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:
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!
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: