Laura Ingalls Wilder Biography
Claim to Fame: Author
Date of Death: Feb. 10, 1957
Diabetes Type: unknown
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born near Pepin, Wisconsin, to Charles Phillip and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. She was the second of five children. The details of her family life through adolescence are chronicled in her semi-autobiographical "Little House" books. As her books reveal, she and her family moved extensively throughout the mid-west during her childhood, eventually settling in De Smet, Dakota Territory, where she attended school and worked as a seamstress and teacher before meeting and marrying Almanzo "Manly" James Wilder in 1885. She had two children: the novelist, journalist and political theorist Rose Wilder Lane, and an unnamed son, who died soon after birth in 1889.
In the late 1880s, complications from a life-threatening bout of diphtheria left Almanzo partially paralyzed. While he eventually regained nearly full use of his legs, he needed a cane to walk for the remainder of his life. This setback began a series of disastrous events that included the death of their unnamed newborn son, the destruction of their home and barn by fire and several years of severe drought that left them in debt, physically ill and unable to earn a living from their 320 acres of prairie land.
It was many years and with much backbreaking work before the Wilders were able to climb to financial security. Their eventual success with Wilders' Rocky Ridge Farm – a diversified poultry and dairy farm, as well abundant apple orchard – gained Laura recognition as an authority in poultry farming and rural living, which led to invitations to speak to groups around the region. Following her daughter Rose's developing writing career also inspired her to do some writing of her own. An invitation to submit an article to the Missouri Ruralist in 1911 led to a permanent position as a columnist and editor with that publication — a position she held until the mid-1920s. She also took a paid position with a Farm Loan Association, dispensing small loans to local farmers from her office in the farmhouse.
While the Wilders were never wealthy until the Little House series of books began to achieve popularity, the farm operation and Laura's income from writing and the Farm Loan Association job provided a stable enough living for the Wilders to finally place themselves in Mansfield middle-class society. Laura's fellow clubwomen were mostly the wives of business owners, doctors and lawyers, and her club activities took up much of the time that Rose was encouraging her to use to develop a writing career for national magazines, as Rose had done. Laura seemed unable or unwilling to make the leap from writing for the Missouri Ruralist to these higher-paying national markets. The few articles she was able to sell to national magazines were heavily edited by Rose and placed solely through Rose's established publishing connections.
Still, Rose began encouraging her mother to write the story of her childhood. Wilder completed her first autobiographical work in the late 1920s. Entitled Pioneer Girl, it was a first-person account of her childhood on the frontier from the time she was 3 until she reached the age of 18. After Rose edited the book, Wilder submitted it to various publishers under the name Laura Ingalls Wilder. But no one was interested in her chronicle, which contained plenty of historical facts about her childhood but little in the way of character development. In 1930, at the age of 63, Laura decided to take her work in a different direction and began to embark on an entirely new career: writer of books for children.
In 1932, Wilder published the first of her eight "Little House" books, Little House in the Big Woods, which told the story of her early childhood years in Wisconsin. Farmer Boy, an account of Manly's childhood in New York state, followed in 1933. Two years later, Little House on the Prairie appeared on the shelves. (The popular television series of the late 1970s and early 1980s that was based on Wilder's stories used this title as well.) Five more books followed that took the reader through Wilder's courtship and marriage to Manly: On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), and These Happy Golden Years (1943).
Evidence reveals collaboration between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, which brought the two writers at Rocky Ridge Farm the financial resources they both needed to recoup the loss of their investments in the stock market. The Wilders lived independently and without financial worries until Almanzo's death in 1949, at the age of 92. Laura was devastated but determined to remain independent. In the fall of 1956, Rose found her 89-year-old mother severely ill from diabetes and a weak heart. Several weeks in a hospital seemed to improve the situation somewhat, but on February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder died.
The popularity of the Little House series of books has grown phenomenally over the years, spawning a multimillion-dollar franchise of mass merchandising, additional spinoff book series and the long-running television show, starring Michael Landon. Laura Ingalls Wilder has been portrayed by Melissa Gilbert (1974-1984), Meredith Monroe (1997, 1998) and Kyle Chavarria in television series.
Laura once said the reason she wrote her autobiography in the first place was to preserve the stories of her childhood for today's children, to help them to understand how much America had changed during her lifetime.
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