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?

Expect:

~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.

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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.

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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.

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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

603-867-5320

info@meetlauraingallswilder.com

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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.

Making a Public Historian: The Contract

The “contract” between an historian and her audience–whether implied or on paper–is the standard to which her output should be held at all times. Mine is that of historical integrity on every level, including acknowledging what I do not know, and the commitment to finding the answers to the best of my ability, using every available resource, and a pledge to never stop learning. I’m an Interdisciplinary Public Historian, and my work encompasses (or soon will) every method of study and educational practice from primary source research and first-person interpretation to museum advocacy, sustainability, and accessibility for all interested parties from audience to institution.

The History Doctor

This year for my course on the Practice of Public History we’ve introduced Master Classes, which have given our students the opportunity to learn directly from some of the best practitioners in the field.  But because I want to make sure that my folks understand that public historians practice their craft in a dizzying variety of contexts, often far away from museums and historic sites, our presenters this term have been documentarians, broadcasters, and authors: Ric Burns, Susan Swain, and Tony Horwitz, so far.  The best Master Classes, of course, are those in which everyone learns, including the instructor, and ours have borne out the truth of that statement, as Ric, Susan, and Tony have augmented our reading, thinking, and discussions in considerable ways.  That’s especially true because this semester we set ourselves the collective task of constructing a more effective vocabulary for talking about and explaining just what public history is…

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Context is Crucial, Part ONE

Pardon my snark. But this kind of stuff comes up a LOT in the world of LIW fandom, and I feel it necessary to address the topic.

A blogger, identity unknown to me, wrote a piece which excoriates LIW’s parents and accuses them of virtually “pimping” their second daughter to work outside the home in various capacities for the sole benefit of alleviating their (as the blogger perceives it) financial ineptitude. Further, she charges that in so doing, the Ingalls family de-prioritized Laura’s education in favor of Mary’s. I smell trouble. In the form of a woefully uninformed opinion being asserted as fact. And then some. Here is the blog entry, with my comments, below:

http://littlehousediscussion.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-pimping-of-laura-ingalls-wilder.html?m=1

Well, once again, a blogger with virtually zero understanding of the experiences of the vast majority of Americans during the late 19th century asks legitimate questions but then takes a little turn into indignant ranting as she spouts off with woefully uninformed and incomplete arguments. And does so by conflating LIW’s actual experiences with her fiction, then takes it all out of context and flings blame all over the place.

Um, people work. And many, many children, even today, start earning money as pre-teens. Speaking from personal experience, some of us had to work at a young age to supplement our struggling parents’ income. Some of us also LIKED THE OPPORTUNITY TO EARN MONEY, even if we couldn’t turn around and spend our earnings frivolously. I can’t be the only kid who was thrilled to take home $5 or $10 an evening for a quick babysitting job and then save up for a new pair of shoes or the school field trip that was beyond my parents’ budget otherwise!
Ingalls, Carrie, Mary, and Laura id126 LIWHA

Again, speaking from experience: Families rally around the person with the biggest perceived hardship. You do special crap for the person who has suffered the most. Mary didn’t “just” go blind. She was deathly ill and it almost killed her. At 14. That means she got a second chance. Should they have just stuck her in the rocking chair permanently? What, patient and studious, tougher-than-meningoencephalitis Mary wasn’t deserving of some book-larnin’? She couldn’t attend regular school. And she had few prospects of a life remotely “normal” for the time. Of course giving her an opportunity for some better education was a priority! Besides, “College” education at the time was not what it is today. She wasn’t going to Oxford. She was going to a school focused heavily on practical skills and learning as much independence as possible. Mary’s education was similar to a modern high school education, with some voc tech, modified for visual impairments.

And Laura could have delayed marriage, if she had wanted to, don’t you think? Maybe she didn’t think it was practical. Maybe she wanted autonomy that she perceived she would have with the dashing “old bachelor” who treated her well, handed her the reins, built her a customized home, and–this likely had some influence–came from a hard-working, financially-stable family which was considerably wealthier than hers. She probably didn’t think it wise to pass up the opportunity to marry a really decent chap who came with those perks. Maybe she lamented her choices or even resented her parents at some point later. Or not. But I don’t think blaming Chaz & Co. gets us anywhere. Life in that era was HARD. And very, very few homesteaders succeeded in the eyes of anyone who didn’t live that life, too. Success is relative in any case, but not starving to death while facing the reality of that life was considered pretty successful by many Homesteaders. And a lot of them would have a thing or two to say to this blogger:

http://littlehousediscussion.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-pimping-of-laura-ingalls-wilder.html?m=1

Here She Comes…The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder!

All day today, LauraLand has been abuzz with news items, excerpts, and interviews with author/editor/LIW historian William Anderson‘s newest work, The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Harper), which hits shelves tomorrow. I’m eagerly anticipating my copies from various sources (yay, interwebs, for making it possible to place orders at multiple non-profit museum shops even when the museums themselves are not yet open for the season!). Have you ordered yours yet?

Here’s Bill’s selection on the use of Laura’s work in the 1948 Japanese Re-education program, which he submitted to TIME Magazine:

Read a Moving Letter From Laura Ingalls Wilder on the ‘Things Worthwhile in Life’

And here is an interview with Bill, conducted by Caroline Fraser, and published today in Slate:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2016/03/the_selected_letters_of_laura_ingalls_wilder_interview_with_editor_william.html

Remember, one of the best ways to show your #LoveForLIW is to support the non-profit museums that preserve her legacy with archives and artifact collections. Your book-buying dollars go further when you spend at these sites, rather than purchasing at mega-marts and corporate conglomerates.

The always delightfully friendly and helpful Amy Ankrum, Director of Walnut Grove, Minnesota’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Tourist Center, was kind enough to take my order directly over the phone. When I spoke with her today, she said the books were due to arrive in the afternoon, and mine would go out in the late mail. If past experience is any judge, I can expect my copy will be in my hands before the week is out!

You can reach Amy and her very knowledgeable staff:

Toll-free phone: (800) 528-7280 (within the U.S.) or: (507) 859-2358

330 8th Street

Walnut Grove, MN 56180

email to:   lauramuseum@walnutgrove.org

Online Gift Shop: http://www.walnutgrove.org/store/

SELECTEDlettersLIW2016WTAcover

Other Laura museums to purchase from:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, DeSmet, SD:

(800) 880-3383 or (605)854-3383    or email to:    info@discoverlaura.org

103 Olivet Avenue

DeSmet, SD 57231

http://shop.discoverlaura.org/The-Selected-Letters-of-Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-900.htm

~~

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, Mansfield, MO:

(877) 924-7126     OPEN NOW! Season is 1 March to 15 November 2016.

3068 Highway A

Mansfield, MO 65704

http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com/?post_type=product

~~

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Independence, KS:

(620) 289-4238   or email to:   Lhopmuseumks@gmail.com

2307 CR 3000

Independence, Kansas 67301

(Open 7 Days, April through September, Friday/Saturday/Sunday in October)

Donationshttps://secure.squarespace.com/commerce/donate?donatePageId=55d0cb2be4b0b18c963be80f

~~

Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Burr Oak, IA:

(563) 735-5916   or email to: museum@lauraingallswilder.us

3603 236th Avenue

Decorah, IA 52101

http://store.lauraingallswilder.us/t/museumlauraingallswilderus/books

~~

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pepin, WI:

(715) 513-6383 

306 3rd Street (State Hwy 35)

Pepin, WI 54759

http://lauraingallspepin.com/Websites/liwmuseum/images/Documents/Paver_form_rev2.pdf

~~

Almanzo Wilder Farm, Burke (Malone), NY:

(518) 483-1207   or email to:   farm@almanzowilderfarm.com

177 Stacy Road /PO Box 283

Burke, NY 12953

http://almanzosgeneralstore.com

~~

Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum (Wilder family site), Spring Valley, MN:

(507) 436-7659    or email to:   wilderinspringvalley@hotmail.com

221 W. Courtland Street

Spring Valley, MN 55975

http://www.springvalleymnmuseum.org/wilderlinks.html

 

2015-06-24 18.55.14

Little Bessie says: “Please support your favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder museum…or, in this case, ALMANZO Wilder museum!” (Almanzo’s bucolic birthplace at Burke, NY is also known as Almanzo Wilder Farm. And it’s also home to a bunch of Little Bessie’s friends…)

2012-07-16 16.49.58

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in DeSmet, SD, is also home to DeSmet’s First School, where Laura and Carrie attended during the now-legendary Hard Winter of 1880-1881.

2012-07-09 16.33.22

A setting of Laura’s Rosebud Chintz dinnerware on display at Burr Oak, IA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old News…

2015-07-11 22.42.38

QUINN has a message for me.

…Quinn still hates it when I travel.

So this winter, as I sit tight at home, taking Museum Studies classes remotely and working on my book research, we snuggle an extra good long time every day. Somehow, I doubt she feels I will ever make up for the many long stretches of time when I’m on the road for research trips and Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC presentations. I keep telling her she needs to pick up that winning PowerBall ticket for us, so I can buy a sweet feline-customized AirStream travel trailer and take her with me in style. So far, no dice. Doesn’t she have the sweetest grumpy face? Best Kitty Everrrrrrr.

Protected: Vanity Fair notices The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Shenanigans ensue.

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Just How Cold Was It? 

17 February 1936: The coldest temperature recorded in South Dakota history. 58 degrees BELOW ZERO, at McIntosh, SD.
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder would, a few years later, immortalize a different weather system, known as the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, in her book, THE LONG WINTER. In that book and others, Dakota winters were described as experiencing temperatures in the -30s or -40s (Farenheit); sometimes, she said, the thermometer would simply freeze and no longer work at all.
In this age of central heating, snow tires, fiberglas insultion, polartech cold-weather gear, and satellite weather forecasting, extreme temperatures of that nature will still make us shudder. Imagine facing an air temperature of -58F  without our modern comforts, and compounded with the reality of food and fuel being in very short, often sporadic, supply. I’m willing to bet even the bison (what few remained on the High Plains at the time) felt their dense wooly coats weren’t quite adequate.

By the time of this 1936 event, Wilder had long since moved out of the state, but her sister Carrie (Ingalls) Swanzey was living 242 miles to the SW of McIntosh, in the somewhat milder Black Hills region at Keystone, South Dakota. I hear from the folks at the Keystone Historical Society that winter in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore is certainly snowy, and at times blustery, but nothing compared to the legendary whiteout blizzards of the Hard Winter. Perhaps someday this New Hampshire native (who’s shoveled a fair amount of snow and chipped countless inches of ice off her driveway over the years) will brave a little jaunt to Dakota in one of the months that ends in -uary. Maybe.

Stay warm!

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!

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…

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