder's fellow clubwomen were mostly the wives of business owners, doctors and lawyers, and her club activities took up much of the time that Lane encouraged her to use to develop a writing career for national magazines, as Lane had done. Wilder seemed unable or unwilling to make the leap from writing for the Missouri Ruralist to these higher-paying national markets. The few articles she was able to sell to national magazines were heavily edited by her daughter and placed solely through Lane's established publishing connections.

Retirement

For much of the 1920s and 1930s, between long stints living abroad (including in her beloved adopted country of Albania),[6] Lane lived with the Wilders at Rocky Ridge Farm. As her free-lance writing career flourished, she successfully invested in the booming stock market.

Her newfound financial freedom led her to increasingly assume responsibility for her aging parents' support, as well as providing for the college educations of several young people she "adopted," both in Albania and Mansfield. Lane also took over the farmhouse her parents had built and had a beautiful, modern stone cottage constructed for them as a gift. However, when Lane left the farm for good a few years later, the Wilders, homesick for the house they had built with their own hands, moved back to it, and finished their lives there.

By the late 1920s, they had scaled back the farming operation considerably and Wilder had resigned from her positions with the Missouri Ruralist and the Farm Loan Association. Hired help was installed in the caretaker's house Lane had built on the property, to take care of the remaining farm work that Almanzo, now in his 70s, could no longer easily manage.

A comfortable and worry-free retirement seemed possible for the Wilders until the Stock Market Crash of 1929 wiped out the family's investments. The couple still owned the 200 acres (0.8 km2) farm, but they had invested most of their hard-won savings with Lane's broker. Lane was faced with the grim prospect of selling enough of her writing in a depressed market to maintain the financial responsibilities she had assumed, and the Wilders became dependent on her as their primary source of support.

In 1930, Wilder asked her daughter's opinion about a biographical manuscript she had written about her pioneering childhood. The Great Depression, coupled with the death of her mother in 1924 and her sister Mary in 1928, seem to have prompted her to preserve her memories in a "life story" called "Pioneer Girl." She had also renewed her interest in writing in the hope of generating some income. The first idea for the title of the first of the books was When Grandma was a Little Girl (later Little House in the Big Woods). After its success, Laura continued writing, given mental support and help in the form of sharing her own memories, by her sister Carrie.

Book series collaboration

Controversy surrounds Lane's exact role in what became her mother's famous "Little House" series of books. Some argue that Laura was an "untutored genius," relying on her daughter mainly for some early encouragement and her connections with publishers and literary agents. Others contend that Lane took each of her mother's unpolished rough drafts in hand and completely (and silently) transformed them into the series of books we know today. The truth most likely lies somewhere between these two positions — Wilder's writing career as a rural journalist and credible essayist began more than two decades before the "Little House" series, and Lane's formidable skills as an editor and ghostwriter are well-documented [7]. But Lane's New York literary agent, George T. Bye, turned away the initial drafts, commenting that they lacked drama. [8]

The existing evidence (including ongoing correspondence between the women concerning the development of the series, Lane's extensive personal diaries and Wilder's first person draft manuscripts) tends to reveal an ongoing joint collaboration. The conclusion can be drawn that Wilder's strengths as a compelling storyteller and Lane's considerable skills in dramatic pacing and literary structure contributed to an occasionally tense, but fruitful, collaboration between two talented and headstrong women. In fact, the collaboration seems to have worked both ways: two of Lane's most successful novels, Let the Hurricane Roar (1932) and Free Land (1938), were written at the same time as the "Little House" series and basically re-told Ingalls and Wilder family tales in an adult format. The collaboration also brought the two writers at Rocky Ridge Farm the money they needed to recoup the loss of their investments in the stock market. Simply stated: If Wilder had not written the books, they would not exist — Lane had no interest in writing what she called "juveniles" — but had Lane not edited the books, they might well have never been accepted for publication let alone become famous. Since the initial publication of "Little House in the Big Woods" in 1931, the books have been continually in print and have been translated into 40 different languages.

Whatever the collaboration personally represented to the mother and daughter was never publicly discussed, however. Wilder's first — and smallest — royalty check from Harper was for $500 — the equivalent of $7,300 in 2007 dollars. By the mid-1930s the royalties from the "Little House" books brought a steady and increasingly substantial income to the Wilders for the first time in their 50 years of marriage. Various honors, huge amounts of fan mail and other accolades were granted to Laura Ingalls Wilder. The novels and short stories of Rose Wilder Lane during the 1930s also represented her creative and literary peak. Her name received top billing on the magazine covers where her fiction and articles appeared. The Saturday Evening Post paid her $30,000 (approximately $400,000 in 2007 dollars) to serialize her best-selling novel Free Land, while Let the Hurricane Roar saw an increasing and steady sale, augmented by a radio dramatization starring Helen Hayes. The book remains in print today as Young Pioneers.

Celebrated author

Lane left Rocky Ridge Farm in the late 1930s, establishing homes in Harlingen, Texas, and Danbury, Connecticut. She eventually ceased fiction writing and spent the remainder of her life writing about and promoting her philosophies of personal freedom and liberty. She became one of the more influential American libertarians of the mid-twentieth century.

During these years, Wilder and her husband were frequently alone at Rocky Ridge Farm. Most of the surrounding area (including the property with the stone cottage Lane had built for them) had been sold off, but they still kept some farm animals, and tended their flower beds and vegetable gardens. Almost daily, carloads of fans would stop by, eager to meet "Laura" of the Little House books. The Wilders lived independently and without financial worries until Almanzo's death in 1949, at the age of 92. Wilder was grieved, but determined to remain independent and stay on the farm, despite Lane's requests that her mother come live with her permanently in Connecticut. For the next eight years, she lived alone, looked after by a circle of neighbors and friends who found it hard to believe their very own "Mrs. Wilder" was a world-famous author. She was a familiar figure in Mansfield, being brought into town regularly by her driver to run errands, attend church, or visit friends. She continued an active correspondence with her editors, many fans and friends during these years.

Throughout the 1950s, Lane usually returned to Missouri to spend the winter with her mother. Once, Wilder flew to Connecticut for a visit to Lane's home. In the fall of 1956, Lane went to Mansfield for Thanksgiving, and found her 89-year-old mother severely ill from undiagnosed diabetes and a weakening heart. Several weeks in the hospital seemed to improve the situation somewhat, and Wilder was able to return home on the day after Christmas. But she was very old and very ill, and declined rapidly after that point. Wilder had an extremely competitive spirit going all the way back to the schoolyard as a child, and she had remarked to many people that she wanted to live to be 90, "because Almanzo had". She succeeded. On February 10, 1957, just three days after her 90th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder died in her sleep in her Mansfield farmhouse.

With Wilder's death in 1957, use of the Rocky Ridge Farmhouse reverted to the farmer who had earlier bought the surrounding land. The local townsfolk put together a non-profit corporation to purchase the house and its grounds, for use as a museum. After some wariness at the notion of seeing the house rather than the books themselves be a shrine to her mother, Lane came to believe that making a museum of it would draw long-lasting attention to the books. She donated the money needed to purchase the house and make it a museum, agreed to make significant contributions each year for its upkeep and also gave many of the family's belongings to help establish what became a popular museum that still draws thousands of visitors each year to Mansfield.[9]

Lane inherited ownership of the "Little House" literary estate for her lifetime only, all rights reverting to the Mansfield library after her death, according to her mother's will. After her death in 1968, Lane's heir, Roger MacBride, gained control of the copyrights. MacBride was Lane's informally-adopted grandson, as well as her business agent, attorney, and heir. All of MacBride's actions carried Lane's apparent approval. In fact, at Lane's request, the copyrights to each of the "Little House" books, as well as those of Lane's own literary works, had been renewed in MacBride's name when the original copyrights expired during the decade between Wilder's and Lane's deaths.

Controversy did not come until after MacBride's death in 1995, when the Laura Ingalls Wilder Branch of the Wright County Library (which Wilder helped found) in Mansfield, Missouri, decided it was worth trying to recover the rights. The ensuing court case was settled in an undisclosed manner, but MacBride's heirs retained the rights. The library received enough to start work on a new building.

The popularity of the "Little House" series of books has grown phenomenally over the years, spawning a multimillion-dollar franchise of mass merchandising, additional spinoff book series (some written by MacBride and his daughter), and the long-running television show, starring Michael Landon. Laura Ingalls Wilder has been portrayed by Melissa Gilbert (1974-1984), Meredith Monroe (1997, 1998) and Kyle Chavarria (2005) in television series.

Wilder once said the reason she wrote her books in the first place was to preserve the stories of her childhood for today's children, to help them to understand how much America had changed during her lifetime.

Legacy

  • Missouri Walk of Fame - Wilder was honored on the in 2006. David Ingalls, an Ingalls cousin, accepted the star.

Bibliography

Museums and home sites

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Laura Ingalls Wilder". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  2. ^ Laura's home in Pepin became the setting for her first book, Little House in the Big Woods
  3. ^ Mary's blindness was due to a stroke, according to Laura's unpublished memoir, Pioneer Girl, although many people think the cause was scarlet fever.
  4. ^ Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1867-1957) (Historic Marker Erected 1962)
  5. ^ A Genealogical Look at Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. ^ Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  7. ^ Wilder Women: The Mother and Daughter Behind the Little House Stories
  8. ^ John E. Miller. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane: authorship, place, time, and culture. University of Missouri Press 2008 p 24
  9. ^ Holtz, William, The Ghost in the Little House, University of Missouri Press, 1995, p. 340, retrieved 12 January 2009
  10. ^ Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
  11. ^ Laura Wilder Elementary School. Dr. Linda Haugan, Principal
  12. ^ Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary

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Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 - February 10, 1957) was an American writer. She is widely known as the original author of Little House on the Prairie series of books. A TV series, "Little House In the Prairie", was inspired by the story of her life as told in her books. The series stars Melissa Gilbert as Laura and Michael Landon as Charles 'Pa' Ingalls.

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