Laura Ingalls Wilder in her 40s, when she was just starting her writing career as a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist. Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
More news emerged this week showing the public’s fascination with the pioneer tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder, subject of my next book, Libertarians on the Prairie.
A biographer of Wilder (Pamela Smith Hill) is editing Wilder’s original handwritten memoir of her life. The South Dakota State Historical Society Press will publish Pioneer Girl, which is what Laura called her unpublished life story. It’s the document that provided the road map for Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who did much of the writing of Little House on the Prairie and the seven other books in the original, still beloved, Little House books for children. (Which inspire plenty of adult fans, still, around the world)
Hill says she is editing Wilder’s original handwritten version but also relying on two revisions by Lane. The handwritten version has been difficult for scholars to review because the publicly available copy is in microfilm, with white type on a black background. I’ve read that handwritten version, of course, and I’ve also read the two revisions by Rose. The memoir sketches a fascinating and grim story of Wilder’s actual childhood. Wilder wrote it for an adult audience and several magazine editors rejected it 1930, when Lane peddled it around to them, hoping to make money for the family.
Pioneer Girl highlights the difference between Laura Ingalls Wilder’s actual childhood on the frontier and the idealized, heroic version depicted in the Little House books. I talk about the transformation from the grim notes to the final series in my book, which I’m working on now.