Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tidbit Tuesday: Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Little House Books

When I was growing up, my family often watched television together, enjoying such shows as The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. It was not until I was an adult that I realized Little House was based on children’s books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder who was born 153 years ago this month. The first book was published in 1932 when Laura was 64 years old!

Born in Pepin, Wisconsin, Laura was the second of five children. Her family were descendants of the Delano family, the ancestral family of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt whose policies and programs she would later criticize. She was also third cousin, once removed, of President Ulysses S. Grant.

When Laura was two years old, her parents moved with her to a settlement near modern day Independence, Kansas, but the family was forced to move less than a year later because their homestead was on the Osage Indian reservation and not open to white settlers. Their home in Wisconsin reverted back to them because the buyer failed to pay the mortgage. Three years later, the Ingalls’s began a series of moves that took them to Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota where the family purchased a homestead in De Smet.

At the age of sixteen, Laura became the local school teacher to help with the family finances. Two year later, she quit to marry Almanzo Wilder, a farmer, ten years her senior. Initially prosperous the couple suffered a number of incidents during the first few year of their married life that created financial problems: Almanzo contracted diphtheria that left him partially paralyzed, two fires that cost them their home, barn, and supply of hay and grain, and several years of drought.

In 1894, the Wilder’s moved to Mansfield, Missouri where they purchase a property they named Rocky Ridge Farm. Learning from their earlier mistake of producing only one crop, the couple diversified with poultry, an apple orchard, and dairy cows. Laura became a local expert on farming and began giving talks around the area. In 1911, she was approached to write a regular column for the Missouri Ruralist, a job she would keep for more than a decade.

Then the stock market crash of 1929 occurred, and Laura and Almanzo lost everything they had. At the encouragement of her daughter, Laura wrote her autobiography and made several attempt to sell it to a publisher. Unsuccessful, she wrote fictionalized versions of her life geared toward children. The first book Little House in the Big Woods became an instant success, and Laura went on to write seven more, giving the family the stable income they sorely needed after the crash.

Laura passed away three days after her ninetieth birthday in 1957. 

Did you read or watch the Little House?

Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. Her latest release, Under Cover, features WWII war correspondent, Ruth Brown. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library. She was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life. Now located in central New Hampshire, Linda’s favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. Visit her website where she blogs about history, mystery, and faith. Sign up for her newsletter and receive a free short story. You can also connect with Linda on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.


  1. My family and I always watched the Little House on The Prairie. We have the entire collection of the books. We also watched The Waltons faithfully. It is unfortunate that there are no more shows like theses for the family to enjoy.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I agree that most of the offerings on TV are not disappointing, especially for a family gathering.

  2. My family and I enjoyed watching Little House on the Prairie. I'll even watch a rerun if possible these days.
    I've visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and home in Mansfield, MO. It was amazing to see her first manuscripts in pencil and on the old tablet type paper. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

    1. How cool that you got to visit the museum and seeing her manuscripts. I'd love to get there some day.