What happens in a typical “Meet Laura” visit?

c. 1895 Summer-weight Visiting Suit, with modified "practical" sleeve on the pigeon-breasted jacket bodice. 7-gored, straight-to-bias skirt sweeps the ground and creates fullness in back without use of hoops nor bustle to create the highly-sought-after "S" shape. Photo by Connie R. Neumann.

c. 1895 Visiting Suit, with modified “practical” sleeve. Photo by Connie R. Neumann, 2012.

What is “First-Person Historical Interpretation?”

Very often, when I meet someone and the subject turns to my primary occupation, I am asked what “First-Person Historical Interpretation” means.  There are many variations in specifics, but, in general, it is the practice of taking a particular historic figure and learning absolutely everything one can about that individual, and then creating a live interpretation of that individual. These interpretations are complete with appropriate wardrobe, grooming, vernacular, and, of course, a thorough knowledge of the details of that person’s life, told from their own perspective.

If you can name any famous figure from the past, you can probably find one, a handful, or even a great many people who have studied that individual’s life and experiences extensively, and who can speak at length with some authority about that person.  As with any other topic, some scholars are more experienced than others.  Some scholars have researched and written volumes of work about their favorite person, while others have a more peripheral knowledge of the individual while retaining a great degree of contextual understanding; that is to say, their knowledge encompasses much of the wider world (region, culture, ethnicity, era, social and economic standing, or education level) in which that individual functioned.  Some scholars can claim both! Some scholars speak from their own research as well as that of others.  Some speak exclusively from their own work, some exclusively from the work of others.  Some always take on the persona of their subject, while others always speak from a third-person perspective.  Some scholars write a script for their presentations, while others work interactively and allow the audience to ask unlimited questions which direct the course of the program. Some toggle between the two approaches as the situation warrants.

Many scholars are rightly described by a combination of these features, having studied others’ work extensively while conducting their own research. Many of these scholars present in character almost exclusively, but adapt the program according to the ages, interest, and needs of their audience…and this is the best way to describe what I do.

So, what can I expect if I invite you to present a “visit” with Laura Ingalls Wilder at my event?


~An interactive experience, wherein an adult “Laura” (a.k.a “Mrs. A.J. Wilder”) of the mid-1890s shares her experiences with the audience. This is the era when the Wilders have been married for about a decade, Rose is about 9 years old, and the family have settled on their new property, Rocky Ridge Farm, near Mansfield, Missouri.

~Research-based, factual information about Laura, Almanzo, Rose and their family and friends.

~Clarification of the differences between history and the fictionalized “Little House” series of books and other media interpretations.

~Abundant opportunities to ask ANY question you like of “Mrs. Wilder.”

~In-character answers which reflect Mrs. Wilder’s known activities, tastes, opinions, experiences, beliefs, and manners.

~”Mrs. Wilder” will be dressed in period-correct, authentic reproduction clothing, appropriate to Laura’s taste, means, activities and station in life, about 1895.

~An extensive display of relevant artifacts, including clothing, household items, books, and everyday objects, as well as some special “hands-on” items to investigate further.


This reticule is hand-made of black silk, with a pink silk/cotton blend lining and a 1-3/4″ pink silk edging inside the opening. The drawstrings are black silk petersham (aka “grosgrain”), and the design is a hand-painted wild roses motif. The outer dimensions of the reticule are approximately 9″ wide x 10″ high. I acquired it in Northwood, New Hampshire, in 2009. It is approximately 130 to 140 years old. Photo c. 2009 by Melanie C. Stringer.

What program topics do you offer? Will you customize a program for my group?

I have several topics from which you may choose, and I regularly design new programs to suit the needs of individual venues.  If you have particular goals in your school curriculum, want to explore a topic related to your library or museum programming, or your private organization has a key interest in a particular aspect of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, work, and experience, I can accommodate you.  Here are my three most popular programs:

Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC/Dakota Yankee Research

Program Descriptions* 

~”A Yankee Woman is a Curiosity”

While “Up-North Gal” Laura may have grown up all over the west, her family is deeply rooted in their Yankee heritage, dating back to the 1620s in Massachusetts!  As a married woman, Laura has lived as far south as the Florida panhandle and only recently moved to the Missouri Ozarks. Learn about the cultural differences and similarities between pioneers of the West, their folks “Back East,” and several places in-between.

~”Look How Far We’ve Come”

As the 19th Century draws to a close, Laura compares her experiences with a woman’s opportunities in the days of her Ingalls and Quiner grandmothers. Laura discusses the many advances women have made in just a few generations. As a mother, Laura observes women rapidly gaining more social freedom and political clout, including members of her own extended family. This prompts her to wonder, “What will the future hold for Rose?”

~”This Wonderful Modern Age”

Did you know that Laura followed the daily news very closely? Ask her about it! The Ingalls and Wilder family were voracious readers, and interested in gaining education throughout their lives. In this visit, Laura will offer a glimpse of the events and questions she finds most pressing in the Gilded Age of 1890s America.


Playing in the overgrown field on a balmy March morning...showing off the (reproduction) c.1896 Ulster coat, tailored of a navy herringbone pattern wool/cashmere.  Photo copyright Gregory P. Stringer/Dakota Yankee Research, 2013.

Playing in the overgrown field on a balmy March morning…showing off the (reproduction) c.1896 Ulster coat, tailored of a navy herringbone pattern wool/cashmere. Photo copyright Gregory P. Stringer/Dakota Yankee Research, 2013.


Wading in the real Plum Creek of Laura’s childhood, on the former property of Charles Ingalls family. The outfit is a late 1880s calico everyday suit, black print on a brown field. The skirt is a gathered dirndle with ruffled overskirt. Photo by Chrissie H. Velaga, 2010.

What if I want you to do a different kind of Meet Laura program from what you list here?

This is just a partial list of available programs. If you would like a program tailored to your specific curriculum, group, or venue, please inquire.  All requested topics considered. In the past, I have tailored programs for a wide diversity of groups, such as: a group of teachers who wanted Laura to help their 3rd-graders learn about overland migration and wagon travel, an antiquarian booksellers association interested in how I use period books to round out my research and enhance presentations, a community group that wanted to explore the Homestead Act and its impact on current land use, and a private organization which wanted to understand the Ingalls and Wilder connections with the Scottish Rite Free Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star. Don’t be shy–If you can think of a topic, I can relate it to Laura!

Please note:  While every attempt is made to stick to the program topic of your choice, due to the highly interactive nature of the program, many presentations will include elements of all of the above descriptions, as well as other topics, according to the questions asked by audience members.

No matter what topic you choose, or how the audience questions tend, every Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder program offers a Research-Based, First-Person, Interactive History lesson to students and Wilder fans of all ages. All programs feature original research, hands-on artifact displays, period-authentic clothing and much more. Presentations are available year-round, across the United States and Canada.

What if I want something more general in nature?  

I specialize in American Cultural and Social History, with a particular focus on Westward Migration, education, regional culture (especially New England, Upstate New York, and the Midwest), historic childrearing practices, and the occupations and opportunities of women and children in America from Settlement to ~1950.  Additionally, I offer a tutorial of Victorian clothing, including the design, purpose, use and standards of proper dress in the late 1800s, from corset to collar.  (Instruction in corset lacing at no extra charge!)

Tell me what you’d like to learn about, and I will design a program suited to you. I’m always up for a new challenge, and no event is too big, too small, nor too far away! For further information, or to inquire about booking a program, please contact me:

Melanie Stringer, Historian

Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC / Dakota Yankee Research




On the porch of the farmhouse, birthplace of Almanzo Wilder. The outfit is an 1891 visiting suit with high-waisted box-pleated skirt and close-sleeved basque. Photo copyright 2011, Melanie C. Stringer.

To LauraPalooza from the Bridges of Madison County


Many Laura fans enjoy the adventure of a literary road trip to visit the places where she lived and those she wrote about. Our friends at The Cottonwood Tree just posted the following guide to a road trip in Laura Land that features sites from The Bridges of Madison County. Literary overlap is such fun!

Originally posted on The Cottonwood Tree:

BridgesOfMadisonCountyIt was an unlikely romance. He was a photographer from National Geographic, taking pictures of Madison County’s covered bridges. She was an Italian war bride, transplanted into rural Iowa, with her American husband and two children. Over four days in 1965, these two – Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson would find each other, fall in love, but ultimately part ways forever.

Based on Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel of 1992; the film, “The Bridges of Madison County” hit the big screen in 1995. Starring Clint Eastwood (who also directed) and Meryl Streep, the movie was filmed almost entirely in Winterset, Iowa.

If you’re headed to “LauraPalooza” (the national Laura Ingalls Wilder conference) from Iowa or will be on the Interstate 35 in the vicinity of Des Moines, you might like to explore some of the locations depicted in both the book and the film.

To get you started, here’s a…

View original 686 more words

‘Farmer Boy’ site earns Literary Landmark™ designation


It is official! The Almanzo Wilder Farm, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real-life Farmer Boy (and husband of 64 years), Almanzo James Wilder, is now designated as a Literary Landmark. The honor will be commemorated this summer at a special ceremony, Saturday, 11 July 2015. Special guest, and reknown Wilder biographer/historian William Anderson will be in attendance. Read more here:

Originally posted on Adirondack North Country Blogger:

The apple trees were in full bloom last May. They may be a little late this year. Photo by Connie Jenkins The apple trees were in full bloom last May. They may be a little late this year. Photo by Connie Jenkins

Here’s some great news about one of my favorites places: Wilder Homestead in Burke, N.Y., just outside of Malone.

When Wilder Homestead, the childhood home of Almanzo Wilder, opens for the season on May 23,  it will begin a new chapter of activity, connections, and very special recognition as a Literary Landmark™ – the only of all “Little House” sites to earn this designation. A ceremony is in the works for Saturday, July 11.

Thousands of people from around the world flock to this site in northern Franklin County each year to get a glimpse of rural life in the 1860s as well as to follow in young Almanzo’s steps. Laura Ingalls Wilder told the story of her husband’s childhood in the beloved children’s book “Farmer Boy,” the second in the…

View original 1,028 more words

“What is Dakota Yankee Research?”

IMG_2010Did you know my work in history extends beyond “Meet Laura?”

I have a wide range of study and many different interests in fields related to American History, including Museums, Historic Preservation, Social and Cultural History, and academic research. But I also have a long track record of improving business practices and finding better ways for small ventures to stay organized and increase sales without succumbing to the notorious “hard-sell” techniques too often favored by large corporations.

By carefully integrating my 20+ years of small (and sometimes not-so-small) business management, personnel training, and policy development experience with acute sensitivity to the non-profit worldview and a solid understanding of the specific needs of niche institutions, I offer consultation and collaborative services in a broad range of venues.

While I specialize in small museums and other historic site non-profits, I can help you find or train the right people for the job, and offer practical guidance in revamping everything from equipment to policies and procedures to help you turn around  the prospects (and bottom line) of your institution.

Inquiries welcome!

Whether you need to improve visitation, reduce expenses, eliminate wasteful practices, redesign your gift shop, or just find innovative ways to shore up the struggling organization’s business, you can find me here:


“Be a Decent Human Being.”

Rex Huppke has an excellent weekly column at the Chicago Tribune. I read it yesterday, as I do every Monday. I’ve been reading it since it began a few years back, and his words never fail to resonate. After over two decades of working with the public, and often in large corporate-structure retail-and-service-industry positions, most of which had far more in common politically with the dreaded Dilbert-style cubicle farm than many of you may realize, I can tell you quite frankly that Rex knows of what he speaks. People need to be treated like, well, people. If more bosses/managers/supervisors took his theories to heart, a lot more people would love their jobs. 

And it is SO SIMPLE. 

Rex’s philosophy, in 5 words? “Be a Decent Human Being.” His column, I Just Work Here, focuses upon best strategies to navigate all manner of workplace interactions, and his advice has this nifty feature wherein it always translates well to everyday life. Rex offers a self-deprecating sense of humor which alternates with self-aggrandizement, tongue squarely planted in cheek. 

This deft combination makes me grin with each new installment; I honestly look forward to reading his take on whatever aspect of workplace politics or “can you believe there are still people who need to be told this?” which he elects to discuss in a given week. And, while he certainly has no idea who I am, his column has become such a fixture of my routine that I feel confident in declaring he’s not some self-absorbed business guru with a byline, but, rather, the 21st century counterpart to another favorite writer of mine: Laura Ingalls Wilder. And because of that, it seems perfectly logical that I think of him as some long-lost college buddy from that class that time, who I haven’t talked to in ages but would seek out at the reunion if I even bothered to go. My buddy Rex, you remember… 

Wait, what? What does this MBA-type business column guy have to do with…did you say, Laura Ingalls Wilder? 

Yes. Yes I did. 

What does my imaginary buddy Rex have to do with Laura, you say? Well, nothing. And, everything.

You see, Rex Huppke is the kind of writer who talks to his readers like, well, people. And he relates to them in everyday terms, discussing everyday issues, with honesty, humor, and solid intentions to make a positive impact on the lives of those people. As someone who has spent a good three quarters of her life learning anything and everything I can find about the multi-faceted Mrs. Wilder, to the point where I now spend much of my professional life in a newish-to-me career presenting educational first-person interpretation programs as the author whose friends knew her as Bessie, I am of the conviction that she–Laura– did much the same in her own work, nay, in her life, as the humble Rex does today.  

How so, you say? Let’s see…

Laura took bad situations and turned them into experiences, learning what she could and striving for better. She did a lot of tough, down-in-the-trenches work. She knew better than to count her chickens or rest on her laurels, even if she did occasionally express herself in cliché. She did her best to help, and to inspire, others. Whether writing a poultry column for the St. Louis Star, or penning a quick note home to her beloved Manly, describing the wonders she witnessed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition while visiting with their daughter, the up-and-coming Rose Wilder Lane, Laura had meaningful thoughts to share, and was known to share freely when she felt it mattered. Laura took education seriously, so much so that she sometimes sounded apologetic for never having been “graduated from anything.” Yet, she was so self-educated that she became known locally as an active clubwoman who read voraciously and encouraged her neighbors to share their intellectual persuits in the Eastern Star, the Athenians, and “Justamere” Club. On a regional level, her farm columns for the Missouri Ruralist offered tips on progressive farming and housekeeping as well as underscoring civic duty and fostering tolerance of one’s adversaries. Eventually, her mildly fictionalized series of children’s books became a fixture in homes and classrooms across the country–and are translated and enjoyed in dozens of languages around the world. 

But all of this homespun goodness can be boiled down to a pretty simple philosophy and approach to one’s inner life and outer responsibilities. Do your work, but find joy in simple pleasures. Do everything to the best of your ability, but don’t be afraid of failure. Stand up for what you think is right, but allow yourself to feel empathy for others, even if you disagree. In short, Rex and Laura offer the same message, albeit in different contexts and different centuries: Be a Decent Human Being. And any person with a philosophy like that is well worth knowing. Or, at least, admiring publicly for a moment. 

Find Rex Huppke’s work here: 



Twitter: @RexWorksHere

The Spontaneous Spencer


The completed project. Isn't it lovely?

The completed project. Isn’t it lovely?

This is a blog I just discovered today, and LOOK AT THE PROJECT completed here!


A gorgeous pale blue dupioni silk Spencer. Absolutely stunning and extremely well-executed, entirely by hand. I cannot praise its maker enough! Oh, to have an excuse to start building a Regency-era wardrobe. Alas, I am still rounding out my late 1890s interpretation collection, so it will be a while…

Originally posted on The Modern Mantua-Maker:

This is my entry for February’s Historical Sew Monthly challenge “Blue”. It wasn’t my initially intended entry, which was supposed to be a smart and clever-looking new pale blue wool coat made from a late teens/early 20s pattern I have. However, after doing a muslin and fiddling with it a bit I just wasn’t feeling it. I still hope to make it someday, but I wasn’t feeling totally enthusiastic about it and I think it’s too straight a silhouette for most of the clothes I wear, even though it has a little more flare than most styles from that period.

So, about the middle of the month I decided to completely switch tracks and make something that was nowhere on my sewing list/queue. Very practical decision (please note the sarcasm). I rationalized it to myself by saying that I had intended <someday> to make a new spencer from a piece…

View original 534 more words

Mrs. Wilder has a Fair Time at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition: San Francisco, 1915

This Friday marks the Centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco, which opened 20 February 1915. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will recognize this as the fair which she attended while on an extended visit with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was living in the Bay area at the time.

Laura’s explorations at the Fair were preserved in the form of many letters and postcards to her husband, Almanzo Wilder, who necessarily stayed home to mind the farm. These letters form the basis for a posthumously-published work, West From Home. Wilder also used her visit as fodder for a series of articles in The Missouri Ruralist, a farm journal for which she had been writing since 1911.



I found this leather-bound reporter’s notebook, embossed with the PPIE logo, in an antiques store in Meredith, New Hampshire in 2010 for a mere $3.00. The notebook contains a small pencil-loop on the right side, and retains over half of its original blank paper. The exterior measures approximately 2″ wide x 3-1/4″ high and 3/8″ thick.


Two blank souvenir postcards from the 1915 PPIE in San Francisco, located at a group antiques dealer shop in Concord, New Hampshire in 2014. The images featured are the Machinery Palace (top) and The Palace of Liberal Arts (bottom).

Happy 148th to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with Love from Google!

Google is honoring our favorite Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, with a Google Doodle all her own. Tomorrow, 7 February 2015, is the 148th anniversary of the birth of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, born at Pepin, Wisconsin. Happy birthday, Laura! With love…