Laura Ingalls Wilder: Writing An American Story

Laura Ingalls Wilder, c. 1885

Laura Ingalls Wilder, c. 1885

Stories can be inspiration. Sometimes authors write with that intention. Other times they just write, perhaps never knowing how much their stories mean to someone. And sometimes a writer can a write the story of their life (it’s called an autobiography.) Many autobiographies of “common people” languish on the shelves of libraries. But – sometimes – an author finds a way to tell their story in a way so simple a child can understand and with such heart and inspiration that the book becomes a beloved classics.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – pioneer girl and famer’s wife – was gifted with the ability to tell the story of “simpler days” and she told the saga of her life in eight classic volumes. Her writing voice recorded and advocated for the values she believed in and had spent her life living. In every possible way, Mrs. Wilder is an American authoress; she knew the American story first hand.

The Authoress

Born on February 7, 1867, Laura Ingalls was a pioneer girl. With her Pa, Ma, and three sisters, she lived in and travelled to Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. She learned to value education, hard work, and family values. Surviving illness, financial hardship, floods, locust plagues, blizzards, and fire, the Ingalls family established “little houses” filled with love and music. Starting at about age sixteen, Miss Ingalls taught school to help her family.

She married Almanzo Wilder on August 25, 1885, and for four years they tried to farm on the Dakota Plains. Their daughter, Rose, was born in 1886. Debt and increasing hardships, forced the Wilder family to seek a new start elsewhere. They tried Minnesota, Florida, and South Dakota again before settling permanently in Mansfield, Missouri. The Missouri farm was eventually successful, and the Wilders became prominent members in the local community.

Mrs. Wilder had always been interested in writing and, as a school girl, had filled notebooks with essays. In 1911, she started contributing articles to the a local publication and became a regular columnist and editor.

The 1929 Stock Market Crash affected the family and prompted Mrs. Wilder to seriously write her reminiscenes of her pioneer childhood. Rose Wilder helped her mother with editing and publication. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932 and seven other books followed in the series. The books were very popular with elementary school children, and the publication income brought enough to support the family. Mrs. Wilder enjoyed meeting her readers and sharing additional stories about her youth and her traditional values. She died on February 10, 1957.

Laura & Almanzo Wilder, c. 1885

Laura & Almanzo Wilder, c. 1885

Her Voice

Mrs. Wilder used her writing to share about American heritage and traditional values. Her writer’s voice called for an appreciation of “simpler” days. She emphasized the importance of good character and work ethics through her stories and articles.

She summed up her goals of writing, saying, “As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good. ”

Her Style

The style of the famous “Little House” novels is easy to read, wonderful to listen to. It’s like listening to a grandmother tell wonderful stories. I can remember begging my mom to read “just one more chapter before I have to go to bed” so they are sort of page-turners in their warm, simplistic way!

Personally, I think the written style of the books improves later in the series; Mrs. Wilder was probably getting more comfortable with her story writing, or her daughter was helping her a little more in the editing stages.

In case you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the correct order:

Little House in the Big Woods

Little House on the Prairie

Farmer Boy (this one is about Almanzo Wilder’s youth; Laura is not a character in the book)

On the Banks of Plum Creek

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

These Happy Golden Years

The First Four Years (not one of the original eight; rather an unfinished manuscript published after Laura’s death)

Little House on the PrairieQuotes from the Little House Novel Series

(I have purposely chosen not to put the quotes in sequential order.)

Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up. (The Long Winter)

We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started. (By The Shores Of Silver Lake) 

A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm. (Farmer Boy)

“If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?” Laura asked, and Ma said, “Yes, Laura.” (On The Banks Of Plum Creek)

“When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods,…
She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” (Little House In The Big Woods)

Conclusion

From the big woods of Wisconsin to the prairies of Kansas, the farmlands of Minnesota, Dakota plains, Florida swamps, and the rocky ridges of Missouri, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s travels and homesteading adventures taught her the important lessons of life. When she finally had a chance to write and was encouraged to tell her story, she remembered the best and the most challenging time of her life and chose to share those moments, revealing the determined spirit of families who built America.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote classic books. Why are her books so beloved? She wrote her story, and her story was one of America’s best. She truly was an American authoress.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Which “Little House” novel is your favorite?

Laura Ingalls Wilder Quote

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to Laura Ingalls Wilder: Writing An American Story

  1. GP Cox says:

    History such as this should never be lost or forgotten!

  2. Pingback: “Crafting” With Gladness: Colonial Clove-Decorated Fruit | Gazette665

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