Laura Ingalls Wilder

Alright, this is clearly something my friends keep mocking me about. There was this one time, a few years ago, when we were all playing a questionnaire game. I was asked the famous question: “If you could meet anyone dead or alive, who would it be?”. And what did I answer? “Laura Ingalls Wilder”. I was a bit drunk at the moment and, in retrospect, I would probably have changed my answer if only had I known that my friends would still make fun of me today. But when you’re a 20 year old student, the point of the questionnaire game is: when you’re drunk, you tell the truth. That’s the fun of it. [Although this is clearly not an encouragement for you to get drunk!]

I think the source of their hilarity first came from the fact that none of them actually knew that Laura Ingalls did exist in real life. They just had this stereotyped picture of Melissa Gilbert from the TV show “Little House on the Prairie” and the melodramatic/idealistic/over-religious image of the Ingalls family.

Real Laura Ingalls

Melissa Gilbert Portraying Laura Ingalls in the TV Show

The TV Show

But yes, I confess: I also love the show and that’s probably what encouraged me to know more about the real Laura Ingalls. Her own story is slightly different from what Michael Landon showed on TV, though. For instance, Albert never existed in real life, Mary never got married and the Ingalls stayed in Walnut Grove for a very brief period of time. But as the creator/director of the show, Landon always tried to be as close as possible to the historical and social background. The show ran on TV from 1974 to 1983 and was adapted from Laura Ingalls’ Little House series of books.

Actor and Director Michael Landon

The first episode starts with the Ingalls family settling in Walnut Grove and the last one – probably the most memorable series finale in the history of television! – features the residents destroying the village after they had been evicted from their houses by a railroad tycoon. The show is still under syndication today – which means that there’s still an audience to watch it – and it’s not lying to say that it impacted at least 2 generations of viewers throughout the world. Surprisingly, I often hear very harsh comments about the show from people around me. Maybe these remarks are just related to the fact that today’s young adults do not want to admit they know the show as well as I do. Or maybe they think that the drama is overexagerated. I don’t know, really… But there’s one thing for sure: the main events the Ingalls family went through are not pure fiction. The death of a newborn child, the strong religious ties, Mary going blind, Almonzo being stricken by diphtheria and partial paralysis, bad weather, lost crops, illness, moving from place to place all the time, etc.: not only all of this happened in real life, but that was also what ordinary people had to face at that time of the US history.

Fictional Ingalls Family

Real Ingalls Family

The Real Laura Ingalls

As I wrote in the introduction page of this blog, I’m fond of American history. What I didn’t say though, is that I’m particularly interested in anything related to the pioneers and the conquest of the West. Laura Ingalls is the perfect example of what living in the 19th century West was. She grew up in a pioneer household, moved out many times through wild Midwest territories (Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Dakota) as her father believed he could make a living as a farmer while the relationships between the settlers and the Natives were still hostile. The family was composed of Mary, Carrie, Freddie (a boy who died soon after being born) and Grace. At 17, Laura married Almonzo Wilder and they got two kids, Rose and an unnamed boy who died shortly after his birth.

Real Charles Ingalls

Young Couple Laura & Almonzo

But beyond biographical anecdotes, what really is extraordinary with Laura’s life is that this woman lived for 90 years, from 1867 to 1957. Needless to say that she witnessed some massive social, technological and political changes until she died. Let me picture it this way: when Laura was born, the US were still a young nation. Some states were barely inhabited, there were still confrontations with Native Americans who got literally despoiled of their land, and the transportation and communication systems were pretty much inexistent. In less than a century, Laura Ingalls experienced the completion of the Transcontinental railroad that connected the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, the introduction of the telegraph (and then the telephone), scientific and medical progress, the transition from local to industrial farming and – above all – the US became the most powerful political and military nation in the world. Laura even saw her country engaged in WW1 and WW2, can you believe that considering where she came from?

Rose Wilder started a literary career before her mother. That’s Rose who encouraged Laura to write, and her first productions were initially published in a rural newspaper. With the help of her sister Carrie, Laura started writing the Little House books from 1930, once she got retired and reached a relatively stable financial situation. This period also coincides with the death of her mother Caroline and sister Mary.

Laura Ingalls Wilder at a Book Signing Session

After Laura’s death, Rose turned her mother’s house into a museum so as to maintain the literary and cultural legacy of her parents. The Little House books are now internationally renowned and the memory of the author has been, in my opinion, very well served by the TV show.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum is located in Mansfield, Missouri.

Laura and Almonzo's Last Home and Museum

Laura & Almonzo's Tombstone. They're Buried Near the Museum.

Misc. pictures

Charles Ingalls' Violin

Laura and Almonzo by the end of their lives

The "Little House" series of books

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Categories: People, TV | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. Riv'ka

    Oh, j’adoooooore La petite maison dans la prairie! j’ai relu toute la série cet été. Mais il y a neuf livres? Je n’en ai lu que sept.

  2. Je viens de vérifier sur Amazon et il y en a bien 9. Faudra que je vérifie ceux que j’ai quand je retournerai chez mes parents, mais je suis quasiment sûre que je n’en ai pas lu 9 non plus…

  3. Riv'ka

    Ben oui c’est bizarre il y en a 9, mais peut-être que tous n’ont pas été traduits en français (je les ai lus en vf, shame on me), et l’est d’eux est l’enfance d’Almanzo racontée par Laura. Et tu as vu le film?

  4. Lianna

    emilie, I looooove Laura’s story! I grew up with them. I feel closer to her family than to mine. When it comes to hard times, I re-read her books and found encouragement and inspiration from them. Pity to those who never read her stories…

  5. I believe the reason my friends make fun of me when i say i like Laura Ingalls is that her books are not part of children’s literature in France (which also explains why they generally don’t know she’s more than just a character from a TV show). The books have been translated and do exist in France but they’re not very easy to find in bookstores. That’s a pity because Laura’s writing is like an iniatiatory travel and there are many elements that appeal to both children and adults. That’s the kind of books that stay with you throughout your whole life! I don’t have kids but if i ever become a mother, the “Little House” books will be part of my kids’ literary experience for sure! :-)

  6. Tina Ransley-Devoe

    I was given my first Little House book in the 1970′s when I was a young girl. I still own that book and have read it so many times. I had my first daughter in 1995 and began reading the Little House books to her when she was 4. I borrowed them from my local library so many times that they gave me their collection. I have loved these books since I first read them and now have a two year old daughter and I can’t wait to begin reading them to her. I still cry every time I read about poor old Jack dying. It is so beautiful to me to discover there are other people who love these books as much as I do.

  7. Astrid

    hey thank you for making this page, i to loves Laura.. but I notice that you did a little mistake, acorrding to the book Laura and Amanzo where marrid when she was 19..

    great page thank you

  8. kate

    very interesting stuff, thanks for posting

  9. Samantha

    Oh God! I love this scrapbook!!! So glad I googled pioneers for a project I’m doing….. otherwise i might never have found this!! :) Love Laura and her WHOLE family!!! Screw the freakin tv series…. it was too sappy and didn’t even come close to the real Ingalls in my opinion

  10. Petra

    I was a little girl in the 1980′s when the TV series of Laura Ingalls were very popular in Finland! I loved it then and in my 30′s I love them ever more, as do my children ;)! By the way, many Scandinavian People (Finnish, Swedish, Norvegian, Danish) came to America to find a better life to themselves, maybe even Walnut Grove ;)!!! I thought it was very interesting to read your scrapbook of the Ingalls’ Family, thank you!!
    Laura Ingalls Wilder was an incredible woman!!!!!

  11. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder, ever since I was a little girl when I read little house in the big woods for the first time, I’ve re read all her books in the little house series so many times and can’t wait till my children are a little bit older for me to read it to them.

  12. Acredito que deva existir alguém capaz de uma tradução melhor , para Little House On The Prarie. Mesmo assim gostei muito de compartilhar o assunto, sou particularmente muito interessada nas obras e na história de vida de Laura Wilder.

  13. No sabía que Laura fue un personaje real, en verdad disfrute mucho la serie de televisión y esta hermosa historia.

  14. Chelle

    I loved those books! Your friends don’t know what they missed. This is the first time I have seen these pictures. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Kelly

    Wow. Thanks for the info. My family grew up watching Little House and I still watch my fav episodes when they are on. I had no idea so much of the show really happened. They were some hearty, hard working Americans! Guess they all had to be back in the day. Except for Mrs. Oleson! Haha.

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