It’s the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Born in 1867 near Pepin, Wisconsin to Charles Phillip Ingalls and Caroline Quiner she would grow to critical acclaim as the author of one of Americas most beloved and best selling children’s book series Little House in the Big Woods and the eight books that would follow, as well as the popular television show Little House on the Prairie. Laura displayed a keen sense of her surroundings and wrote in a style which invoked a visceral image of a frontier history that was becoming even by her own old age a thing of the distant past.
Following the restless nature of her father Laura’s family would travel extensively migrating from one location to the next looking for economic success, bountiful crops and that uncertain characteristic that would create a feeling of home and the desire to sink roots. Childhood travels would take her from Wisconsin, the inspiration of the Little House in the Big Woods, to Minnesota and the Kansas / Oklahoma border and to Dakota Territory where her family settled in the small town of DeSmet It was in DeSmet she met Almonzo Wilder. On the 25th of August they would be married. One year later Laura gave birth to their daughter Rose Wilder who would be their only child to survive to adulthood. As a curious side note two years later a failed playwright, theater manager and oil salesman named Lyman brought his own family to the prairie. He settled in Aberdeen, just North of DeSmet and opened up a general mercantile specializing in all the things people wanted but didn’t really need. It too was a failure as was his next Aberdeen business venture, a weekly newspaper. His time on the prairie, like Laura’s would be the inspiration for a remarkable work of children’s literature. The mans name was L. Frank Baum (he never liked Lyman and had not used it since childhood). Baum would go on to write the Wizard of Oz whose heroine Dorothy was endowed with the same character traits the hardships of prairie life instilled in Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In 1894 Laura with Almonzo and their daughter Rose left the prairie in search of a place they could settle down to a life of comfortable farming. They found it near Mansfield, MO. It would be here that Laura, at the urging of daughter Rose would first write down those precious recollections of a frontier child’s life. In 1932, when Laura was 65 years old the Little House in the Big Woods was published and became an instant success. It and the stories to follow would go on to be translated into more than 40 languages around the world and continue to be perineal favorites standing alongside Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as the most enduring examples of the American family story for children. The timing could not have been more perfect as America was in the grip of the Great Depression. Any story that harkened back to a time of simplicity and of familial affection was sure to be quickly embraced.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s enduring legacy can not be understated. Through her writing America was given a glimpse into a part of American history that might have slipped into obscurity. The core values that would shape her life were received by her daughter Rose who would grow up to become a well respected journalist, travel author and along with Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson a key founder of the Libertarian movement). Rose was vehemently outspoken against FDR’s New Deal political philosophy, staunchly advocating the rights of free Americans even during the wartime years when many civil freedoms were suspended for what many believed to be a greater food. Rose’s political idealism and her philosophies remain timeless and controversial today. She was quick to condemn the newly created social security system as a form of socialism, which she was vociferously opposed too. No matter if you stand on the right or the left side of politics no one can deny that Rose’s ideas were the result of that peculiar blend of frontier independence, self reliance and grim determination. These were perhaps the most personal legacy a mother could giver to her daughter and ones that no matter which side of the political spectrum you might stand are worthy traits to be upheld and passed on to our own children. So the next time you read Little House in the Big Woods or watch a re-run of Little House on the Prairie take a moment to consider the girl who became the woman who lived at the center of these stories, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the world that contributed to her making. And when you do consider also the many ways we are ourselves shaped and in turn shape our children.