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:

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:

5 comments on “Context is Crucial, Part ONE

  1. Julie F. Miller says:

    Rock on, sister! I agree totally!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah Manley says:

    I want to read the original article and it is redirect crazy land-but so far your response is dead on. My parents did not buy me brand name clothing-that was warned by me. My parents did not pay for college-that was earned by me. And I just turned down my son at Target 15 minutes ago because he wanted a treat that he deserved, but that I deemed was too expensive. It was a teachable moment about “treats” and gifts. Money is filtered through a personal lens/experiences and it would do that blogger good to realize their own personal biases before writing a piece about a person where there’s been significant research about the family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melanie says:

      It is astonishing to me how little some people have in the way of critical thinking skills or the ability to empathize with others. Even in the books, Ma and Pa have moments when they make it clear that they recognize how hard Laura works and that they wish they could do more for her and her sisters. Scenes such as when Ma spends ten cents on candy for the girls to celebrate their first train ride, or when Pa gives her the money for name cards, tell me that they believed in making life pleasant in the little ways they could manage.

      As for the links, let me see if I can get a better one. This entry was a draft which I wrote a while ago and had almost forgotten to finish and post, so I apologize for the link failure.


  3. Even into the twentieth-century children, not just teens, needed to work for their families. Sometimes it was on their own farm, but sometimes it was outside of the home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Melanie says:

      Absolutely, Annette. And plenty of kids do today, as well. To me, the blogger herself must come from a place of blind entitlement if she cannot acknowledge that the necessity of children working was a pervasive reality in Laura’s time, and has continued to be so. A large number of high school students have jobs, and certainly many of them work because they must. I know a man who is now in his thirties but when we met he was 19 and had dropped out of high school at 16 to work full-time to keep his family from becoming homeless. His parents both had poor health and had trouble keeping employed as a result. No one in the family was “lazy,” mind you; but low-wage jobs with zero benefits (such as insurance or sick pay) translate to precarious financial straits, and that was his reality. He is a brilliant person and everyone thought it was a shame that he dropped out because his school work to that point demonstrated he was capable of getting into Ivy League schools. Ultimately, he earned a GED and went to community college because that was all he could manage financially…much like Laura never was graduated from school and didn’t have the opportunity to attend college. It is sad, but it is the way of the world. And in Laura’s time, a university education was a luxury for anyone whose family was not independently wealthy. Today it is nearly a necessity, yet millions of families cannot afford it, so lower-income families either go without or take on enormous debt in the hope that the education will greatly enhance the student’s earning power. It could be argued that taking on a debt burden of tens of thousands of dollars is just another way that young people are taxed with excessive responsibility when there is absolutely no guarantee the education will result in a high-paying job, but almost all employment above entry-level positions demands a college degree to gain a position.


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