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.

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“Road Trip!!” Adventures in LauraLand, v2013, about to commence…

2 July 2013

In a few days, I’ll be embarking on yet another cross-country (well, most of the way…) trek from my home in New England to various points West, reaching, at minimum distance, Keystone and Custer State Park in South Dakota. With any luck, and some careful planning, I will be able to add at least a new state or two to the running tally of those I’ve visited in my lifetime. I’d like to get to Wyoming, Colorado, and a new-to-me section of Nebraska so I can finally see parts of the Oregon Trail. Originally, the plan also included some historic sites in the OKC area as well as return visits to 2 primary Laura sites: the Little House on the Prairie Museum (site of the Ingalls family’s “Indian Country” settlement near Independence, Kansas) and Bessie and Manly’s final home at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri with one of my Laura friends.  But, as is de rigeur for my experience, Life is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans.

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A little hiccup (okay, a really big one, but I’m trying to be cheerful here) in the health of my baby kibbie, a.k.a. Quinn, has necessitated a delay in my departure.  Quinn is a fighter, and still very kittenish for her 15 or so years, but, as a former stray, the unknowns of her early history make her a bit susceptible to various health problems, and she ended up in surgery on the day of my planned departure for the west.

Just prior to my departure for GCV&M Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, August 2012.

Just prior to my departure for GCV&M Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, August 2012.

Not being one to take pet care lightly, I elected to delay my trip by a week to give her time to get the healing process underway and make sure she’s improving before I hand her off to my very capable family for the next several weeks.  Plus, I like to snuggle her, and since I have the time off from work anyway, why not get a few more hours of QT with kitty while I do some of the reading I would otherwise do in a lonely hotel somewhere in Huskerdoo?

1880 Town, Midland, South Dakota.

1880 Town, Midland, South Dakota.

Price Tower Arts Center (Frank Lloyd Wright design) Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Price Tower Arts Center (Frank Lloyd Wright design) Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Besides, I’ve seen many of the states I’ll be trekking through before, and my mission on each trip is to experience something new and visit places I’ve always wanted to go.  I’ve seen a lot of states over the years, and have racked up a relatively impressive number (…of states visited…get your mind out of the gutter!) by some standards.

Hole in the Mountain, at the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, Highway 14.  This view is looking east, because the sky was prettier and this side of the sign was more legible for some reason.  Strange, I would think this would be the side where all those sweeping winds would scour the lettering flat!

Hole in the Mountain, at the border between Minnesota and South Dakota, Highway 14. This view is looking east, because the sky was prettier and this side of the sign was more legible for some reason. Strange, I would think this would be the side where all those sweeping winds would scour the lettering flat!

How many states have I been to?  Well, I’m not at 50, nor 40, nor even 35.  BUT, I’m working on it.  I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and take every opportunity to visit somewhere new.  Beginning in early childhood, when my parents took us to visit family in Upstate New York, or friends in Florida, travel has nearly always involved a roadtrip. By the time I had a driver’s license, I was planning when and where I’d go the minute I had my own car (which, in my family, meant when I had saved enough of my own earnings to buy and insure one!).  Almost deliberately, I chose a Toyota with a standard transmission so I would have to learn to drive a stick, which meant that, between classes and shifts at the grocery store, I was taking little Joey out for a lot of practice trips on back country roads through various counties in northern New Hampshire.  Almost immediately, I began to discover just how much I adored exploring rural countryside, and roadtrips of any distance were soon a way of life.

Somewhere near Mansfield, Missouri, 2011.

Somewhere near Mansfield, Missouri, 2011.

Over the years, I found ways to fit travel into my meager budget by combining missions.  A friend wants to go to her nephew’s birthday party 3 states away?  Road Trip!  My new favorite band will put me on the guest list at shows around the northeast if I promote them everywhere I go?  Road Trip!  My boss needs to get something delivered 100 miles away by 5 pm?  Road Trip!!!!!  Any excuse I could find.  Before I knew it, I’d racked up over half a million miles on various old beater cars: the Toyota, two VW Foxes, a Saab, and two Jettas.

Stormy Outhouse DeSmet ish 2011 DSCN2435

Are You Privy? Just behind the town house, east of De Smet, SD.

These days my mileage total is upwards of 850k, over 6 cars, in some 20 years. The newest car was 4 years old (but I kept it until a cargo van ended its life at age 12); all of the cars were at least a dozen years old when they retired, and all but one of the retirees registered well over 200,000 miles on the odometer.  The record holder for most miles in shortest time was Gretyl, acquired in May 2010 with 119k miles.  Twenty-one months and NINETY THOUSAND MILES later, while attempting to return from a Laura gig a few hours from home during a nasty ice storm, Gretyl, with her superior handling, spared my life but sacrificed her own.  The odometer read just over 209,000.  Something tells me she had a lot more miles in her, but the frame, although intact, would never be quite right again, and I couldn’t risk it. But, I was so impressed with her fortitude in my near-death experience that I went out and bought another Jetta just like her…

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My current Jetta, acquired last year, is a relative youngster, only 11 years old and just crested 150,000 last weekend.

Gretyl, on the LIW Historic Highway, Rt 14 West, Lake Benton, Minnesota. July 2011.

Gretyl, on the LIW Historic Highway, Rt 14 West, Lake Benton, Minnesota. July 2011.

Where have I been in all those miles?  Hmmm…well, some states I have only driven through a corner of, not even stopping to buy gas or eat a meal.  So, I will skip those.  If we count only places where I have at least gotten out of the car, looked around, eaten, or stayed overnight, the tally as of now is 30/50 States. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you I have spent about a year’s worth of days and nights traveling in the U.S., even though I have lived in the same state my entire life.

Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, May 2011.

Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, May 2011.

So, where have I done all this roaming?  All of New England, all of the Eastern seaboard, plus…Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri…30 states, plus Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.

Porch of Almanzo Wilder's birthplace, Burke (near Malone), New York, 2011.

Porch of Almanzo Wilder’s birthplace, Burke (near Malone), New York, 2011.

In recent years, I have been visiting LauraLand on an annual basis.  In 2012, I was there twice!  This year, I hope to finally ride the 1880 Train between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota.

I hope to finally see the Badlands for longer than just the occasional glance out the window as I’m whizzing down the highway in a hurry to get back to Brookings for a gig the next day.

Main Avenue, Brookings!

Main Avenue, Brookings!

I hope to visit Prairie Homestead, and the land Carrie Ingalls homesteaded as a single “spinster” near Philip, South Dakota, prior to her marriage 101 years ago.

West of Pierre, South Dakota.

West of Pierre, South Dakota.

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers…although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

A bison farm along the Missouri River, close to the North Dakota/South Dakota border, October 2009.

A bison farm along the Missouri River, close to the North Dakota/South Dakota border, October 2009.

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers...although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers…although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?

But mostly, I hope my keet-ten is feeling better really, really soon (and wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for her to travel comfortably with me, in no fear of over heating or losing her to an amble on the high plains?).  I don’t like to leave her behind, and if I wasn’t already committed to several gigs some 1,700 miles from home, I’d stay put for now.

Quinn, about age 7, October 2005. Back in those days she had to put up with a beagle, a burmese, and a second person in the house!  She's much more spoiled these days, being undisputed Monarch of the Manor.

Quinn, about age 7, October 2005. Back in those days she had to put up with a beagle, a burmese, and a second person in the house! She’s much more spoiled these days, being undisputed Monarch of the Manor.

Just a few necessities for the Meet Laura gigs.  Sometimes I almost forget which are the street clothes and which are "Mrs. Wilder's."

Just a few necessities for the Meet Laura gigs. Sometimes I almost forget which are the street clothes and which are “Mrs. Wilder’s.”

“That’s right, you saw what you saw.  That’s how we roll in the Shire!”

Closed, in observance of Native American Day, De Smet, South Dakota, 12 October 2009.

Closed, in observance of Native American Day, De Smet, South Dakota, 12 October 2009.