Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) is the author of the Little House books. The Little House series tells her story of growing up in the Midwest. As a girl, Laura journeyed across the United States in a covered wagon, moving around Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota. In the nineteenth century, many families moved west, hoping for new opportunities in farming, mining, and building the expanding railroads. With her writing, Laura gives a young girl’s voice to westward expansion and homesteading.

Portrait of Laura at age 18
Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1885, at approximately 18 years.

The Little Housebooks gives a personal account based on many of Laura’s memories. The series journeys through Laura’s early childhood to her marriage, when she and her husband start their own farm. The series includes nine books telling the adventures and heartaches of her family and of her future husband, Almanzo Wilder. Although based on her real experiences, the series is a fictionalized, and simplified, version of her life. Laura herself stated “all I have told is true but it is not the whole truth” when explaining the accuracy of her books. Her books capture the spirit of a young girl inspired by the world around her and eager to explore and learn.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was inspired to write by her daughter, Rose Wilder. Rose encouraged her mother to write a book after years of writing advice and stories for the Missouri Ruralist. From Laura’s original writing, the stories have expanded. There is now a larger, matriarchal series sharing the stories of Laura’s great-grandmother to her daughter. The books even became a popular tv series Little House on the Prairie from 1974-1983. Laura also wrote an autobiography Pioneer Girl which was published posthumously in 2017. Laura’s writing has been influential in sharing what life was like for settlers in the West. With her vivid and exciting writing, Laura’s books were a beloved part of many people’s childhood.

Although her life differed from the television series and books, the homes and places she mentions are real locations. Now, some of the houses that Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in have become museums. In Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, there are houses, historic sites, and museums that are connected to Laura’s life.

In Independence, Kansas, there is the Little House on the Prairie Museum. The site is a non-profit historical site and museum. It preserves Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead and shares the history of nineteenth and twentieth century life. Laura lived there as a young girl, and her younger sister Carrie was born at the site in 1870. The museum includes a reconstructed cabin matching Laura’s description, a post office built in 1885 (after Laura had left Kansas), and an 1871 schoolhouse moved to the site for its preservation. While the school house and post office are not related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, they show the typical structures of the time. The site helps visitors experience nineteenth century life and what life would have been like for Laura and her family. The museum works to preserve Laura’s homestead, give visitors a chance to see the prairie, and promote children’s literacy.

For more information on the museum: https://www.littlehouseontheprairiemuseum.com

For more information on the Little House series and the family:
http://littlehouseontheprairie.com

-Rebekah Mills, Junior Girl

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