If you were in elementary school in the past thirty years, chances are you read about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her Little House books have impacted thousands of kids – the easy to read stories sweep readers away to Laura’s childhood as a pioneer on the frontier. She wrote the books in Mansfield, Missouri.
Laura came to Missouri in 1894, a wife and mother in her 20s. Married nearly 10 years, Laura had a young daughter- Rose. Laura and her husband Almonzo put a down payment on a piece of undeveloped property and decided to try and make a go of life in the Missouri Ozarks. They named their farm the Rocky Ridge Farm. No strangers to hard work, Laura and Almonzo tried all sorts of things to make a living. They farmed, started an orchard, and supplemented their income by taking jobs in Mansfield. Eventually with help from their parents, they were able to purchase a house which got them ahead financially.
After life was a little more comfortable for the Wilders, Laura started writing. In 1911 she submitted an article to the Missouri Ruralist and was employed as a regular columnist. Her column, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” gained popularity because of her pragmatic approach to women’s issues of the day. Laura’s daughter, Rose had also started writing around the same time. Its widely accepted that Laura and Rose collaborated on Laura’s articles for the magazine.
In the late 1920’s and early 30’s, Laura started writing about her childhood. She wasn’t trying to change the world or do a big show about recording history, but as she got older and after her sister died, she was compelled to reflect. Laura wrote about herself and her family traveling and living on the frontier. Laura had immense personal experience to draw from – she was born in Wisconsin in 1867. Her father was a pioneer – not afraid of moving into uncharted land to settle his family and attempt to make a living. Laura moved with her family to Kansas, Minnesota and finally settled in South Dakota. Laura experienced what was probably typical for any pioneer kid at the time – what was extraordinary was her skill at storytelling.
She describes all the joys and struggles that made up her family’s pioneer experience. She described her sisters, her little brother and her parents – she wrote about their hard times: struggling to survive winters, trying to find food and other supplies, but she also described the good times – the games they played, the jokes they shared, the love and simple togetherness of what seemed an ideal, close family.
Laura’s first attempts at finding a publisher weren’t successful, but with unsuccessful attempts came revisions. It is likely that her daughter Rose helped Laura revise the books and prepared them for publishing. Little House in the Big Woods was first published in 1931, with several sequels to follow. The books have been in continual print and have been translated into 40 different languages. There is still today some debate over whether Rose or Laura actually wrote the Little House books, but that debate doesn’t make the books any less fantastic.
Laura died on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday. She is buried in the Mansfield Cemetery.
You can visit Laura’s home, where she wrote the Little House books in Mansfield, Missouri in the 1930s.
Visit Laura in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the State Capitol, Jefferson City.