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American Author, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Updated on July 6, 2011

Ingalls Family

Seated from left: Caroline, Charles, Standing from left: Mary, Carrie, Laura.
Seated from left: Caroline, Charles, Standing from left: Mary, Carrie, Laura.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, a name widely recognized from the popular television show Little House on the Prairie. The show, although a fictionalized autobiography,was strongly based on her series of "Little House" books telling about her early years on the Western frontier during the late 1800’s. Much of Laura's childhood was spent traveling west by covered wagon, through Indian Territory in Kansas, Minnesota and later the Dakota’s.

Her daughter Rose grew up listening to her mother tell stories of those days. She convinced her mother to write them down so others could enjoy them, as well. These were to later become the classic "Little House" series of books.

Her parents, Charles Philip Ingalls and Caroline Lake Quiner acquired a homestead which later became the backdrop for the famous Little House series. Her books relate the adventures of the Ingalls and Wilder families. Laura’s accounts of pioneer life on the Western frontier during the late 1800’s captured the worlds’ imagination.

Laura and Almanzo Wilder

She was born Laura Elizabeth Ingalls on February 7, 1867, in Pepin, Wisconsin, the second of five children. Laura had three sisters. They were Mary Amelia, Caroline Celestia and Grace Pearl. All would later figure prominently in her books. A younger brother, Charles, Jr., died at nine months old.

In 1874, the Ingalls moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, stayed two years and moved to Burr Oak, Iowa, where Charles became part-owner of a hotel. But by the fall of 1877, they returned to Walnut Grove. However, in 1879, the Ingalls decided to homestead in the Dakota Territory.

They settled in what would become De Smet, South Dakota, where Charles and Caroline finally sank their roots. Their second winter there was extremely severe with blizzards blocking trains and essential supplies. Later, Laura wrote about her experiences trying to survive freezing temperatures, lack of food, firewood and other necessities.

Laura went to school whenever possible, but as many in those days she was largely self-taught. At the age of fifteen, she earned her teaching certificate and taught at a small country school about twelve miles from her home in De Smet.

It was about this time she met Almanzo Manly Wilder, who had settled nearby in 1879 with his brother Royal. Almanzo frequently picked up Laura and took her to her parents' home on weekends. After a little more than two years, they were married on August 25, 1885. The couple's only surviving child, Rose, was born on December 5, 1886. By this time Laura had quit teaching to help out on their farm. These events are highlighted in her book The First Four Years.

Life was hard for pioneers and homesteaders and Almanzo and Laura had their share of hard times as well.

In August 1889, the Wilder’s had a baby boy who died shortly after, something Laura never wrote about in any of her books. Her husband then came down with diphtheria which left him partially paralyzed. Finally, their house burned to the ground.

On July 17, 1894, the Wilders began their journey to Mansfield, Missouri, where they would remain the rest of their lives. They built a farm there and named it Rocky Ridge.

Wilder completed her first autobiographical work, Pioneer Girl, in the late 1920s. It was a first-person account of her childhood adventures on the frontier from age three to eighteen. Her daughter, Rose, edited the book and it was submitted for publication under the name Laura Ingalls Wilder. But no one was interested in a first person account chronicling mounds of historical facts about her childhood but no character development.

However, Laura refused to give up. She changed the angle focusing on the entire family instead of just one little girl and targeted young readers as her audience. The stories were about real people and actual events. In 1932, at the age of sixty-five, Wilder published the first of eight "Little House" books, Little House in the Big Woods. It was a huge hit.

At seventy-six years of age Laura finished the final book in her "Little House" series. She and Almanzo, who she affectionately called “Manly,” were still living at Rocky Ridge. He died there in 1949 at the age of ninety-two. Laura died at the age of 90 on February 10, 1957.

After her death, her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, edited a journal her mother had written as she and Manly traveled to Missouri. It became the book, On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894, published in 1962. Twelve years later, a television series based on Laura’s stories was produced and ran for nine seasons. It is still popular in reruns around the world.

Laura once said: "I understand that in my own life, I represented a whole period of American history." And indeed she did. Her books provide a glimpse of prairie life through the eyes of a young girl. Laura’s novels are historically valid because her life was a lived history. Today, Laura Ingalls Wilder's nine novels are acknowledged classics in American children's literature.


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    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for sharing this information. Her books were one of the inspirations for my family sagas set in the Missouri Ozarks. Hope you, and your readers, will stop by, follow, and read a few of them... I'm just getting started! ;-)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      5 years ago from Southern Clime

      I just loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House Books. The best reading times were during the winter months that I read her winter stories. I would get toasty inside with a cup of red tea while gazing every now and then through my windows at my own winter outside . "It was the best of times."

      Thanks for sharing this well-written hub!

    • profile image

      Laura Elizabeth Smith 

      7 years ago

      I love the books and the show! Great stories and lessons. She was an awesome person and one of the greatest american authors ever. My mother named me after her because of how strong Laura was. So naturally,I became obsessed.

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      7 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Thank you for a great hub. I'm sure it took a lot of research. Enjoyed it very much.

    • Scarlett My Dear profile image

      Scarlett My Dear 

      7 years ago from Missouri

      I love Mrs. Wilder's books, and enjoyed reading them, both to my daughter when she was little and also to my grandmother when she was home bound. She painted such an honest picture of her life on the prairie, and a beautiful one as well!

      Love the photos you've included!

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      You are welcome TamCor. This one really took a bit of work.

    • TamCor profile image

      Tammy Cornett 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you for a very interesting hub! I have read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, and have always been amazed at the life she'd had, and awed by the strength of Laura and her family, to survive beyond all odds at times.

      You had info in here that I hadn't known. I'm so glad that I was able to read this...voted up and awesome!

      Thanks again! :)


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