Laura Ingalls Wilder at 150…

Today, 7 February 2017, is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday, and celebrations are happening all year. My love for this iconic, and, at times enigmatic, figure is deep and complex and not something I’m very good at expressing in ways that make sense to most non-LIW fans out there. But my people know. The fans, the scholars, the literary critics, the educators, the historians–oh, especially my fellow historians, YOU get it–these people understand what those who have little if any familiarity with our Flutterbudget do not. And that’s fine.

But today is a big deal. 150 years since Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls brought forth her second child in a tiny cabin in Pepin, Wisconsin. This humble birth began what is now the worldwide phenomenon of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, who is the embodiment of that great myth of the person of obscurity, rising from what seems to be the most mundane and ordinary of beginnings, passing a childhood and youth (and, in Laura’s case, much of her adulthood, too) riddled with struggle and misfortune, only to persevere, excel and become wildly successful against the odds. In Laura’s case, she did it as a relatively poor woman with relatively little education and relatively little opportunity all while at a relatively advanced age.

Gives a person a lot to think about.

I’m enjoying seeing how far her reach has influenced others and how many people come up with innovative observations. I dare say I have little in the way of innovation and this tomboy with ten thumbs doesn’t craft, so the best you’ll get from me is a pan of gingerbread with chocolate frosting. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the snarky part of me can’t wait to see how many bloggers and journalists will misattribute tv show dialogue to her wisdom* and, more importantly, how many people are really, REALLY confused by all of this information because they thought the show was documentary** and/or in current production.

In any case, I have LIW to thank for inspiring my adoration of history, research, museums, Dakota roadtrips, ancient cemeteries, abandoned homesteads, antique schoolbooks, and rag dolls with hand-drawn faces. Not to mention corseted karaoke with a diverse selection of like-minded Laurati. So, hats off to Laura!  (And bottoms up, if you’re inclined.) I’d love to hear how you’re celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Sesquicentennial in your life, whether today, this week, this year, or on whatever timeline suits you!

*I’m looking at you, Anyone Considering the use of “Home is the Nicest Word There Is” in your thinkpiece. Seriously, People. Laura never, ever, said that. Not once. She didn’t write it either. It’s scripted dialogue from tv, written almost two decades after she died. Say it with me: “Laura. Never. Said. That.”

**Trust me. It happens. At least once, at almost every public program I present. 😉

Once more, with feeling: #LauraNeverSaidThat

#IPromise

Not on your life.

Tonight, while plugging away at yet another assignment for my graduate classes, I took a few minutes to check email. There, among my Google alerts, I spotted a phrase that stopped me in my tracks, and I simply HAD to respond. The headline on the Huffington Post (and numerous other outlets that immediately picked it up as well) declared: “Laura Ingalls Wilder Would’ve Voted for Trump.”

While I can ignore a lot of wild claims and misguided mythology about my favorite Gilded Age American, I could not ignore this one. No. I had to respond, and quick. Accurately. With evidence culled from the better part of three decades of study. So I did. And here it is, published all over the ‘nets on HP, and numerous other websites that ran the original piece, as well as on FaceBook and Twitter. 

MY COMPLETE RESPONSE:

Not on your life. You cannot use dialogue and prose passages from Wilder’s fictional work–much of which was heavily edited by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who is now considered a “mother of modern Libertarianism,” but who had some ideas which were very different from her mother–to decide what Laura Ingalls Wilder thought about life and classes and myriad other topics.

Laura Ingalls Wilder tells us in her own non-fiction writing that she objected to harsh language (“Swearing is such a foolish habit” was the topic of one of her published “As a Farm Woman Thinks” columns at the Missouri Ruralist from 1911to the mid-1920s), and she certainly had a high regard for women as people, not as the objects our President Elect’s speech and behavior would indicate he perceives women to be.

While there was certainly race and class bias in Wilder’s work, and much of it is indeed racist by today’s standards, Wilder’s choice of “Indians” rather than “Native Americans” has everything to do with the fact that the term “Native American” was not in use in such context in the 1930s and 1940s when she was penning her novels. While I will not defend her sometimes racist language, I will point out that she often re-considered her own beliefs and set about to correct them when the need arose. In fact, when specific language in the opening paragraphs of her first novel, LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, was questioned by a reader who objected to the implication of Indians not being counted as people, Wilder responded with an apology, (“of course they are people”), and directed the publisher to correct subsequent editions.

Further, as a farmer whose livelihood depended upon NOT being taken advantage of by commercial farming interests, she was much more likely to vote for a candidate who did not appear to be making inroads for bilionaire cronies. Wilder believed in self-sufficiency, yes. But she did not approve of greed and avarice, nor deception or malice. She was frugal, but she was also loving and generous to family and friends. She believed in honesty. She also believed in lifelong education, starting several clubs in her local area of Mansfield, Missouri, for the betterment of citizens through educational pursuits. She held several positions in her community, including Worthy Matron of her local chapter of the Eastern Star. She also was the very efficient and successful Treasurer for the Farm Loan Association, where she helped struggling farmers borrow the capital they needed to succeed in their farm endeavors. She is remembered for handling over one million dollars in loans over a decade of tenure and having not one case of default on any of the loans she originated. That hardly sounds like someone who would approve of Mr. Trump’s ruthless attitude, nor his habit of refusing to pay contractors for the work they completed in good faith.

Nowhere in the President-Elect’s speech or behavior do I see any evidence that he values such qualities that Laura Ingalls Wilder prized, and lived by.

There is other, overwhelming, evidence to support the idea that Wilder would decidedly NOT vote for Donald Trump. There is a wealth of well-researched, historically-contextualized biography and literary criticism that would shed light on the subject. You should read some of it. I recommend anything written by John E. Miller, Professor Emeritus of History at South Dakota State University, as your first reference. Miller and other scholars demonstrate that, while certainly human, and as such, naturally flawed, Wilder was someone who had integrity.

Having myself studied Wilder, her life and works, in great detail for over 25 years, I can say with confidence that Wilder would much prefer a dignified, rational, level-headed, experienced, and fiscally conservative candidate for any elected office. Several come to mind. Donald Trump doesn’t make it anywhere on that list.

Dakota Gatorade

Haymaker’s Punch, Switchel, or Ginger Water?Perhaps we of the 21st century would liken it to Gatorade, Dakota-Style. I’ve tried it many times in many recipes. It’s a startlingly pleasant yet curious concoction which some might call “an acquired taste.” 

Call it what you will, but here’s a little background on this go-to refreshment for hardworking farmers in the heat of summer. Just ignore the part of the article that tries to claim no one had ice.If the events in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s FARMER BOY are any indication, I think those “Wilder boys” would vehemently disagree: 


http://www.free-times.com/restaurants/switchel-up-your-summer-sips-052516

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

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, fiberglass insultion, Polartec  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!

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.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Panama-Pacific-fair-changed-San-Francisco-forever-6080573.php#/0

IMG_2820

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.

IMG_2824

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).

Remember your favorite museums on Giving Tuesday

It’s that time of year when everyone wants something, and, in turn, everyone feels obligated to buy, spend, acquire, wrap, send, deliver, bake, host, feed, comfort…WHEW! That’s a lot of work. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But, here’s an idea: in lieu of buying useless junk for the people in your life who already have whatever they could possibly need, keep it simple. Take the money you’d normally spend on joke gifts and ugly ties and, instead, donate some of it to your favorite places. Museums and charitable organizations that focus on the human experience are a fantastic place to start!

And, when you need a creative gift for someone who perhaps doesn’t get out much but loves exploring new places, why not offer a gift certificate or membership to a place you already love, and you just know they’d love too?

Museums in particular are often overlooked in charitable giving, but they are exactly the kind of institution where donors can see the good their dollars are doing. When you give to a museum, you see the new coat of paint or the upgraded security system or the climate-controlled display cases that your money helps to buy. But that’s not all. Museums give so much back to their patrons, in the form of unique experiences.

Museums offer respite from stressful daily routines, and provide a calm, go-at-your-own-pace learning environment. Museums allow the visitor to experience incredible art, ideas, and events from our collective past, and frequently offer a window to the potential of our collective future. Museums offer demonstrations of lost skills, and hands-on classes to explore your own artistic ability. Museums bring great thinkers and creators to a wide range of audiences who might otherwise never get the chance to ask a pointed question of an expert in their chosen field. Museums give everyone a chance to discover new things on their own terms and in their own time. But most of all, museums give us so much for so little of our hard-earned money. And they do it with a smile.

Think about it; where else but at a museum can you see priceless artifacts for a little pocket change? Or, in many cases, for free? Where else but in museums can you spend an entire day staring at the same object, painting, or manuscript without anyone disturbing your concentration? Where else can you spend the day or week contemplating the same re-constructed dinosaur or investigating the contents of an original homesteader shanty without anyone questioning your sanity?

You guessed it! At your favorite museum.

So why not take a little time today, on Giving Tuesday, to say thanks to all your favorite venues that welcome you all day, all season (or all year) for just the price of a latte or a single taxi fare?

Most of these beautiful repositories of history and art receive little if any grant funding, and no tax dollars at all. That’s right, NO TAXPAYER SUPPORT. Yet a lot of them let you in the doors for free, or almost free, admission. Most of the employees are working at or just a bit above minimum wage, yet a large percentage of them have a Master’s degree or PhD–or more! These are experts in their field, with a vast wealth of knowledge and skill, yet they work for virtual peanuts. And most museums are also heavily dependent upon the generosity and hard work (for no pay!) of volunteers and interns. Think about it: how much does it cost to have a nice meal out at your favorite restaurant? How much for that entrance fee for ONE DAY at Disney? Can you spare little for your favorite nerdy getaway?

Here are some suggestions:

Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association/ Almanzo Wilder Farm, Burke, NY:
http://www.almanzowilderfarm.com/join.htm

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Tourist Center, Walnut Grove, MN:
http://walnutgrove.org/store/page17.html

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Independence, Kansas:
http://littlehouseontheprairiemuseum.com/Little_House_on_the_Prairie_Museum/Support_LHOPM_This_Winter.html

Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Burr Oak, IA:
http://www.lauraingallswilder.us/membership/

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pepin, WI:
http://lauraingallspepin.com/a-special-message

Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum, Spring Valley, MN:
http://www.springvalleymnmuseum.org/wilderinfo.html

Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, (aka Rocky Ridge Farm) Mansfield, MO:
http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, DeSmet, SD:
http://www.discoverlaura.org/donation.html

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA:
http://www.osv.org
https://www.osv.org/donations

Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford, NY:
http://www.gcv.org
https://www.gcv.org/Support/Donations

The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, NE:
http://www.stuhrmuseum.org/give/annual-fund-drive/

Keystone Historical Society, Keystone, SD:
http://www.keystonehistory.com/contactus.html

Historical Society of Cheshire County, Keene, NH:
http://hsccnh.org/join-support/donate-now/

American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA:
http://www.americanantiquarian.org/support.htm

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT:
https://www.marktwainhouse.org/support/support_us.php

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT:
https://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/support/

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Concord, MA:
http://www.louisamayalcott.org/contribute.html

…Oh, and, let’s not forget the academic organization that honors every aspect of Laura, and brings us together every few years for the one and only LauraPalooza:
Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association (LIWLRA):
http://beyondlittlehouse.com/about-2/join/

…just to name a few. Feel free to add your suggestions, below!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for keeping the doors of your favorite institutions open with your generous contributions. Together, we can all help these happy places stay alive, and thrive!

 

IMG_2027-0

Visiting the Little House on the Prairie Museum, near Independence, Kansas, July 2011. 

IMG_1716

Burial Ground of some of the earliest Ingalls ancestors in America, at North Andover, Massachusetts, 2014. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

IMG_1960.JPG

IMG_1888.JPG

IMG_1301

My Dad inspired my love of history from an early age. This was a visit to Nova Scotia in the ’70s; my Mom was the photographer. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

 

IMG_2043.JPG

IMG_2046.JPG

IMG_2048.JPG

IMG_2045.JPG

Almanzo’s parents helped establish this church in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Laura and Almanzo and Rose attended services here when they lived with his family in 1890. Photo copyright Dakota Yankee Research/Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, LLC.

IMG_2047.JPG

IMG_2050.JPG

IMG_2049.JPG

IMG_2052.JPG

Volunteers Jim & Marilyn Lusk have devoted numerous summer seasons donating their time, research, and labor to the Almanzo Wilder Farm in Malone, NY. They also enjoy portraying James and Angeline Wilder, Almanzo’s parents, at special Wilder Farm events. They are most certainly two of my favorite #MuseumVolunteersOfNote!