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Little House series: book vs reality


YPestis
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I was reading a book documenting the real Laura Ingalls experience. I was aware on some level of the poverty the Ingalls endured but it still surprised me to read about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

I think the Little House series is how fundies (and many social conservatives) view our past. That was how people "used" to live....wholesome family, helpful neighbors, brave Christian small farmers/businessmen working without gov't assistance to eek out a successful life.

 

The reality is how I always thought about our past. Laura Ingalls led a life of deprivation well into adulthood. Growing up, her family moved multiple times, including once when they fled under the cover of darkness leaving a boatload of debt (tsk tsk Pa Ingalls). It appears that Pa Ingalls also purposely settled (illegally) into Indian Territory, probably hoping that the gov't will eventually force the Indians out giving them the land. That actually upset me as it reminds me of the illegal Jewish settlers who encroach on disputed territory. The family continued to suffer multiple crop failures before Pa took a job running a hotel. That was a period in her life she glossed over because it was such a dark time for the family. Laura was deprived of the happy homelife she paints in her books....there was just a tired Ma and an unavailable Pa and nonexistent Christmas and the death of her brother. Laura's detailed description of food in her books was because moments of abundant food stood out for her.

 

In adult hood, Laura and her husband endured crop failures, illness and financial poverty. Rose Wilder remembered her mother putting on a brave face as their family faced poverty after her husband's health was destroyed by diphtheria.

 

So it seems the good ol' days were times when people lived in abject poverty, where hard work did not mean prosperity, where a husband's illness could financially ruin a family. How interesting that fundies still hold up the 19th century as the pinnacle of societal perfection and moral value? That was a time when children died, sick husbands leave families destitute, and hard work only provides more debt. The government didn't offer the much aid but I bet those desperate families could have liked to ensure their children were fed every night. It makes me wonder how anyone could gloss over so much of this and want to go back to those days?

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I don't know, but Rose Wilder Lane grew up to become a prominent libertarian who opposed the New Deal. So despite the poverty her family endured, she didn't see government programs/aid as the answer.

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I don't know, but Rose Wilder Lane grew up to become a prominent libertarian who opposed the New Deal. So despite the poverty her family endured, she didn't see government programs/aid as the answer.

I've read some of the letters between Laura and Rose. They defined the love/hate relationship. But in the end, Rose was the one who encouraged Laura to write the books and helped edit them. Almanzo, despite his handicaps, continued to farm and build onto their house into his 80's, well after Laura's income allowed him to retire, if he wished.

But yeah, Pa Ingalls was nothing like the character portrayed by Michael Landon, or even the semi-edgy guy in the books. The real guy could not settle down and was a loner to the nth degree. He didn't want anyone within 10 miles of him. The story of Mary was also very different; she suffered from a series of strokes and died fairly young.

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I don't know, but Rose Wilder Lane grew up to become a prominent libertarian who opposed the New Deal. So despite the poverty her family endured, she didn't see government programs/aid as the answer.

Yeah, I think she is considered one of the founders of the libertarian movement in the US.

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Did we just read the same book? Seriously, LIW was a bit of a feminist. As soon as women were given the right to vote, she voted, and proceeded to exercise that right faithfully. She ran for public office. If you read her ".Missouri Ruralist " writings, you find she supported public education, and was vocal about her county's obligation to fund it. LIW also allowed her daughter to live with Almanzo 's sister in Louisiana in order to get a better h.s.education. Yet, her stories are the darlings of fundies. I daresay LIW would love to have given them a piece of her mind, complete with a hint of her reported "flaring" temper.

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I've read some of the letters between Laura and Rose. They defined the love/hate relationship. But in the end, Rose was the one who encouraged Laura to write the books and helped edit them. Almanzo, despite his handicaps, continued to farm and build onto their house into his 80's, well after Laura's income allowed him to retire, if he wished.

But yeah, Pa Ingalls was nothing like the character portrayed by Michael Landon, or even the semi-edgy guy in the books. The real guy could not settle down and was a loner to the nth degree. He didn't want anyone within 10 miles of him. The story of Mary was also very different; she suffered from a series of strokes and died fairly young.

Regarding Mary....the state of Iowa paid her tuition to the College for the Blind as S. Dakota had no school. That was left out as Rose did not want to expose the acceptance of assistance. (From The Ghost in the Little House ")

Edited because my Kindle's smart reader is not very smart.

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I did not know she had a brother. How sad.

He died at 9 months. He just started to loose weight and nothing helped. It sent the family into a bit of a depression and may have caused Pa Ingles to do some stupid stuff.

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There's no doubt the Little House books put a very Rose-y slant on what must have been a hardscrabble existence throughout Laura's life with Pa & Ma Ingalls.

Still like re-reading the books, but they're not reality.

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I don't know, but Rose Wilder Lane grew up to become a prominent libertarian who opposed the New Deal. So despite the poverty her family endured, she didn't see government programs/aid as the answer.

I am aware that she was one of the most prominent libertarians of the mid-20th century but I don't think her attitudes at that time were extremely fundie because she opposed the New Deal. Many people in those days were unsure about it, yet I don't think they felt the gov't should cease financial assistance of its poorest citizens. Rose Wilder was a big fan of personal freedom, I'm only guessing here, but as a women and feminist of her day, she may have seen gov't as an entity that could encroach on women's found freedoms.

I feel that if Rose lived today and saw some of federal programs such as health care for children and WIC, she may not disagree with it's usage. Being a libertarian doesn't mean the government should have no hand in providing the social welfare of its poorest citizens. I don't think Rose Wilder believed her family was better off on it's own, especially since the family ultimately prospered due to generosity from wealthier relatives they were fortunate to have.

That said, the Little House series probably did see Rose's libertarian influence as it magnified the isolation of the family living in the prairie and omitted the fact Mary's tuition was paid for by the gov't and using the gov't as the bad guys at the end of "Little House on the Prairie". Of course, all of that could also be for dramatic licenses, as Rose had a flair for those things in her writings....

But....Rose also talked about the malnutrition she believed she suffered as a child. Had she lived today, she would probably approve of some aspects of what our gov't provides because it was something she could have benefited from. However, that was not the major point of my post....I just felt that the Little House series were perfect examples of what a horrible existence people had, despite the idealized version it presented in the books.

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YPestis, what book did you read? I have been wanting to read one on LIW for a while but have had a hard time determining which one would be best (there are A LOT!)

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I live just up the road from the "Little Town" in her series, and it's an awesome place to visit because the tour guides are very honest about the reality of the Ingalls' lives - and Laura's after she married. Illnesses, fires, tornadoes...you name it. They are also very quick to point out that Pa was no easy man to live with; dragging his wife and kids around the countryside whenever he was feeling fenced in.

It's my daughter's favorite place to visit and they have a great book section - what is the title of this one?

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I didn't realise that. I knew Laura's adult life was very upsetting with all the farm failures, deaths, illnesses etc. and I knew they had hardships and illnesses like with Mary, but I hadn't realised the nomad thing was because of failings of the father and that it wasn't as nice as the books. :-(

Even if you do think it was all happy (I read them very young, which is maybe because I didn't do much reading between the lines) surely you would pick up on the feminism. I noticed that even as a child. Which is another reason why I'm surprised fundies love them. There were so many parts in which Laura said how it was unfair boys got to do certain things and she didn't! Right in the first book she admired her cousin's boots or something and climbed trees with him, then there were multiple incidents where she stood up to bullies etc. Even getting married she didn't want to say the word "obey".

And I think it's been mentioned on here before (by me) but even back then they had unchaperoned courting! So I don't see what the fundies like about it anyway.

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Oh yes, a few years back now I researched the real Ingalls family and for sure I felt a bit forlorn realizing things were not like the Landon TV series! Which of course I should have realize beforehand!

Anyone who glosses over this era without proper realization of what hardships these families had to endure, are truly deluded!

Even people who think the 40's/50's were 'the good ole days' to me are just ignoring much of what really went on!

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Even though she glossed over a lot in the children's books she wrote (and that's understandable) there are some big hints in those books about the levels of deprivation she endured as both a child and an adult. She clearly is describing famine in The Long Winter, her mother trying to guard the girls against being raped in By the Shores of Silver Lake, her first teaching job that included boarding with a completely unhinged woman, not to mention the fire that burned down her own house and the death of her infant son in The First Four Years.

The Little House book series is far from completely sanitized, which explains why a lot of fundies do not allow their children to read past Little House In the Big Woods. They would then expose their daughters to the fact that on the American frontier, there was no such thing as a stay at home daughter, women had to take work they found distasteful (Ma Ingalls running a boarding house), and disease would blind your children or strike you down so hard you couldn't get out of bed to care for them (malaria). Oh, and you "courted" by going completely unchaperone with a man on buggy rides or being dropped off at your place of employment by said man. Don't know, but I definitely understood this woman had a very rough childhood just from the childrens' books, and when I got older and did more research on her, the full story of Pa, Mary, and how hard it was for the Wilders to establish a livelihood only made me respect her more.

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Oh man, the woman she had to board with at her teaching job was CRAZY! I don't think that was glossed over, I felt so sad reading that book about how unhappy she was to be away with her family and how pleased she could get back for the weekends when the boy fetched her. That was so sad. Of course, that woman was probably crazy because of the whole lifestyle, so it comes back to that again.

Edit what's the part in the Silver Lake book you're referring to? I can't figure it out

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luckystone-I know, right? A sixteen year old at her first teaching job, and she is boarding with a woman who pulls butcher knives. :shock: Which is why fundies avoid the later books like the plague.

Edited- In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Ma is taking in boarders to supplement the family income after another move. At one point on the first day that the boarders are sitting down to dinner, Ma takes Laura aside and gives her a big wooden stake. She tells Laura to get all the other girls in bed and bar the door by putting the stake through the lock. Laura and her sisters are not to come out in the morning until Ma calls for them. You definitely could understand the menace she was conveying.

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Even though she glossed over a lot in the children's books she wrote (and that's understandable) there are some big hints in those books about the levels of deprivation she endured as both a child and an adult. She clearly is describing famine in The Long Winter, her mother trying to guard the girls against being raped in By the Shores of Silver Lake, her first teaching job that included boarding with a completely unhinged woman, not to mention the fire that burned down her own house and the death of her infant son in The First Four Years.

The Little House book series is far from completely sanitized, which explains why a lot of fundies do not allow their children to read past Little House In the Big Woods. They would then expose their daughters to the fact that on the American frontier, there was no such thing as a stay at home daughter, women had to take work they found distasteful (Ma Ingalls running a boarding house), and disease would blind your children or strike you down so hard you couldn't get out of bed to care for them (malaria). Oh, and you "courted" by going completely unchaperone with a man on buggy rides or being dropped off at your place of employment by said man. Don't know, but I definitely understood this woman had a very rough childhood just from the childrens' books, and when I got older and did more research on her, the full story of Pa, Mary, and how hard it was for the Wilders to establish a livelihood only made me respect her more.

Exactly my thoughts about the story of LIW... I was very surprised when I read the truth about her life... I got that it was a hard life when reading the books as I read them multiple times since childhood ;) but I discovered so much since she hid a lot of things in the books... That was a very rough time to live through and not a "dream life" at all.

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I just read "The Wilder Life" about a woman who did a pilgrimage to all the places mentioned in the books. She mentions a lot of the less shiny details, such as during the Long Winter they had a couple of squatters living with them as well. There's also a very amusing encounter with a fundie group.

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Oh yes, I do remember that now. I got the danger but didn't realise it was rape as I was so young when I read the books.

When I read them as a kid, neither did I. Like you I felt the danger and a very strange kind of undertone. It was when I reread the books as a adult with my young niece that the passage finally clicked for me. She picked up something more in the overall menance as well, but I left it as "you don't allow strangers to wander all over the house." She was ten, so it was a little early for the full explaination.

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I really enjoyed the Little House books when I was a child. Who can blame Laura for glossing over the bad bits of her life? However, even with Laura's vaseline smeared lens view of her life - it is not hard to read between the lines and see that those people suffered. One example: Mary went blind after developing measles - she probably would not have if she had not also had a vitamin A deficiency. That tells me that they must had suffered significant food deprivation.

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I read an essay which quoted Laura and Rose as both being vehemently opposed to government assistance despite the poverty she endured. It kind of ruined the books for me, especially how Laura/Rose writes it that Mary makes it to blind college alone when it reality they borrowed grants from the government. It's mostly on the fourth page:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/a ... rentPage=1

I haven't read On the Shores of Silver Lake for years. I remember reading it when I was about ten and being uncomfortable at the change in tone from the previous book which seemed more carefree, despite things like the grasshopper plague.

I would hate to be married to Pa.

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Some things I remember about visiting the Surveyors house in S Dakota:

1) How TINY the clothes were. Mature Ma was the size of your average 12 year old nowadays.

2) THe sad mention of the baby brother being buried out on the prairie with no marker or even idea of where he was laid to rest.

3) THe "brewster" scandal, of the same family where the woman pulled out a butcher knife, where one brother murdered one with a ham bone.

4) In that first schoolteaching job- where she almost froze to death in a bobsled ride- the utter boredom, pain, desolation, and depression that ruled the life of the prairie wife. Being locked in a shanty with 4 hours of daylight, nothing to read, nothing to do, and a bored, restless child. Oh yeah, its about 20 degrees in the house during the night. Sounds SO charming.

Do the fundies that wax fondly over these books realize they can indeed go out and live this life with their kids? Grab an ax and live out in a hand sewn soddy with nothing but turnips and potatoes and lard to eat for a winter. Then berate yourself for not being joyful of your Biblical role...

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