m. 1 Feb 1860
Facts and Events
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) was an American author who wrote the Little House series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family. Laura's daughter, Rose, inspired Laura to write her books.
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born February 7, 1867, seven miles north of the village of Pepin, in the "Big Woods" of Wisconsin, to Charles Phillip Ingalls and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. She was the second of five children; her siblings were Mary Amelia, who went blind; Caroline Celestia, Charles Frederick, who died in infancy, and Grace Pearl. Her birth site is commemorated by a log cabin, the Little House Wayside. Her life here formed the basis for the book Little House in the Big Woods.
A paternal ancestor was Edmund Ingalls born on June 27, 1586, in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, England. He died on September 16, 1648 in Lynn, Massachusetts. She is also a descendant of the Delano family, and Edmund Rice, a 1638 immigrant to Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In Laura's early childhood, her father settled on land not yet open for homesteading in what was then Indian Territory near what is now Independence, Kansas—an experience that formed the basis of Ingalls' novel Little House on the Prairie. In the years subsequent to this move, her father's restless spirit led them on various moves to a preemption claim in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, living with relatives near South Troy, Minnesota, and helping to run a hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa. After a move from Burr Oak back to Walnut Grove, where he served as the town butcher and Justice of the Peace, Charles Ingalls accepted a railroad job in the spring of 1879 which led him to eastern Dakota Territory, where he was joined by the family in the fall of 1879. Charles filed for a homestead over the winter of 1879–1880; De Smet, South Dakota was home for the rest of his, Caroline's, and Mary's lives. After spending the mild winter of 1879–1880 in the Surveyor's House, the Ingalls family watched the town of De Smet rise up from the prairie in 1881. The following winter, 1880–1881, one of the most severe on record in the Dakotas, was later described by Wilder in her book, The Long Winter. Once the family was settled in De Smet, Wilder attended school, worked several part-time jobs and made many friends, most importantly the bachelor homesteader Almanzo Wilder (1857–1949), whom she later married. This time in her life is well documented in the books Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.
On December 10, 1882, two months before her 16th birthday, Laura accepted her first teaching position, teaching three terms in one-room schools, when not attending school herself in De Smet. In the book Little Town on the Prairie, Laura states that she received her first teaching certificate on December 24, 1882, but this was an enhancement for dramatic effect. Laura's original "Third Grade" teaching certificate can be seen on page 25 of William Anderson's book Laura's Album (Harper Collins, 1998). She later admitted that she did not particularly enjoy teaching, but felt the responsibility from a young age to help her family financially, and wage-earning opportunities for women were limited. Between 1883 and 1885, she taught three terms of school, worked for the local dressmaker and attended high school, although she did not graduate. Her teaching career and her own studies ended when she married Almanzo Wilder, whom she called Manly, on August 25, 1885, when she was eighteen and he was twenty-eight. Almanzo Wilder had achieved a degree of prosperity on his homestead claim, owing to favorable weather in the early 1880s, and the couple's prospects seemed bright. She joined Almanzo in a new home on his claim north of De Smet and agreed to help him make the claim succeed. On December 5, 1886, she gave birth to Rose Wilder Lane (1886–1968) and later, an unnamed son, who died shortly after his birth in 1889.
The first few years of marriage held many trials. Complications from a life-threatening bout of diphtheria left Almanzo partially paralyzed. While he eventually regained nearly full use of his legs, he needed a cane to walk for the remainder of his life. This setback, among many others, began a series of disastrous events that included the death of their unnamed newborn son, the destruction of their home and barn by fire, and several years of severe drought that left them in debt, physically ill, and unable to earn a living from their of prairie land. The tales of their trials at farming can be found in The First Four Years, a manuscript that was discovered after Rose Wilder Lane's death. Published in 1971, it detailed the hard-fought first four years of marriage on the Dakota prairies. Around 1890, the Wilders left De Smet and spent about a year resting at Wilder's parents' prosperous Spring Valley (Minnesota) farm before moving briefly to Westville, Florida. They sought Florida's climate to improve Wilder's health, but being used to living on the dry plains, they wilted in the heat and Southern humidity, and felt out of place among the backwoods locals. In 1892, they returned to De Smet and bought a small house (although later accounts by Lane mistakenly indicated it was rented). The Wilders received special permission to start their precocious daughter in school early and took jobs (Almanzo as a day laborer, Laura as a seamstress at a dressmaker's shop) to save enough money to once again start a farm.
In 1894, the hard-pressed young couple moved to Mansfield, Missouri, using their savings to make a down payment on a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town. They named the place Rocky Ridge Farm. The ramshackle log cabin was eventually replaced with an impressive 10-room farmhouse and outbuildings. The couple's climb to financial security was a slow process. Initially, the only income the farm produced was from wagonloads of firewood Almanzo sold for 50 cents in town, the result of the backbreaking work of clearing the trees and stones from land that slowly evolved into fertile fields and pastures. The apple trees did not begin to bear fruit for seven years. Barely able to eke out more than a subsistence living on the new farm, the Wilders decided to move into nearby Mansfield in the late 1890s and rent a small house. Almanzo found work as an oil salesman and general delivery man, while Laura took in boarders and served meals to local railroad workers. Wilder's parents visited around this time, and presented to the couple, as a gift, the deed to the house they had been renting in Mansfield. This was the economic jump start they needed; they added acreage to the original purchase, eventually owning nearly 200 acres. Around 1910, they sold their house in town and using the proceeds from the sale, were able to move back to the farm permanently, and to complete Rocky Ridge Farmhouse. What began as about of thickly wooded, stone-covered hillside with a windowless log cabin, over the next 20 years evolved into a , relatively prosperous poultry, dairy, and fruit farm and an impressive 10-bedroom farmhouse.
Having learned a hard lesson from focusing solely on wheat farming in South Dakota, the Wilders' Rocky Ridge Farm became a diversified poultry and dairy farm, with an abundant apple orchard. Wilder, always active in various clubs and an advocate for several regional farm associations, was recognized as an authority in poultry farming and rural living, which led to invitations to talk to groups around the region.
Following her daughter Rose Wilder Lane's developing writing career also inspired Wilder to do some writing of her own. An invitation to submit an article to the Missouri Ruralist in 1911 led to a permanent position as a columnist and editor with that publication — a position she held until the mid-1920s. She also took a paid position with a Farm Loan Association, dispensing small loans to local farmers from her office in the farmhouse.
Her column in the Ruralist, "As a Farm Woman Thinks," introduced Mrs. A.J. Wilder to a loyal audience of rural Ozarkians, who enjoyed her regular columns, whose topics ranged from home and family to World War I and other world events, to the fascinating world travels of her daughter and her own thoughts on the increasing options offered to women during this era.
While the Wilders were never wealthy until the "Little House" series of books began to achieve popularity, the farming operation and Wilder's income from writing and the Farm Loan Association provided a stable enough living for the Wilders to finally place themselves in Mansfield, Missouri's middle-class society.
Wilder's fellow clubwomen were mostly the wives of business owners, doctors and lawyers, and her club activities took up much of the time that Lane encouraged her to use to develop a writing career for national magazines, as Lane had done. Wilder seemed unable or unwilling to make the leap from writing for the Missouri Ruralist to these higher-paying national markets. The few articles she was able to sell to national magazines were heavily edited by her daughter and placed solely through Lane's established publishing connections.